Kamashastra Discourse (Life in Ancient India)

by Nidheesh Kannan B. | 2018 | 52,434 words

This page relates ‘Summary of Kama-sutra Book 1: Sadharana’ of the study on Kamashastra representing the discipline of Kama (i.e., ‘sensual pleasure’). The Kamasutra of Vatsyayana from the 4th century is one of the most authoratitive Sanskrit texts belonging this genre. This study focusses on the vision of life of ancient India reflected in Kamashastra.

4.1. Summary of Kāma-sūtra Book 1: Sādhāraṇa

[Full title: Kāma-sūtra Adhikaraṇa I—Sādhāraṇa (sādhāraṇam)]

The first book of Kāma-sūtra named Sādhāraṇa [sādhāraṇam] or on general remarks contains five chapters and five prakaraṇas. Of them, the first chapter is about the contents of the text.

The work starts with an invocation of the three aims of human life viz; virtue, prosperity and love-which are the subject of this work. Then, salutations are offered to the earlier authorities on the topic[1]. Then, a description of the origin and development of Kāmaśāstra or the erotic science has been provided. It is as follows:

In the beginning, Brahmā (the lord of beings) created creatures and in the form of commandments in one hundred thousand chapters laid on rules for regulating their existence with regard to the three aims of human life. Some of these commandments namely, those which treated of Dharma or virtue were separately written by Svāyambhuva Manu; those that Artha or prosperity were compiled by Bṛhaspati and Kāma or love expounded by Nandikeśvara the follower of Mahādeva in one thousand chapters. Nandikeśvara’s Kāmasūtra were reproduced by Śvetaketu, the son of Uddālaka in an abbreviated form. It comprises of five hundred chapters and Bābhravya again similarly reproduced this in one hundred and fifty abridged chapters, categorized as seven parts or heads named severally; Sādhāraṇa, Sāmprayogika, Kanyāsamprayukta, Bhāryādhikārika, Pāradārika Vaiśika and Aupaniṣadika respectively. The sixth part named Vaiśika of Bābhravya’s text expounded by Dattaka at the request of courtesans of Pāṭalīputra. In the same way, Cārāyaṇa explained the first part, Suvarṇanābha—the second part, Ghoṭamukha—the third part, Gonardīya—the fourth part, Goṇikāputra—the fifth part and Kucumāra—the seventh part respectively. When many scholars had divided it into fragments in this way, the text was almost ruined. Because, the amputated limbs of the text that Dattaka and others divided are just parts of the whole and Bābhravya’s text is so long and difficult to understand. As a result, Vātsyāyana condensed the entire subject matter into a brief volume to make the present Kāma-sūtra[2].

The chapter has concluded by describing about the whole subject matter in each of the seven books in Kāmasūtra. In totality, the text comprises of adhikaraṇas (books), thirty-six adhyāyas (chapters), sixty-four prakaraṇas (sections) and one thousand two hundred and fifty sūtras (passages)[3].

Chapter two reveals the means of achieving the three aims of life. It has said that a man’s life span is one hundred years. During this period, a man must pursue the three aims of life successively, without one being prejudicial to another. The childhood is the time to acquire knowledge and such kinds of power, the youth is for pleasure and old age is for virtue and release. Since, the duration of life is uncertain all opportunities must be taken advantage of. However, one should celibate during the period of study for the acquiring of knowledge[4]. The definitions for each of the three aims are then described. Virtue is obedience to the command of the law treatises to do certain things such as the performance of sacrifices, which are not generally done, because they do not belong to this world and produce no visible effects; and not do other things like eating non-vegetarian food, which is often done because it belongs to this world and has visible effects. Virtue should be learned or practiced from the holly writs and from those conversant with it[5]. Power or prosperity is the acquisition of arts, land, gold, cattle, wealth, equipages and friends. It is also the protection of what is acquired and increase of what is protected. It should be learned from the king’s officers and from merchants who may be well versed in commerce[6].

Lastly, the pleasure (Kāma) or the subject matter of the whole text has defined thus; it is of two categories viz; general and specific.

“Generally, the inclination when the five sense organs presided over by the mind, which enjoined with soul, is inclined towards the objects suited to each. The experience of joy by touch of the beloved, which bears fruit, called the pleasure in specific. One should know this from a text like Kāmasūtra or from the gathering of the connoisseurs”[7].

Some scholars say:

“It is appropriate to have a text about virtue, because it concerns matters not of this world, and to have one about power, because that is achieved only when the ground work is laid by special methods, which one learns from a text. But since even animals manage sex themselves and since it goes on all the time, it should not have to be handled with the help of a text”[8].

Vātsyāyana answering to this problem thus:

“A man and a woman depend upon one another in sex, it requires a method, and this is learned from the Kāmasūtra. The mating of animals by contrast is not based upon any method, because, they are not fenced in, they mate only when the females are in their fertile season and until they achieve their goal, and they act without thinking about it first”[9].

The materialists say that one should not follow the path of virtue and they observe that a pigeon today is better than a peacock tomorrow and a guaranteed copper coin is better than the doubtful gold coin[10]. For this, Vātsyāyana gives five-fold reasons to elucidate that one must follow virtue[11].

Fatalists say that one should not make any kind of effort for acquiring the material prosperity. It is actually the fate, which does everything; it is the time, which places men in the situation of gain and loss, victory and defeat. Vātsyāyana objects to this by his argument.

He says:

“All the undertakings are based upon certain methods; one should rely on these methods all people are inclined to get success by being industrious that which is destined to happen only by a man’s diligence. Therefore, there is no good for the inactive man”[12].

Pragmatists reject the practice of pleasure. They say; one should not indulge in pleasure or Kāma because, it is an obstacle in the path of virtue and prosperity, which are major aims for good people and it produces evils in man. To strengthen their argument, several examples from scriptures like the episodes of king Dāṇḍakya, Indra and Ahalyā, Kīcaka and Draupadī, Rāvaṇa and Sītā are referred to here[13].

Vātsyāyana establishes his opinion by rejecting pragmatists thus:

“Pleasure or Kāma is essential as food for sustaining the body and they are rewards for virtue and prosperity. One must put up with risks. But does not forgo cooking one’s food fearing that a beggar might come and claim his par and one does not forgo sowing wheat fear of wild beasts[14].

The chapter concludes in some verses announcing that the man indulging equally in the three aims enjoys happiness without thrones in this world and another world. Wise people undertake a project that does not make them worry, about what will happen in the next world and where the pleasure does not come in the way of the object itself. Whether one pursues the three aims, two, or even one, the achievement of one of them must not be prejudicial to the other two[15].

Chapter three is on the acquisition of knowledge. Without affecting any objection to the studies regarding virtue and prosperity, one should learn of Kāmasūtra and the arts subsidiary to it. Before attaining young age, women also learn this and if married, she may study them with the concurrence of her husband[16]. Some ancient authorities say that there is no use initiating women into the erotic science, because of they are unable to understand the sciences. However, Vātsyāyana strictly says, women should understand the practice, and the practice is based on the text. This applies beyond this specific subject of the Kāma-sūtra, for throughout the world in all subjects, there are only a few people who know the text, but the practice is within the range of everyone. A text however for removed, is the ultimate source of practice[17]. Then the sixty-four types of arts, which include both entertainments and intellectual lessons are described. A woman should learn them from a trusted person in private. In case of virgins, the foster-sister, a girl friend, her aunt, an old maid servant, a nun and her own elder sister will function as the teacher[18]. A courtesan, excelling in these arts and having virtue, beauty and qualities, is elevated as a gaṇikā and honored in public assemblies. The princess or other noble women who have expertise in these arts, can captivate a husband even if he is maintaining a harem of thousands of women. In case of widows or such other unfortunate women, arts will help them to live happily. A man expert in these arts, eloquent in conversation and adept in flattery, wins the hearts of women, even if he is not held in reputation[19].

Chapter four is about the lifestyle of the citizen. Having completed education and acquired wealth by gifts received, conquest, trade and work, or else by inheritance, or both and having married, a citizen must settle down in a refined manner-in a city, a capital city, a market town, or some large gathering where there are good people or wherever he has to stay to make living. There he should construct a home near water source with an orchard, servant quarters and two bedrooms[20]. Here the manner of furnishing home and bedroom decoration is described. The room outside should have a soft bed with two pillows, in the middle and with a white sheet spread on it and the bed should have a couch adjacent to it. Towards the front side of the bed, there should be a grass mate and an altar. The left over items used in the night, like creams, garlands, perfume bottles etc should be placed on the altar. A spittoon should be placed on the floor. A lute should hang on the peg of ivory on the wall, a canvas for painting alongside the box containing brush and colours should be placed. Some books and a garland of amaranth flowers should be arranged. Nearby on the ground, a seat spread with a round pillow and a board for gambling should be placed adjacent to it. Outside the bedroom, the cages for pet birds should hang. The place for carving by the carpenter and other sports must be made in a lonely corner. In the orchard, there should be a well-padded swing in the shade, bench of clay on the ground spread with flowers[21]. Then, a very detailed account on the daily routine of the citizen has explained.

He gets up in the morning, relieves himself, cleans his teeth, applies fragrant oils, garlands, beeswax and red lac, looks at his face in a mirror, takes some mouthwash and betel, attends to the things that need to be done. He bathes every day, has his limbs rubbed with oil every second day, a foam bath every third day, his face shaved every fourth day and his body hair removed every fifth or tenth day, continually cleans the sweat from his armpits. He eats in the morning and afternoon. Cārāyaṇa says that one should eat in the evening also. After that, he should engage in teaching parrots and mynah birds to speak; goes to quail fights, cock fights and ram fights; engage in various arts and games. Then he may spend his time a little by the conversations with clown, pander or libertine and the mid-day sleep should be taken. After this, the citizen, having put on his clothes and ornaments, should during the afternoon, converse with his friends. In the evening, after some entertainments like musical concerts, he should wait with his one or two friends at a previously decorated bedroom for the arrival of the women that may be attached to him, or he may send a female messenger for her or go to her himself. After her arrival, his friends should welcome her and entertain with a loving, friendly and agreeable conversation[22]. These are the duties or routines of a citizen in a day and night.

The things to be occasionally as diversion or amusements are described here.

1. Festivals: On some particularly auspicious day, an assembly of invited guests will be arranged at the temple of goddess Sarasvatī. Visiting players also come there and give an audition for them, and on the next day they are rewarded with a fixed fee. Then, they may give a performance or be dismissed according to their reception. The festivals dedicated to this or that particular deity can be described in the same way, taking into consideration the different circumstances[23].

2. Salons: When a reception takes place in the house of a courtesan or a citizen, the company of friends or comrades must be chosen for their common culture, intelligence, fortune, age and character. This makes for pleasant conversation with the courtesans. When gathering takes place to discuss matters on literature and arts, talented celebrities are honored and uninvited artists respectfully welcomed[24].

3. Drinking Parties: They have drinking parties at one another’s houses. There the courtesans get the men to drink and drink after them. Wine made from honey, grapes and other fruits or sugar with various sorts of fruits, grains, vegetables and bitter, spicy, salty or sour side dishes[25].

4. Picnics: Early in the morning, the citizens dress gently, go out on horseback along with servants, and accompanied by courtesans. They enjoy the daytime and spend the time by engaging in various entertainments like cock fight, gambling or appropriate activities[26].

5. Group Games: Some regional group games like goblin night, full moon vigil, spring festival, breaking upon mangoes, eating roasted grains and lotus stems, playing with new leaves etc are described here as the games played by a citizen along with courtesans and their friends during leisure time[27].

Then, the nature and conduct of the co-citizens like libertine, pander and clown are explained here. They are the trusted advisors whom courtesans and citizens employ in their battles and truces[28].

The chapter concludes by the quotations:

“In social gatherings or assemblies, a citizen discoursing not entirely in Sanskrit nor wholly in the dialects of the country, on various topics in society, obtains great respect. The wise man should not resort to a society disliked by the public, governed by no rules and intent on the destruction of others. But an educated man living in a society which acts according to the wishes of the public and which has pleasure for its only object is highly respected in this world[29].

Chapter five is on the assistants of the hero and functions of messengers. The chapter starts with the discussion on inter-caste marriage. It is strictly ruled that the marriage should be done only with the man and woman who belong to the same caste[30]. Inter-caste marriage was not entertained in any manner. Then, a threefold classification of heroines viz; virgin, remarried woman and courtesan is seen.

Goṇikāputra has mentioned a fourth kind of heroine, a woman who is resorted on some special occasion. Such a woman may be previously married to another[31]. There are fifteen solid reasons that have been explained here as the causes for sexually approaching another man’s wife. But, it is also directed that, nothing rash should be done merely because of sexual desire[32].

Under the above circumstances, Cārāyaṇa opines that there is also a fifth type of heroine called a woman who is kept by a minister or who repairs to him occasionally; or a widow who accomplishes the purpose of a man with the person to whom she resorts. Suvarṇanābha adds a sixth kind of heroine; that a woman who passes the life of an ascetic and in the condition of a widow. The seventh kind of heroine, according to Ghoṭamukha is the daughter of a public woman and a female servant, who are still virgins. Gonardīya puts forth his doctrine that any woman born of good family, after she has come of age is the eighth kind of heroine[33].

According to Vātsyāyana, these women should be counted with the others. Because, there is no difference in the purposes for which they are used. So, there are just four sorts of women only as said earlier who can be heroines. Some people speak of a third nature, the inverts or homosexuals, who have particular practices and they constitute the fifth category of sexual partners[34]. Then, it has described about the women who are not to be approached. They are; a leper, a lunatic, a woman turned out of caste, a woman who reveals secrets, one who publically expresses a desire for sexual union, who is extremely white or black in color, bad smelling woman, who is a near relative or a female friend, who leads the life of an ascetic, wife of a relative, friend, a learned Brāhmin and the king[35]. According to Bābhravīyas, when it is certain that a woman has had relations with five men other than her husband, she is approachable. However, Goṇikāputra says; if she is a wife of a friend or priest, a female friend, the women of a royal family should approach her first[36]. Then, the qualities of friends described. They are as under-one who has been a play mate from childhood, who is related through some favor made to him, similar in character and tastes, who has been a class fellow, who knows the secrets and vulnerable spots, the foster-brother and is a hereditary friend. The conditions enhancing the friendship with these persons are also described here along with[37]. Vātsyāyana adds that a citizen form friendship with washer men, barbers, cowherds, florists, druggists, betel-leaf sellers, wine merchants beggars, libertine, pander, clown and the wives of all these people also[38].

Before concluding, the qualities of a messenger also are explained. Glibness, audacity, knowledge of signals and gestures that reveal emotions, knowledge of the right moment for deception, an understanding of what is possible and a light approach to method are the qualities of ma messenger[39].

The topic ends by the contextual verse that;

“A man who has confidence in himself, has friends, who initiated in conduct of the hero, understands the intentions of the women, knows time and place, he can capture a woman who is otherwise unattainable”[40].

Footnotes and references:


Kāmasūtra, 1. 1. 1-4


Kāmasūtra, 1. 1. 5-14


Kāmasūtra, 1. 1. 15-24


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 1-6


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 7-8


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 9-10


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 11-13


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 16-17


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 18-20


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 21-24


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 25


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 26-31


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 32-36


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 37-38


Kāmasūtra, 1. 2. 39-40


Kāmasūtra, 1. 3. 1-2


Kāmasūtra, 1. 3. 3-6


Kāmasūtra, 1. 3. 12-15


Kāmasūtra, 1. 3. 16-22


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 1-3


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 4


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 5-13


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 15-18


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 19-21


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 22-23


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 24-26


Kāmasūtra, 1, 4, 27-30


Kāmasūtra, 1, 4, 31-35


Kāmasūtra, 1. 4. 37-39


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 1-2


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 3-4


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 5-21


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 22-25


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 26-27


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 29


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 30-31


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 32-33


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 34


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 36


Kāmasūtra, 1. 5. 37

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