Because of the restrictions the Victorian British had placed on the Kamasutra in the late 1800s, the public has come to regard this work of literature as a form of taboo. Whenever the words “Kamasutra” are mentioned among people who are not truly knowledgeable of what the book is all about, the usual reactions to be found among them include, but are not limited to, lewd and raucous jokes, hushed and embarrassed whispers, and lots of blushing.
What most people do not know is that while the Kamasutra does talk in detail about the art of seduction, with discussions on the ten types of kisses and the sixty-four positions of lovemaking, the treatise on sexual behavior actually covers only a fifth of the entire text. A good part of the Kamasutra deals about proper behavior that people should display to others within their own caste as well as with others; about handling relationship problems; about how a woman should decorate her home to make it more appealing to her guests, not just to her husband and lovers; about the 64 skills that both men and women should learn to please and stimulate the minds of their lovers, skills that include the art of tattoos, singing and dancing, as well as making and solving arithmetic puzzles, among many others.
As one may surmise, the art of lovemaking is not considered a sin in the Kamasutra. But neither is it to be taken lightly. Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is considered a “divine union” in the Kamasutra. There is no sin in sex and in seeking and giving pleasure; the only sin in it lies on if the sexual act was done badly.
The origins of the Kamasutra cannot be stated definitively, but historians have placed its earliest writing between the first and the fourth century AD. The clue used to the dating of the Kamasutra was the mention of Shatakami Satavahana within the text. Shatakami Satavana was a king who ruled the northern portion of India during the first century AD.
The Kamasutra is considered to be part of a larger body of work known as the Kama Shastras. The Kama Shastras is a collection of writings and sutras on politics, governance, proper behavior, spirituality, and a gamut of other subjects. The Kama Shastras, just like many ancient Hindu texts, were handed down orally from generation to generation. Not all of them were committed to paper, and so many sutras belonging to the collection of the Kama Shastras are now lost.
Traditionally, it is held that the Kama Shastras are the holy utterances of Nandi the sacred bull, who served as gatekeeper to the god Shiva. Nandi was inspired to deliver these holy utterances for the benefit of mankind upon overhearing Shiva while making love to his wife Parvati. Of all the works considered to belong to the Kama Shastras, the oldest is the Kamasutra, and it was written down by Vatsyayana, a man from Benares, a city now known as Vanarasi in Uttar Pradesh.
There are many translations of the Kamasutra in existence. The most famous – or notorious – of these translations is the one made by Sir Richard Francis Burton in 1883. Sir Richard Burton is a renowned explorer, linguist, translator, writer, poet, diplomat, soldier and scholar ethnology and oriental studies. The one trait most noted of Sir Richard Burton, however, is his deep interest for sex and sexual literature, a trait most abhorred in Victorian England. Among the other ancient works of erotic literature that Sir Richard Burton had translated were The Thousand and One Arabian Nights and The Perfumed Garden. Sir Richard Burton had faced serious trouble with the British government for violating the Obscene Publications Act in the publication of his translation of the Kamasutra and his other works. The Kamasutra was banned in the United Kingdom soon after its initial publication, and the ban was not lifted until 1963.
Since then, the Kamasutra has seen more modern translations, the most notable of which is the one worked on by Indra Sinha and published in 1980. The Complete Kamasutra was a translation created by Alain Danielou in 1994. The latest works on the Kamasutra were done separately by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar in 2002.