When the seeds of desire are first awakened, man and woman–two equal and complementary counterparts–embark upon a journey to seek delight. The goal of mastering the techniques of love is to attain a state of eruption. This is not the path of celibacy and austerity. Rather, it is a journey of dance through which one is able to experience infinite delight.

To arrive at this state of infinite delight, firstly, one must choose an art form where freedom can be easily expressed. From music, to writing, to sculpture, to dance–it is through the process of refinement that we prosper as a people and as a civilisation.

The Kama Sutra

Kama Shastra, the treatise on the art of love, is liked to the Artha Shastra, the pursuit of wealth. In this worldview, austerity and poverty have no place. Rather, it is the life of the householder living a productive economic life. It is not the abode of one who has renounced the delights of life in the pursuit of solitary spiritual bliss.

According to Vatsyayana–the author of the Kama Sutra, which evolved from the Kama Shastra–poverty, be it inner or outer; is an obstacle, not only to delight, but also to ethics and virtue. For those who marry, the practise and mastery of kama desire, was a must.

Vatsyayana’s works were addressed to the citizen living in a city. This largely refers to a wealthy and refined male who is an art-lover. He is either a merchant, a soldier or a civil servant who resides in a large and prosperous city. The arts must play an important role in his life–especially as it pertains to music, dance, painting, theatre and literary canons.

It was through the pursuit of the arts that he would find the delight that he was seeking.

The Role of Women

During the time of Vatsyayana, women enjoyed great freedom. They were free to either marry and not marry; they were free to leave their spouses and they were free to be courtesans. It was an egalitarian society where the pursuit of pleasure was not only encouraged, but also codified.

The Kama Sutra elaborates upon the duties of the wife and mother whose sole role was to attend to her family and her household. All choices were valid. The housewife and mother was encouraged to use seduction in her life, even to cajole her own husband. At the same time, the courtesan’s role was also celebrated.

The various forms of legal marriage are elaborated upon. The recommended marriage, however, was the gandharva marriage. It even explains the man’s role in seduction in the early days, particularly by way of purchasing gifts.

The remarriage of widows was also accepted. Although polygamy was practised, it was not recommended. Vatsyayana praises the advantages of having a single wife. He notes that it is wearisome to satisfy numerous wives as well as deal with the problems that arise due to a polygamous scenario.

To Vatsyayana, the pursuit of pleasure was not just play. It was an art form that had to codified and mastered.

A Kamasutra manuscript page preserved in the vaults of the Raghunath Temple in Jammu & Kashmir. (Image Credit: Ms Sarah Welch)

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