Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Origins of the Kama Sutra

Kama Sutra positions. From

Writing disappeared in India during the second millennium before our era, as a result of the Aryan invasions, and only reappeared toward the eighth century B.C., in new forms –first Brahmi, which was of Phoenician origin, followed in the seventh century by Kharoshti, of Aramean origin. Knowledge, which had been previously transmitted orally, was then codified in Sanskrit, which had become the instrument of culture. Starting from the seventh century B.C., the basic texts concerning the aims of life were transcribed in the Artha Shastra, Dharma Shastra, and Kama Shastra.
The first formulation of the Kama Shastra, or rules of love, is attributed to Nandi, Shiva’s companion. During the eighth century B.C., Shvetaketu, son of Uddalaka, undertook the summary of Nandi’s work. A man of letters called Bahru, together with his sons or disciples, known as the Babharavya, made an important written work, summarizing the too vast work of Shvetaketu.
Between the third and first centuries B.C., several authors took up parts of the Babharvya work in various treatises. One of these authors, Dattaka, with the aid of a famous courtesan of Pataliputra, composed a work on courtesans which Vatsyayana reproduced almost entirely.
Vatsyayana appears to have been a Brahman and a great man of letters, residing in the city of  Pataliputra around the fourth century A.D., at the time of widespread cultural effervescence known as the Gupta period. According to Vatsyayana, the various works belonging to the Kama Shastra had become difficult to access. For this reason, he undertook to collect them and summarize them in his Kama Sutra, which thus became the classic work on the subject.
It was while staying in the city of Benares for purposes of religious study that he managed to collect the works from which he drew his inspiration and from which he quotes important passages. The kama Sutra describes the customs of the Maurya period (fourth century B.C.), reviewed during the Gupta period (fourth century A.D).
The Kama Sutra does not claim to be an original work, but a compilation. Vatsyayana states, on the other hand, that he himself had checked through personal experience the practices he describes. The Kama Sutra is not a pornographic work. It is merely an impartial and systematic study of one of the essential aspects of existence. First and foremost, it is a picture of the art of living for the civilized and refined citizen, completing in the sphere of love, eroticism, and the pleasures of life, those parallel treatises of politics and economy and ethics, the Artha Shastra and Dharma Shastra, to which it makes constant reference.
Eroticism is firstly a search for pleasure, and the goal of the techniques of love is to attain a paroxysm considered by the Upanishads as a perception of the divine state, which is infinite delight. The refinements of love and the pleasures that include music and other arts are only possible in a prosperous civilization, which is why the Kama Shastra, the art of love, is linked to the Artha Shastra, the rules of prosperity and the art of making money. Poverty is not a virtue. According to Vatsyayana, indeed, it is an obstacle, not only to pleasure, but also to ethics and virtue. Morality is a luxury which very poor people can rarely afford.

The Complete Kamasutra: the first unabridged modern translation of the classic Indian text. Translated by Alain Danielou. USA, 1994

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