Summary of The Kama Sutra, Part I
In the beginning, the Lord of Beings created men and women and laid down the rules of existence in terms of Dharma, or religious duty, Artha, or wealth, and Kama, or pleasure. The commandments on Dharma were compiled by Manu, on Artha by Brihaspati, and on Kama by Nandi, Shiva’s follower.
Humans have a life span of one hundred years and should practice Dharma, Artha, and Kama at different times in their lives in a way to harmonize these goals and not to create conflict among them. A man lives the life of a religious student until he finishes his education. At that time Dharma should be learned from scripture. Artha or wealth should be learned from the king’s officers and from merchants. Kama is the enjoyment of the five senses, assisted by the mind and soul, and should be learned by the Kama Sutra, the practice of love enjoyed by citizens.
To those who argue that there need be no text about making love, which is natural to all creatures, the answer is not so; animals join in sexual congress by instinct at certain times without thought, unlike humans.
To those who argue that there need be no rules or observances in love, the answer is not so; religious sacrifice set down by rules bears fruit, because there is providence and lawfulness in the world. The world exists by observance of rules in the four classes of men and four stages of life. Vatsyayana is of the opinion that “the ordinances of religion must be obeyed” (19).
To those who argue that destiny rules everything and therefore there is no point in exerting ourselves, the answer is not so; “a person who does nothing will enjoy no happiness” (19).
To those who argue that pleasure only brings unhappiness and unrighteousness, the answer is no, because pleasure is necessary for existence, as long as it is followed with “moderation and caution” (20). One practicing Dharma, Artha, and Kama so they do not conflict enjoys happiness in this world and the world to come.
Everyone, therefore, must study the Kama Sutra, the arts and sciences of love and happiness, even young maidens before marriage and wives with the consent of their husbands.
To those who say that females should not study, Vatsyayana says no, women must study the sixty-four arts of the Kama Shastra among which are included not only the sexual arts but singing, playing an instrument, writing, drawing, games, decorating, reasoning, dancing, gems, cooking, ornaments, making garlands, verbal games, speaking, languages, gymnastics, and so forth.
Courtesans who are beautiful and educated in these arts receive a seat of honor among men. A wife falling into distress will have knowledge to support herself. A man versed in these arts wins the hearts of women.
A citizen who has gained wealth through gifts (Brahmins or priests), through conquest (Kshatriyas or warriors), or through trade (Vaishyas or merchants), or through inheritance, becomes a householder and leads the life of a citizen or city dweller. He should have a large house with a garden near water. In the morning he should bathe and oil his body, then eat, and in the afternoon, he should amuse himself and converse with his friends. In the evening there is singing and entertainment, and finally, the arrival of the woman he is attached to. A man living in good company is respected.
When Kama is practiced by men of the four castes according to scripture, in marriage with virgins of their own castes, the result is lawful progeny. A Nayika is a woman fit to practice Kama with, without incurring sin, such as a maid, women twice married, and courtesans. Sometimes the wife of another man is resorted to in special cases, but not for mere desire. A citizen who is wise and has the help of friends, messengers, and companions has no trouble in winning over a woman.
Commentary on Kama Sutra, Part I
Vatsyayana situates the knowledge of the arts of love within his philosophy of human nature. In his view, which he argues by bringing up popular propositions that he refutes, humans are made by the Creator to enjoy life as long as they are moderate and follow the rules of behavior laid down by scripture and by society. Human lovemaking is therefore not like animals mating by mere instinct, for humans use their minds and souls as well. Love and pleasure must be learned as arts and include not only the act of love itself but a whole gracious lifestyle of beauty, good company, and polite behavior.
Indian society is traditionally structured into varnas or castes, a strict class system. Vatsyayana upholds this system by explaining a man should take a wife from his own caste. Brahmins are the priestly class in charge of knowledge and religious ritual. Kshatriyas are the ruling or warrior class. Vaishyas are the merchants, and shudras are the servants. The Kama Sutra is directed towards the wealthier three classes who have leisure time and live in an urban setting or at court. The “citizen” is any person wishing to set up and be accepted in good society.
The four stages of life mentioned are the student period of youth, the householder period where a man has a family and pursues wealth, the period of retirement where a son takes over while the parents become grandparents. Finally, there is the period of religious asceticism where the person leaves the family to pursue the salvation of the soul, perhaps at a hermitage. For each stage of life there is an appropriate activity. The text thus begins with how a bachelor, finished with the first stage of life, student life, which is traditionally a celibate period, would come out into society to fulfill the goal of Kama, or pleasure. Dharma, duty, is learned through scriptures during the celibate student period. Artha, gaining wealth, is learned from engaging in trade, service, or from inheritance after student life. Kama, the fulfillment of life, comes with marriage and love, but not randomly, Vatsyayana argues. It comes from knowing the science of pleasure. This science does not conflict with duty but supplements it with the accumulated wisdom of how to enjoy life skillfully, here condensed in short pithy verses called the Kama Sutra, which everyone needs to study.
Vatsyayana refutes those who say that women should not study this art. He even recommends it for young maidens before marriage so they will know how to please their husbands. Though traditional stereotypes of women are contained in the Kama Sutra, Vatsyayana’s view of women’s sexuality is very liberal and advanced in contrast to the Puritan view of women in Sir Richard Burton’s Victorian society where virtuous women were thought to be devoid of sexual desire.
Vatsyayana surprisingly says that adultery is all right in certain instances, though he asserts the primacy of Dharma or morality over Kama. Dharma or righteousness is most important, then Artha or wealth, and finally Kama is least important, though the icing on the cake of life. He says that the rules of religion must be obeyed, but later in the Kama Sutra, he describes how to seduce another man’s wife. Thus, he has it both ways. Morality is an absolute, but it is also relative. There are times when it may be politically expedient to enjoy the wife of another. Vatsyayana gives his opinion on what he thinks is right for the occasion, but he makes it clear that the art of love is an art and not just a list of rules.
The man of good society above all wants to be respected and so the Kama Sutra is an etiquette book as well as how-to manual. This citizen must know what companions to choose, for instance. Vatsyayana mentions certain types of people such as the Pithamarda or confidant, a worldly friend who knows the arts of love and helps the citizen to get a woman. This is a character type from Indian drama, usually a single man without wealth, attached to one who has it. Another friend of the citizen is the Vita, like the Parasite of Greek comedy, who has no money and lives off others. The Vita usually travels with his wife and is honored as an amusing companion without having to pay his own way. A Vidushaka is a jester or buffoon, a humble companion, usually a Brahmin, who makes people laugh. Others who help the man get a woman are Messengers or go-betweens who need to possess good manners, boldness, and resourcefulness to persuade the lady of choice to give in. Vatsyayana defines what a good friend is (one who tells the truth and does not reveal secrets), what women to avoid (vulgar or sick or ascetic women or the wife of a friend), and which women can be enjoyed without sin (maids, twice-married women, courtesans, and other mens’ wives in special instances).
The kinds of amusement of good society are also mentioned in this first part: traditional festivals, social gatherings for both sexes, drinking parties, picnics, going to gardens on horseback accompanied by courtesans and servants, bathing in the summer, cock fights, moonlight outings, gathering mangoes, playing with dice, etc. Often men of the same age and education gather with courtesans, whose intellects and training are superior to that of other women. The assembly engages in discourse and completion of witty verses.
Summary of the Kama Sutra, Part II
This part describes the physical positions of lovemaking. Men are divided into three sizes according to their lingam (penis). The hare man is of small size; the bull man of medium size; and the horse man is of large size. Similarly, women are classified according to the depth of yoni (vagina): deer, mare, and elephant. There should be equal pairing of lingam and yoni size for the best result, but there are nine kinds of union possible. There are also nine possible pairings according to the force of passion: small, middling, and intense. Lastly, there are nine types of union according to the time of sexual engagement: short-timed, moderate-timed, and long-timed.
Vatsyayana then discusses the controversies of female sexual response. One commentator says that women do not “emit” or ejaculate (39) as males do, so it is not clear what kind of pleasure they get from sex. Vatsyayana contends, however, that females love long-timed men which proves they are more satisfied and perhaps that they “emit” also. Babhravya says the semen of women falls from beginning to end, but this would be contradicted by the fact that women’s passion increases during sexual union. A verse states that the fall of a man’s semen is only at the end, while a woman’s falls continually, and when both stop, their desire stops.
Vatsayana is of the opinion that the semen of females falls in the same way as that of the male (both have orgasms and ejaculate), yet the roles of each and the consciousness of each may be different, with the man as the actor, and the female as the person acted upon. They both receive pleasure, though their consciousness of the pleasure is different. He concludes that “in the case of men and women, the nature of the two persons is the same” though they have different ways of working during sex, due to their physical forms. (41)
There are different kinds of love, according to habit, imagination, belief, and physical perception of pleasure. Love may arise from the constant practice and habit of sex, or it may be stimulated by ideas in the imagination. The love from belief is when two people feel they belong to one another. Finally, there is love from the simple perception of sexual pleasure itself.
The types of embraces which may be employed are called in the Kama Shastra, the “sixty-four” arts because of the eight main subjects (embrace, kissing, scratching with nails, biting, lying down, making sounds, playing the part of a man, and oral sex) times the eight divisions in each category, but Vatsyayana says as there are actually more categories, it is called “sixty-four” for convenience.
Four kinds of embrace are used in the case of mutual love: touching, rubbing, piercing, and pressing. Other kinds of standing and sitting embraces are described, including entwining of thighs, jaghana (loins), breasts, and foreheads. As for kissing, some say it should be done before sexual union, but Vatsyayana says anything may be done at any time. Places for kisses are described as forehead, eyes, cheeks, throat, bosom, breasts, lips, and inside the mouth. Straight and bent kisses are described, as well as turning up the face with the hand. There are also kissing games involving the “kiss of the upper lip,” and “fighting of the tongue” (48).
When love is intense or the parties intoxicated, they may press and scratch each other with their nails, making marks like a half moon or other designs on one another’s bodies. Such marks should not be made on married women, except if they are invisible. Biting can also leave designs on the lover’s body, reminders of the passion of love. Each type of bite has a name, such as “the hidden bite,” or “the swollen bite” (53). If a man bites a woman, she should do the same back to him. Vatsyayana suggests that a man should please a woman according to what she is used to in her country, for women of different places respond to different approaches.
As for lying down together, there are various ways for a woman to receive a man, including “the yawning position” and “clasping position” (56). Some of the positions are like yoga and require practice, since they are strenuous. Vatsyayana says variety should be employed to “generate love, friendship, and respect in the hearts of women” (59).
During passion, lovers may strike one another on the shoulders, head, breasts, back, loins, and sides. Because this causes some pain, the lover may emit cries like birds or weeping sounds. The danger of striking is that excess may cause harm, yet in the heat of passion, it may be hard to stop.
If a woman sees the man is fatigued, she may play the part of a man and lay him on his back. The signs of a woman’s satisfaction are that her body relaxes, she closes her eyes, and loses bashfulness. A man should try to please a woman.
Oral sex is practiced by “eunuchs” who may dress as either men or women and lead the life of courtesans (66) and by “unchaste and wanton women” (67). The ancient authors felt that oral sex “is the work of a dog and not of a man,” (67) but Vatsyayana says that scripture does not apply to courtesans, and oral sex is prohibited with married women only.
There is a courteous way to begin and end sexual congress. A man should have a pleasure-room decorated with flowers. Beforehand, he should engage in conversation, singing, music, and offer her drinks. When she is overcome with desire, he should dismiss any other guests. At the end, the lovers are modest and wash themselves separately, then eat betel leaves and apply ointment to the body, sharing sweetmeats or juice. They may sit on the terrace and look at the moonlight, while he shows her the stars.
True lovers act thus to one another, but in the case of a union with a lower class woman, the kisses and touches are not used. The union with one woman while thinking of another woman is called, “congress of transferred love” (71). Vatsyayana also describes the behavior appropriate for love quarrels.
Commentary on Kama Sutra, Part II
This section describing actual sexual postures and techniques is the most famous part of the Kama Sutra. While titillating to Burton’s Victorian audience, they do not seem as exotic to a modern reader, except for the postures that are said to need practice because they require acrobatic skill. What is most telling is Vatsyayana’s generous and modern attitude towards sexual fulfillment. He assumes both partners should be satisfied. He notes that “So many men utterly ignore the feelings of the women” (42), but “A man skilled in the sixty-four arts is looked upon with love by his own wife, by the wives of others, and by courtesans” (72).
In the argument on whether women enjoy sex, Vatsyayana emphatically proclaims that men and women have the same nature; both enjoy sexual pleasure. He argues for female semen or orgasms and ejaculations, and in some passages, suggests men find the pleasure zones inside the yoni, or what would now be referred to as the G-spot. Men should not only know these arts of love but pay attention to what individual women like. Vatsyayana mentions that one reason for knowing the arts is to provide variety, which is necessary for maintaining love.
The preparation for sexual congress and ending it properly are emphasized as part of the courtesy and prolonging of love, although this courtesy is only for a woman of one’s own class. A lower class union is direct and without refinement, without kisses and endearments. This attitude implies a less humane feeling towards the servant class, who may be used for sexual satisfaction without the same consideration as for a lover of one’s own class.
A man is taught to look for the signs of satisfaction in a woman, such as the relaxation of her body. Vatsyayana does refer to some sexual stereotypes when he says a man is the actor and the woman is merely acted upon, and when he says that “roughness and impetuosity” are characteristic of men, while “weakness, tenderness, sensibility” are characteristic of women (61). He does allow the woman to play the part of a man, however, and be the aggressive one if the man is tired, or for variety.
Although he is tolerant of oral sex in the harem, in eunuchs, or for courtesans, as a rule Vatsyayana considers it as less desirable behavior. It tends to make one coarse and could lower one’s reputation, he says. He includes a long discussion about whether the mouth is clean, but in the final analysis, Vatsyayana says, “in all these things connected with love, everybody should act according to the custom of his country, and his own inclination” (68).