Summary of Kama Sutra, Part III
When a man marries he should find a virgin of the same caste and marry her according to scripture so that he may acquire offspring, Dharma, Artha, friends, and love. He should find a girl at least three years younger than he is of a good, respectable, and well-connected, wealthy family. She should be beautiful with lucky marks on her body and in good health. The parents and friends of the man should help him find the woman and promote the match.
Omens should be favorable for the wedding and the choice of bride. When she is of age, her parents dress her up and display her at public functions “because she is a kind of merchandise” (75). The parents should also receive any possible suitors in their home and settle the matter in due time without being pressured. The best marriage is between equals. A marriage in which the man must serve his in-laws is called a high connection, and one in which the man is superior to his wife is called a low connection.
For the first three days after the marriage, the bride and groom sleep on the floor, abstain from sex, and eat food without seasoning. For the next seven days, they decorate themselves and dine together and pay attention to the relatives who came to the wedding. On the night of the tenth day the man begins to woo the bride with soft words to gain her confidence. Women want “tender beginnings, and when they are forcibly approached . . . become haters of sexual connection” (76-77). The man should approach the girl “according to her liking” (77). If she is too shy to be embraced by lamplight, he should embrace her in the dark. He may employ a mutual female friend to help in conversations until she responds. The man wins her by a firm gentleness, neither following her commands nor by opposing her, but by following a middle course.
The time of courtship before marriage is important. If the young man has no wealth or family to help him, he must try to win a girl’s consent before marriage. He should spend time with her and amuse her with games and diversions. He should be kind to her friends and family to gain trust. He should try to see her in secret sometimes and use the daughter of the girl’s nurse as a messenger to tell her of his sexual knowledge in the sixty-four arts. He should dress well to impress the girl.
He will know by outward signs if she is favorable to his suit. If she does not look him in the face but only secretly steals glances, if she delights in his company for a long time, if she kisses a child in front of him, if she confides in his friends and shows kindness to his servants, if she answers in unfinished sentences and always dresses up to receive him, he knows she is interested.
Once he gains her interest, he should hold her hand when they play games and sports. He should touch her under various pretenses, and in private, speak to her of his love. He should make use of female friends and messengers to help him in his suit.
If a girl of good qualities is born of a humble family without wealth, she should bring about her own marriage by gaining over a young man. She should show him her skill in the arts, but be careful not to be too forward. If he tries to kiss her, she should object and hold back. Once she is sure he is devoted to her, she should get him to marry quickly.
A girl who is sought after should marry the man she likes, who will give her pleasure and be obedient to her wishes. When parents marry a girl off simply for the sake of wealth, she never becomes attached to the man, especially if he has many wives. The wives of rich men are not usually attached to him. A man who does not deserve to be married is one of low mind, who has fallen from his social position, who travels, one who has many wives and children already, one who gambles, or neglects his wife.
Go-betweens, like the daughter of the girl’s nurse, can facilitate a marriage between two like-minded people who want an affectionate and faithful marriage. These two can be married without parental consent according to the Gandharva form of marriage. The man brings a priest and has the marriage performed in his house and afterwards informs his parents and friends. A marriage thus performed by a priest who does the fire ceremony cannot be set aside.
If the girl is undecided, the man can have a female friend bring the girl to his house and have the ceremony performed, or if she is betrothed to another, he can have her brought to his house and perform the fire ceremony secretly to marry her. Other forcible marriages include getting the girl intoxicated or carrying her off. In every case, the marriage is made fast by the fire ceremony. The fruit of marriage is love, so it is better to have a marriage by choice than through force.
Commentary on Kama Sutra, Part III
This chapter speaks of religiously binding marriages performed by a Brahmin or priest, with vows done before a Vedic homam fire. With or without parental consent, this marriage must be recognized.
There are eight types of Hindu marriage. In the Brahma marriage, the father gives the bride away in the Vedic fire ceremony. The Daiva marriage means the family gives a girl to a Brahmin priest for a wife. In the Arsha marriage, the bride’s father is given cows or presents. In the Prajapata marriage, the father’s blessing is given. These are the normal acceptable marriages. There are four which are recognized but not respectable. In the Gandharva marriage, named for the heavenly minstrels in Indra’s court who are the only witnesses, the couple elopes. In an Asura marriage, the bride is bought like property. The Rakshasha marriage is conducted by rape, and the Paischacha marriage is by seduction.
A lot of attention is paid to lucky omens about the choice of a partner and the wedding. The astrological reading is so important that Vatsyayana suggests a friend could be disguised as an astrologer to make a prediction favorable to the man’s suit. Cats are bad omens as well as the throbbing of the eye or a blue jay on the left side of the person. If the girl is crying, asleep, or with an ill-sounding name, or not a virgin, or if she sweats a lot, the union should be avoided.
Although Vatsyayana says a girl’s family should display her at puberty like merchandise, he also makes a strong case for the man and woman loving one another because that brings the best fortune to a marriage. Rich men who can afford many wives do not succeed in getting the wives to be attached to them personally. He makes the point that the bride’s family would do well to avoid merely making a match for money, for the daughter will be miserable. He encourages both men and women of little means to make a good marriage by personally getting someone to fall in love with them.
Since many marriages were concluded by the family without the bride and groom knowing each other, Vatsyayana describes a humane and gentle period after the wedding where the bride and groom get acquainted before having sex. The girl was often very young and taken suddenly from her family. The bridegroom is told to treat her sweetly, giving her toys and presents, holding her on his lap, speaking softly, winning her over and avoiding force.
Vatsyayana may be a believer in religion and morality, but he does not scruple about describing a lover’s tricks to get a spouse. A man courting a woman is advised to pretend sickness in order to get her to visit his house and feel sympathy for him. He should trick her into being alone and letting herself be touched. He can get one of his friends to play the astrologer and forecast a good future for them. He should have go-betweens describe his sexual knowledge and good character to her.
Though it was common for a rich man or official to have many wives as a display of his status, Vatsyayana seems to have sympathy for monogamy, especially from a woman’s point of view: “Woman is a monogamous animal, and loves but one, and likes to feel herself alone in the affections of one man, and cannot bear rivals” (85). The last part of the text on charms and medicines gives formulas for getting rid of rival wives or reducing their influence.
One way of persuading a woman is to have a go-between, a woman friend, or what is described as the daughter of the girl’s nurse, talk to her and tell her famous love stories where the heroine is happy in love. This chapter mentions the story of Shakuntala, the forest girl from the epic Mahabharata, made famous by Kalidasa’s play. Shakuntala secretly married King Dushyanta in a Gandharva marriage in the forest, and after many sorrows, became his recognized wife and the mother of Bharata, the king of India.
Summary of Kama Sutra, Part IV
This part treats of how a virtuous woman behaves. A virtuous wife lives by her husband’s wishes and takes on his family as her own. She keeps the house clean and decorated and takes care of the garden and family religious sacrifices. Nothing attracts a husband like the careful attention of his wife to the household altar.
The parents, siblings, and servants of her husband should be treated with respect. She should never contradict her in-laws but act modestly. She should avoid the company of questionable people like mendicants, unchaste women, fortune tellers, and witches. She should go by her husband’s likes and dislikes and do as he commands. When going out with her husband, she should decorate herself but never attend gatherings without his permission. She should sit down after him and get up before him.
If the husband is guilty of misconduct, she should not use abusive language or be a scold but express her displeasure “with conciliatory words” (90). At all times her person should be “tidy, sweet, and clean” (90). She should welcome her husband’s friends, observe the feasts and fasts of her husband, and keep the kitchen stocked with food, managing the household expenses, paying the servants, and not overspending their means. The worn-out clothes go to the servants who have done good work.
While her husband is on a journey, she should wear auspicious ornaments and observe fasts in honor of the gods, sleeping near the elder women of the house. She should not go to the home of her own family at this time except for important occasions, and then accompanied by her husband’s servants. When her husband returns, she gives oblations to the gods. A wife who acts to obtain Dharma, Artha, and Kama keeps her husband devoted to her.
Vatsyayana then gives the reasons for a man to take more than one wife: his wife is ill-tempered; he dislikes his wife; she is barren or produces only daughters; the husband is not of a monogamous nature.
A wife should try to please her husband, but if she bears him no children, she herself should persuade him to marry a second wife. The first wife should yield the superior position to the new wife and treat her as a sister. The elder wife should teach the younger how to please the husband, and if she has children, should treat them as her own. If there are many wives, the elder wife should stir up all the wives against the favorite wife without it being obvious she is doing so.
A younger wife should regard an elder wife as a mother and should confide in her, not approaching the husband without her permission. She should regard another wife’s children as her own and care for them even more than her own. She should serve her husband but not tell him she suffers from a rival wife. No wife should reveal a husband’s secrets. She should try to gain her husband’s favor in private so as not to make other wives jealous.
A widow should only remarry for happiness but be careful to pick someone of good quality. Vatsyayana says a widow may marry anyone she likes. She can wear her own ornaments or her husband’s. He should give the money for parties and picnics with her relations. She should live in his house like one of the chief members of the family. She should excel in the sixty-four arts and be friends with his friends more than with his other wives.
If a wife is disliked by her husband, she should associate with the wife who is most liked by the husband. She should try to win him over with virtue and devotion to him and gain his friends to her side.
In the king’s harem, the king interviews the women of the harem in the afternoon and converses with them. He accepts the offered precious ointment of the wife with whom he will spend the night. He takes turns with his wives. At a festival, they are all honored, but they never go out of the harem alone.
Vatsyayana concludes by saying, “A man marrying many wives should act fairly towards them all” (100).
Commentary on Kama Sutra, Part IV
This part of the Kama Sutra supports the scriptural injunctions for good Hindu wives. The wife is subservient in this description, but she is responsible for the whole moral tone of the household, and responsible for the family’s reputation. This is especially important since there are children and their future to consider. Though there can be conflicts with in-laws since the wife would be living with an extended paternal family of many generations, she supposedly wins them over with her modesty, virtue, courtesy, and good sense. Once she leaves her own family, her primary loyalty and duty go to her husband’s family, and she is only permitted to go back to her own family on special occasions with permission. She is allowed to voice disagreement if the husband misbehaves but only in a mild manner, never as a scold.
This chapter is conservative and contrasts with the liberal spirit of the rest of the text. It does not describe sexual behavior but the lifestyle of a good wife. It is interesting to contrast the life of a respectable woman to that of a courtesan (Part VI) who manages her own affairs and has public recognition. Vatsyayana does not seem surprised in later chapters that wives are not always chaste when the husband neglects them or is not fond of them or has multiple wives. This traditional advice to wives assumes that they can win a husband’s heart through virtue, the arts of pleasing, and good manners. The later parts of the Kama Sutra on adultery would seem to contradict this happy domestic picture to some extent.
The role of a wife among other wives is even less attractive. A barren wife basically yields her position to a fruitful wife and attempts to be useful in the house because she has no other options. Unlike European royalty who might have had a barren wife removed to a nunnery before taking another, the barren wife remains in the Indian household and is expected to help manage the other wives and children of the husband. It is curious that she is urged to create enmity among the wives towards a favorite wife; perhaps there is more fairness if the wives stick together. Vatsyayana says it is a man’s duty to satisfy all his wives, so if the husband spoils a favorite, the other wives suffer. The wives are to treat all the husband’s children as their own.
Widows seem to have a little more freedom according to this text. They can choose a husband and have more status in a household than regular wives. A virgin widow refers to the fact that often a girl was married or betrothed as a child, and if her husband died before the marriage was consummated, or if he sent her away, she was a virgin widow. In some places in India, widows were not allowed to remarry, but in this text it is assumed they have a right.