Kama Sutra: Metaphor Analysis

Plants and Animals


In the most famous section of the Kama Sutra that describes sexual techniques (Part II), animal and plant metaphors are used to describe lovers’ positions, size of sexual organs, and types of embraces. For instance, men with small lingams (penises) are hares, medium men are bulls, and large men are horses. Small women are deer, medium women are mares, and large women are elephants. Vatsyayana suggests that the best unions are matched by similarity in size. Embraces are described as “the twining of a creeper” when a woman twines herself around a man, or if she is supported by him while he stands, it is called “climbing a tree” (II. p. 44). An embrace where the lovers encircle one another is called, “mixture of sesamum seed with rice,” and when she sits in his lap, it is called a “milk and water embrace” (II. p. 44). 


The patterns made with the nails on the lover’s skin are called “peacock’s foot,” “the jump of a hare,” or the “leaf of a blue lotus” (II. p. 51). The bite made on the breasts and shoulders is called “the biting of a boar” (II. p. 53). When men use love blows on the woman she may utter cries sounding like “the dove, the cuckoo, the green pigeon, the parrot, the bee, the sparrow, the flamingo, the duck, and the quail” (II. p. 60). One of the sexual postures is called, “splitting of a bamboo” (II. p. 57). These metaphors from nature could suggest that human sex is like that of the brute kingdom, but the animal and plant metaphors instead are stylized, like the elegant designs on fabrics. They work up the psychology of the lovers to behave in ways to increase their love and passion and are in keeping with the upper class lifestyle they evoke. 




The sesame seed and rice embrace suggests that sex is also like nourishing food. Vatsyayana says that “as dough is prepared for baking, so must a woman be prepared for sexual intercourse, if she is to derive satisfaction out of it” (II. p. 42). The taste of food is the result of careful preparation, just like sexual satisfaction. Vatsyayana asserts that sexual congress should start and end with offering the lover drinks, fruits, and betel leaves. They eat sweetmeats together afterwards, a fitting symbol of the joy they have just had together. When a man wants to court a woman he gives her a betel leaf with his teeth or nail marks on it to tell her of his intentions. The betel leaf is mentioned several times in the text as it had ceremonial importance. It was a breath freshener, a mild stimulant, and had aphrodisiac properties. Both men and women are advised to present suitors with betel leaves for chewing. If it had teeth or nail marks on it, it was supposed to excite the recipient with suggestive ideas and was obviously a preparation for sex.


Directly after a wedding ceremony, the bride and groom sleep on the floor, abstain from sex, and eat plain food without spices. This symbolic asceticism prepares them for the next phase of banqueting and dining formally together in their best clothes. Finally, after the tenth day, they begin to enjoy each other sexually. They prepare for their wedding night like gourmets.


The wife’s domain is the kitchen where she is in charge of keeping the house stocked with the food her husband likes. She should be prepared to feed him whatever he wants, just as she should be prepared to give him pleasure with the sixty-four arts. Certain foods are also recommended as increasing sexual vigor in Part VII. 




“Sexual intercourse can be compared to a quarrel, on account of the contrarieties of love and its tendency to dispute,” says Vatsyayana (II. p. 59). The idea of love as an erotic fight is a universal plot in love stories from Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” to Hollywood’s screwball romantic comedies. The apparent animosity between male and female is a way to increase passion and the desire for union. Striking the partner gently is thus a way to kindle love, with the author’s warning not to go too far, like King Satakarni Satavahana who accidentally killed his queen with a pair of scissors (II. p. 61). The blows are given with a fist or open hand on different parts of the body, slowly at first and then more rapidly as sexual congress progresses. Meanwhile the woman emits cries. The combat establishes the fact that, as Vatsyayana asserts, manhood is rough and impetuous, while womanhood is weak and tender (II. p. 61). Though these are stereotypes, they appeal to something in the psychology of lovers who wish to act out the polarity of their sexes in order to make union more satisfying. Vatsyayana thinks, however that the more sadistic combat with instruments is “painful, barbarous, and base” (II. p. 61).


Other less dangerous forms of combat include kissing games that employ “wagers and quarrels” (II. p. 48). One kiss is called “fighting of the tongue” (II. p. 48). Scratching and marking with the nails also reminds one later of the satisfaction of the love fight. Vatsyayana gives rules for “love quarrels” (II. p. 71). A woman may quarrel with a man when she is jealous of a rival. She should pull the man’s hair, kick, cry, throw herself on the floor, and tear off her clothes and jewels. She should sit near the door as if ready to leave but not leave until they have made up and resolved the dispute through sexual union.


Finally, Vatsyayana describes all sorts of tactics and strategies a lover uses during courtship to win his lady, or that a lady uses to win the man. These tactics are dishonest or forms of acting, as when a lover is advised to hold and kiss a child in the presence of the opposite sex, or pretend to be ill. Messengers are sent with all sorts of lies and stories and presents to win over the lover. These strategies are told by Vatsyayana without moral comment, as if to say, “all is fair in love and war.” Some commentators have pointed out the similarity of the Kama Sutra to the plots of Sanskrit drama. The same ploys and plots and devices of the love combat can be seen in Bollywood movies and Hollywood movies today.