Abstract

Erotic religious imagery is as old as Hinduism. The earliest Hindu sacred text, the Rig Veda (c. 1500 BCE), revels in the language of both pleasure and fertility. In addition to this and other religious texts that incorporated eroticism, there were more worldly texts that treated the erotic tout court, of which the Kamasutra, composed in north India, probably in the third century CE, is the most famous. The two words in its title mean "desire/love/pleasure/sex" (kama) and "a treatise" (sutra). Virtually nothing is known about the author, Vatsyayana, other than his name and what we learn from this text. There is nothing remotely like it even now, and for its time it was astonishingly sophisticated; it was already well known in India at a time when the Europeans were still swinging in trees, culturally (and sexually) speaking. The Kamasutra's ideas about gender are surprisingly modern, and its stereotypes of feminine and masculine natures are unexpectedly subtle. It also reveals attitudes to women's education and sexual freedom, and views of homosexual acts, that are strikingly more liberal than those of other texts in ancient India or, in many cases, in contemporary India.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 49-74
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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