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  • Writer's pictureJaya Devi

Kāma-sūtra: Transcending Through Lust

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

Contrary to popular understanding, the Kāma-sūtra is not a manual exclusively for sensual enjoyment between lovers – a topic covering only twenty percent of the book. The remaining eighty percent of the Kāma-sūtra is a guide for a charming and delightful life. It discusses the nature of love, family life and how to maintain good relationships. It also describes the various sensual pleasures of humanity, such as the performance of arts, attending festivals and cultural events.

Kāma means ‘desire’ in Indian literature. Even though kāma often signifies sensual passion between lovers, it more broadly refers to any desire, wish, longing, aesthetic enjoyment, affection or love, with or without physical intimacy.

Historic background of Kāma-sūtra

Kāma, sensual enjoyment, is an important part of life. It is similar to earning wealth and following certain principles to lead a virtuous life. This ‘down-to-earth’ truth has existed in India since the beginning of creation when Prajāpati, the Creator, pronounced one hundred thousand chapters on tri-varga, a treatise on the three goals of life, dharma, artha, and kāma , meaning virtuous living, earning wealth, and enjoying the senses, respectively[1]. The aim of tri-varga is to ensure the happiness of people in society.

This treatise on tri-varga was immense. In order to simplify its meaning, Manu, the original law-maker of mankind, selected the dharma-part to compile the Dharma-Śāstra[2] which describes the duties of various classes of people. Br̥haspati, the guru of the devas, collected the artha-part to compile Artha-Śāstra[3], the science of earning wealth, including polity and economy. Nandi, the sacred Bull and doorkeeper of Śiva, extracted the kāma-part to compose the Kāma-Śāstra in one thousand chapters[4].

In the eight century BC[5], Śvetaketu, a teacher of philosophy, compressed these thousand chapters into five hundred chapters[6]. Later, a great scholar named Babhru along with his followers, known as the lineage of Babhravya[7], summarized the vast work of Śvetaketu into 150 chapters and divided it into seven parts[8], which are:

1. General Observations and Lifestyle

2. Different Types of Sensual Enjoyment

3. Selection of a Life Partner

4. Wives

5. Extra Marital Relationships

6. Courtesans[9]

7. Ways to Increase Physical Attraction and Sensual Pleasure

Vātsyāyana, Author of Kāma-sūtra Between the third and first centuries BC, several other authors wrote treatises based on different parts of this work of Babhravya. Unfortunately it rendered the text fragmented and scattered[10].

When Vātsyāyana, a brāhmaṇa and great scholar who lived in the city of Pataliputra in the fourth century BC, saw how the various works belonging to Kāma-Śāstra had become difficult to access he collected and summarized them into his Kāma-sūtra [11].

This is what Vātsyāyana writes about himself at the end of his Kāma-sūtra: “After studying the works of Babhravya and other ancient authors and contemplating on the meaning of the rules given by them, this treatise was composed according to the precepts of dharma for the benefit of the people by myself, Vātsyāyana, situated in samādhi while leading the life of a brahmacārī (religious, celibate student) at Benares.

One should not view this work merely as an instrument for satisfying ones desires. A person who realizes the true principles of this science, who preserves his dharma (virtuous living), artha (acquisition of wealth), and kāma (sensual enjoyment), and who respects the traditions of the people, will surely obtain mastery over his senses. In other words, an intelligent and wise person following dharma, artha, and kāma without becoming the slave of his passions, will be successful in everything he may do[12].”

Accordingly, Vātsyāyana began his treatise with an explanation of dharma, artha, and kāma and ends it with his assurance that a wise person who follows the rules and principles described in the Kāma-sūtra can regulate his sensual desires.

It is within this kind of freedom from desires that sensual enjoyment can become an expression of love—such love being the purpose of creation.

Tradition of Kāma-sūtra





[4]Kāma-sūtra1.1.8. The story is also found in Mahābhārata 1.1.6-8.

[5] The date is known, since Uddālaka and Śvetaketu are the protagonists of the Br̥had Āraṇyaka Upaniñadand Chāndogya Upaṇisad, which are generally dated to this period and contain significant verses related to erotic science. The treatises of Śvetaketu on which the Kāma-sūtra was based, have been lost. The translations from the Sanskrit, which we have today, refer to acknowledged commentaries written in later centuries.

[6]Kāma-sūtra 1.1.9.

[7] The Babhravya were originally from Panchala, a region located between the two rivers Ganga and Yamuna, to the south of present-day Delhi, but most probably lived in the city of Pataliputra, the great center of the kingdom of Chandragupta.

[8]Kāma-sūtra 1.1.10.

[9]Dattaka made a separate book out of the sixth part of this work about courtesans at the request of the courtesans of Pataliputra - Kāma-sūtra 1.1.11.

[10]Kāma-sūtra 1.1.13.

[11]Kāma-sūtra 1.1.14.

[12]Kāma-sūtra 7.2.57-59.

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