Taking the Kamasutra seriously

Nicola Barker in The Spectator:

9780190499280The rough English translation of Kamasutra is pleasure (kama) treatise (sutra). In the West, since it was first (rather surreptitiously) translated and published back in 1883, the book has generally been associated with a series of beautiful, ancient illustrations of a couple determinedly coupling in a variety of fascinating — and often utterly improbable — positions; as essentially ‘the erotic counterpart to the ascetic asanas of yoga’. But there is so much more to it than that, as Wendy Doniger doggedly contends in this, her fine collection of frank, brief, clear-eyed essays. Doniger believes the Kamasutra to be not only a precious and under-appreciated part of the Sanskrit canon, but also a great Indian literary landmark which has been — for way too long now — criminally undervalued in its place of origin. Hence its need for ‘redemption’ (a paradoxically Christian notion, perhaps).

She traces the history of the Kamasutra, detailing how the three aims of human life (the Triple Set in Indian parlance) are dharma(religion), artha (power) and kama (pleasure). In a satisfying parallel, these three aims are underpinned by a trinity of ancient texts; theDharmashastra (written by the sober, strict and rather sexist Manu), the Arthashastra (by Kautilya, the Indian Machiavelli-plus) and theKamasutra (by the slightly slippery but often refreshingly open-minded Vatsyayana).

More here.