By Aparna Jacob January 2003 The Kama Sutra showcases the marriage of the spiritual and the sensual which stems from the Indian belief that the body is as sacred as the spirit Love rages as hard as it did in the age of sages, testifies the latest avatar of the immortal collection of affection aphorisms, the Kama Sutra. This time it is a 256-page, lavishly illustrated, coffee table offering from Brijbasi Art Press with the text penned by photographer and art collector Lance Dane. Kama Sutra: Aphorisms of Love has reportedly already sold over 35,000 copies worldwide. ‘Not because it`s a sex book,’ explains the author who in collaboration with Mulk Raj Anand had produced an award-winning Kama Sutra in 1982. ‘But because it talks about the quality of life. Here`s a book that delineates how best to derive pleasure from the most intimate and natural of human activities.’ Dane`s tryst with the ‘best known but the least read book on the art of love’ dates back to 1942, when as a 20-year-old army recruit, Dane was on his way to the warfront in Burma. In a bookshop in Allahabad, he chanced upon a cheap paperback version of the Kama Sutra. On the cover was a picture of voluptuous figures kissing, frozen in stone. Fascinated by the spread of photographs and reproductions from ancient temples and museums, Dane began honing his skills as a shutterbug aided by tips from renowned Bengali photographer Sunil Jana. Shooting in available natural light soon became Dane`s specialty and his passion has yielded the banquet of erotic images culled from sources as varied as Bengal terracotta, ancient toys and sculptures, jewelery from the Gupta period, gold coins, palm leaf manuscripts, Mughal miniatures, gangifa playing cards from Orissa, ivory toiletries and temple architecture around the country. Dane`s credentials as an art collector and historian make him an authority on the ancient treatise on love: ‘Indian erotic art is striking in its naturalness. The female form is accorded an equality seldom seen and is depicted as an object of fertility rather than lust. This is evident even in the Kama Sutra, which was conceived in a time of prosperity and liberal-mindedness, when sex was, in a matter-of-fact way, an integral part of life.’ The Kama Sutra showcases the marriage of the spiritual and the sensual which stems from the Hindu belief that the body is as sacred as the spirit and sexuality in all its forms is as worthy of reverence as the spiritual. Herein lies the intrinsic value of the amorous text that like kama or desire, the most powerful of all motives that drives living beings, has resided as a seed and passed on through the loins of humanity, down the annals of time. Nandi the Bull, the companion of Lord Shiva observing his lord`s amorous advances towards Parvati, recorded them as 1,00,000 verses of the Kama Shastra. These filtered down through the oral tradition finally reaching Svetaketu, a Vedic sage who summarized these in 8th century BCE. Much later the ancient sexologist Babharavya together with his disciples condensed Svetaketu`s work into the seven adhikarnas or sections with the famed 64 positions. The seven sections were elaborated upon by seven ancient sages. Mallanaga Vatsyayana`s interviews of these sages yielded the synthesized treatise we know as the Kama Sutra. Historians date the compilation as 380-420 CE or thereabouts, perhaps during the reign of the Gupta Emperor, Chandragupta II, a period of prosperity and hedonistic indulgence. Hence the Kama Sutra provides for the games and pastimes of men and women, their celebrations, the study of arts and sciences to enhance one`s personality and cultivate pleasant traits. The book details all possibilities and postures of love and erotics from the initial approaches to the consummation, including games, tricks, aids and spells. The most interesting parts are tactics to seduce a maiden and precautions to be observed when seducing another man`s wife. The undertow of all this is: It is the dharma of a man and woman to experience kama and it is meritorious ‘if it is done well and with the aim to please both participants, and for them to derive pleasure’. The Kama Sutra, writes Dane, is a lexicon of human behaviour but it is not without words of circumspection, cautioning those who would burn their fingers, if due consideration is not applied within the code of conduct of dharma. ‘Sections like seducing another man`s wife are not necessarily indications of moral laxity in as much as they reflect reality,’ Dane is quick to clarify. ‘The delicate balance of relationships involved in such an activity was as precarious then as it is today. From the ethical and social point of view sex with another man`s wife is forbidden. It is not surprising that it results in other men`s wives being considered most piquant.’ The Kama Sutra is not a treatise on ethical values but transgressions, if any, are always within the bounds of social convention. It gives advice on all aspects of love, even the forbidden. Its aim is ensuring a full enjoyable sex life, paramount happiness. All of these however are always within the purview of dharma, artha, kama and moksha, as in the Hindu view, the union of the man and woman becomes the perfect symbol of liberation and leads to salvation. Vatsyayana describes nine types of union possible between men and women, depending on varying degrees of passion, with varying kinds of kisses, embraces and pressing of thighs. Underlying these seeming trivialities is a playful curiosity about the limitless possibilities of the mind and body. The delightful playfulness is vital if sex is to not become banal. The attitude of equality between the sexes in all matters of erotic love comes across as refreshingly healthy and wholly unexpected. Though oft neglected, it is an attitude inherent in the word sam-bhoga, ordinarily translated as `sexual intercourse`. Yet this completely misses the true import of the original Sanskrit term that implies ‘enjoying together’ or ‘enjoying in harmony’. ‘Eroticism meant the uninhibited enjoyment of all the pleasures and delights within the ultimate aim to attain a paroxysm,’ says Dane. ‘The accent during those times was on the accomplishments in all walks of life with an unabashed and non-prudish acceptance of the pursuits of seduction as an art and a pleasurable one at that after the suspension of all guilt and sense of sin.’ At a time, when sex is becoming mechanical, we could do with a whiff of this spirit.
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