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A Brief History of the Kama Sutra

Kama Sutra is the oldest treatise on sensual pleasures, compiled in the 3rd century by Vatsyayana. The name meaning “a treatise on pleasure” provided a manual of good living, gave elaborate advice for men and women. It’s said that both partners must be skilled in carnal and cerebral pleasure with detailed advice, seduction, attraction, rejection and copulation. Varieties of sexual techniques are elaborated in this manual. Kama Sutra focuses on giving man and women sensual pleasure.

married couple having fun in bed

Ananga-Ranga, a revised version of the Kama Sutra was found by Sir Richard Burton, which was originally written by Kalyanamally. It was translated in Arabic, Persian and Urdu and contained advice for married couples, detailed descriptions of female bodies, “centers of passion,” classifications of body types, erogenous zones, etc. As a part of the idea of the romanticism and exoticism of colonial rule, Europeans eagerly sought out the Eastern texts to bring all ancient wisdom to the western modern world.

However, the great Orientals interest and engagement in the Ananga-Ranga, sadly and ironically led to the book’s gradual decrease in relevance, and the rise in prominence of the earlier Kama Sutra. Burton’s wide and varied experiences of living in India as a notable part of the colonial military and administration and his great fascination with the exotic sexual practices of far and near Oriental societies, also coupled with his wish to bring this lost knowledge to the eager attention of his co-citizens of the British empire, led him to expand and increase his interests in the wide and varied canon of great sexual knowledge that was preserved in Sanskrit texts.

married couple having fun in bed_1

Because of the relative and continuing popularity of the Ananga-Ranga among the remaining Sanskrit specialists in the colonial administration, it was only natural that it should become the text of preference for Burton’s use and enjoyment purpose. While reviewing English translations exhaustively, Burton made detailed notes of many references that were made in the text to an earlier compilation by Vatsyayana. Burton sincerely believed that this text, the Kama Sutra, was a far more foundational and fundamental work, and requested the colonial administration to instruct the Pundits working under it to locate a copy. Because of several centuries of relative and undeserved neglect, the Kama Sutra at this stage only existed in parts.

The text had to be painstakingly re-compiled from several Sanskrit manuscripts in the dusty and forgotten library collections scattered and strewn across India and in the Princely States that governed themselves for all means and purposes. Once the text was complied, reconstructed and set in its original form and with notes and explanations after translating it into English, its popularity gradually grew, and Indian and European scholars set aside the Ananga-Ranga with a greatly renewed interest in its original foundation.

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