Kama Sutra: Novel Summary

Text: The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana. Trans. Sir Richard Burton, 1883. St. Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2008.


Summary of Preface


The translator explains that this is the standard work on love in Sanskrit literature, Vatsyayana’s Aphorisms of Love. He also names some other Indian works on the same subject that came after Vatsyayana, that look back to him as the expert. The names of texts and their authors are given.

The Ratirahasya, Secrets of Love by Kukkoka

The Panchasakya, Five Arrows by Jyotirisha

The Smara Pradipa, Light of Love by Gunakara

The Ratimanjari, Garland of Love by Jayadeva

The Rasmanjari, Sprout of Love by Bhanudatta

The Anunga Runga, Stage of Love by Kullianmull


Commentary on Preface


Sir Richard Burton, Victorian translator, who introduced exotic Indian texts on love to the West, substantiates Vatsyayana as the authority among other texts on the subject. He was not the first or last to treat this topic, but the most famous and revered. Though every culture has romances and works on love, the Sanskrit authors are curious for trying to treat scientifically and practically the divisions of types of men and women, classes, and the acts of love, he comments.


Summary of Introduction


Burton gives the history of how Vatsyayana first came to be translated and published in English. While translating the Anunga Runga, frequent reference to Vatsyayana was found. The pundits Burton worked with obtained copies of Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra from different libraries and with the aid of the commentary, Jayamangla, pieced together the most authentic text of Vatsyayana they could. It had one thousand two hundred and fifty slokas or verses in seven parts. Little is known about the author except his real name, Mallinaga or Mrillana, with Vatsyayana being his family name. Vatsyayana says in the text that he wrote the treatise while living the life of a religious student at Benares, not for the purpose of explaining how to satisfy desire, but how to gain mastery over the senses and to preserve Dharma, Artha, and Kama (duty, prosperity, and happiness, three of the four Hindu goals of life). 


Burton speculates Vatsyayana lived between the first and sixth century C. E. because of internal historical references to certain kings. There are two commentaries on his work: Jayamangla and Sutra Vritti. Only the medieval text, Jayamangla, seems to have any authentic insight into Vatsyayana.


Commentary on the Introduction


Burton assures the reader of the scholarly accuracy of the work and accounts for the different texts used by the pundits he worked with. He himself had considerable facility with Indian languages such as Hindi, though he did not know classical Sanskrit.