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A Lover's Guide to the Kama Sutra by Virginia Reynolds
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The historical records suggest that the Kamasutra was a well-known and popular text in Indian history, states Wendy Doniger. This popularity through the Mughal Empire era is confirmed by its regional translations.
The Mughals, states Doniger, had "commissioned lavishly illustrated Persian and Sanskrit Kamasutra manuscripts". He did not translate it, but did edit it to suit the Victorian British attitudes. The unedited translation was produced by the Indian scholar Bhagwan Lal Indraji with the assistance of a student Shivaram Parshuram Bhide, under the guidance of Burton's friend, the Indian civil servant Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot.
The Burton version of the Kamasutra was produced in an environment where Victorian mindset and Protestant proselytizers were busy finding faults and attacking Hinduism and its culture, rejecting as "filthy paganism" anything sensuous and sexual in Hindu arts and literature. The "Hindus were cowering under their scorn", states Doniger, and the open discussion of sex in the Kamasutra scandalized the 19th-century Europeans. Yet, states Doniger, it became soon after its publication in , "one of the most pirated books in the English language", widely copied, reprinted and republished sometimes without Richard Burton's name.
Burton made two important contributions to the Kamasutra. First, he had the courage to publish it in the colonial era against the political and cultural mores of the British elite.
He creatively found a way to subvert the then prevalent censorship laws of Britain under the Obscene Publications Act of For example, the original Sanskrit Kamasutra does not use the words lingam or yoni for sexual organs, and almost always uses other terms. Burton adroitly avoided being viewed as obscene to the Victorian mindset by avoiding the use of words such as penis, vulva, vagina and other direct or indirect sexual terms in the Sanskrit text to discuss sex, sexual relationships and human sexual positions.
Burton used the terms lingam and yoni instead throughout the translation. However, Burton's Kamasutra gave a unique, specific meaning to these words in the western imagination. The problems with Burton mistranslation are many, states Doniger. First, the text "simply does not say what Burton says it says".
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Third, it changes the force of words in the original text. For example, when a woman says "Stop! It has led to a misunderstanding of the text and created the wrong impression of it being ancient "Hindu pornography". In , S. Upadhyaya published his translation as the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana: Complete Translation from the Original. He includes English translations of two important commentaries, one by Jayamangala commentary, and a more modern commentary by Devadatta Shastri, as endnotes. He, at times, reverses the object and subject, making the woman the subject and man the object when the Kamasutra is explicitly stating the reverse.
According to Doniger, "even this cryptic text [ Kamasutra ] is not infinitely elastic" and such creative reinterpretations do not reflect the text. A translation by Indra Sinha was published in In the early s, its chapter on sexual positions began circulating on the internet as an independent text and today is often assumed to be the whole of the Kama Sutra.
Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar published another translation in , as a part of the Oxford World's Classics series. According to David Shulman, the Doniger translation "will change peoples' understanding of this book and of ancient India. Previous translations are hopelessly outdated, inadequate and misguided".
Her translation has the folksy, "twinkle prose", engaging style, and an original translation of the Sanskrit text. However, adds Sil, Doniger's work mixes her postmodern translation and interpretation of the text with her own "political and polemical" views. She makes sweeping generalizations and flippant insertions that are neither supported by the original text nor the weight of evidence in other related ancient and later Indian literature such as from the Bengal Renaissance movement — one of the scholarly specialty of Narasingha Sil.
Doniger's presentation style titillates, yet some details misinform and parts of her interpretations are dubious, states Sil. Indira Kapoor, a director of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, states that the Kamasutra is a treatise on human sexual behavior and an ancient attempt to seriously study sexuality among other things. According to Kapoor, quotes Jyoti Puri, the attitude of contemporary Indians is markedly different, with misconceptions and expressions of embarrassment, rather than curiosity and pride, when faced with texts such as Kamasutra and amorous and erotic arts found in Hindu temples.
The Kamasutra has been a popular reference to erotic ancient literature. In the Western media, such as in the American women's magazine Redbook , the Kamasutra is described as "Although it was written centuries ago, there's still no better sex handbook, which details hundreds of positions, each offering a subtle variation in pleasure to men and women. Jyoti Puri, who has published a review and feminist critique of the text, states that the " Kamasutra is frequently appropriated as indisputable evidence of a non-Western and tolerant, indeed celebratory, view of sexuality" and for "the belief that the Kamasutra provides a transparent glimpse into the positive, even exalted, view of sexuality".
These narratives neither resonate with nor provide the "politics of gender, race, nationality and class" in ancient India published by other historians and that may have been prevalent then. According to Wendy Doniger, the Kamasutra is a "great cultural masterpiece", one which can inspire contemporary Indians to overcome "self-doubts and rejoice" in their ancient heritage. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
This article is about the ancient text. For other uses, see Kama Sutra disambiguation.
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On balance in life In any period of life in which one of the elements of the trivarga — dharma, artha, kama — is the primary one, the other two should be natural adjuncts of it. On sexual embraces Some sexual embraces, not in this text, also intensify passion; these, too, may be used for love-making, but only with care. The first English version by Richard Burton became public in , but it was illegal to publish it in England and the United States till Gender and families. The Kenyon Review, New Series. Introduction, Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity.
Cengage Learning. Redeeming the Kamasutra. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 December Grove Press. Brhat Samhita of Varahamihira. Motilal Banarsidass.