Sensual Karma

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In around 400BC it is claimed that India held around a quarter of the world’s population. It is maybe that this vast amount of people co-existing in one land saw the unique way that Indian religions existed side by side in harmony, creating an almost Utopian atmosphere for people to think and express themselves freely. This is obviously the perfect environment to produce the most ancient and greatest works of sexual relations ever known.

Sexuality and the act of sex itself were given such importance as a recreational pastime that much was documented. The oldest surviving work is the famous Karma Sutra written in the classical Gupta period around 450AD by the strictly celibate Vatsyayana Mallanaga.

Loosely translated from Sanskrit this means ‘Rules of Love’. This work was in effect a summary of much longer works dating back over 3000 years.

The Karma Sutra is not merely a book of sexual positions. It describes in detail how to converse, flirt, seduce and kiss a lover. It even deals with marriage and how to argue with a lover. But its language is far from poetic as one would imagine. It is very instructional and direct and forthright in its tone although many translations lose this due to its discovery in 1883 by the British Victorian Army Officer Sir Richard Burton who classed it as savage pornography. It is a work on the psychology of sex and covers the scholastic aspects of the era such as historical significance and anthropology. When this is taken into account it becomes fascinating that a works carried out so long ago has such relevance to the sex lives of many people throughout the world today. One thing the Victorians did neglect to emphasise was the total lack of prejudice to the female who more often than not took a leading role

In the 16th century The Ananga Ranga was written by Kalyana Malla. Also known as the Karma Shastra much reference was made to the Karma Sutra however, the major difference is that the Karma Shastra is purely a works of sexuality and its positions and not the social and anthropological aspects of the Karma Sutra. It mentioned frequently the penis and vagina (Lingam and Yoni in Sanskrit). Confusion of the two books may come from the fact that Burton also translated this work.

One issue that drove Malla to write the Karma Shastra was that he believed the main reason for man and wife drifting apart was the man’s preference for varied pleasures outside of the monogamous relationship.

Malla’s ‘raison d’etre’ for his work was to introduce variety within the relationship and prevent the man from seeking variety in another partner. With this thought foremost in his mind at the time of writing the Karma Shastra is written almost exclusively for men.

At the same time the Karma Shastra was being penned the Perfumed Garden was being written for the people of Arabia and North Africa by Sheikh Nefzaoui . Speculation can say that this work was also inspired by the Karma Sutra which may have so easily made its way from the Far East on trading ships. Again Sir Richard Burton translated this book from an earlier French translation as opposed to the more poetic Arabic. One main difference in the Perfumed garden was a chapter devoted to homosexual love making and lesbianism which due to the Victorian attitudes of Burton’s day were left out of the final translation into English. 

There appears to be much confusion with the three books and often parts from one are placed in another to justify a theory or explain a point. The only books bearing similarity are the Karma Shastra and the Perfumed Garden and both have taken their inspiration from the Karma Sutra. Maybe the Karma Sutra is a book we should all be acquainted with to better understand the feelings we harbour within us that our comparatively prudish society has kept hidden.

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