Kama Sutra Summary and Analysis
A virtuous woman who has affection for her husband should treat him as if he were a divine being, and thus take care of his whole family. In the house, the husband is a god. The wife should keep the house clean, arrange flowers for decoration, and keep the floors smooth and polished. She should also do all the religious poojas necessary, for nothing attracts the heart more than "careful observance of the household rituals." The wife should plant and tend an herb garden, and should carefully maintain family relations. She should avoid the company of female beggars, female fortunetellers, and witches. She should consider her husband's likes and dislikes when preparing his food, and whenever she hears his footsteps at home she should be ready to do his bidding, including washing his feet. Whenever she goes anywhere with her husband she should put on ornaments, and she should not accept invitations, attend marriages, sit with her friends, or visit temples without his permission. In the same way, she should always sit down after him, get up before him, and never awaken him when he is asleep. She should forgive him when he misbehaves and not use abusive language, for there is nothing worse to a husband than a wife who scolds.
A wife, moreover, should not tell strangers the amount of her wealth, not the secrets that her husband confides to her. She should surpass all the women of her own rank in cleverness, appearance, and cooking skills. Additionally, she should make sure the expenditures of the household are in accordance with the family income, and should make sure that oil, sugar, and butter are all prepared at home. Her duties also include looking after the tilling of the fields, keeping the flock, and taking care of domestic animals.
When her husband is on a journey, a virtuous woman should wear only her most auspicious ornaments, and should observe the fasts in honor of the gods. While anxious to hear news of her husband, she should still be mindful of the household affairs and ensure that the house is ready for his return. When he returns, she should receive him in her ordinary clothes so that he may know in what way she has lived during his absence, and should bring him presents as well as materials for the worship of the deity.
A woman only remarries when she is ill-tempered, disliked by her husband, desirous of offspring, continually giving birth to daughters, or suffering from her husband's impotence. From the beginning, a wife aims to win her husband's heart through his devotion, good temper, and wisdom, but if she bears no children, she should tell her husband to marry another woman. When the second wife is brought to the house, the first wife should give her a position superior to her own, and look upon her as a sister. If the younger wife does anything to displease the husband, the elder wife should always be ready to give her careful advice. The younger wife, meanwhile, should regard the elder wife as her "mother," and should not give away any secrets without her knowledge. Indeed, she should not even approach her husband without the permission of the elder wife. No matter how much she resents a rival wife, this younger wife cannot tell her husband of her pain.
An abandoned or neglected wife should never rebuke her husband or show obstinacy; she should only go near her husband when it is agreeable to him. She should keep her husband's weak points secret and show her children that she is devoted to their father. Meanwhile, should a woman become widowed, she cannot remarry unless she is of poor circumstances, or a weak nature.
Of all the books of the Kama Sutra, this is perhaps the one that seems the most anti-feminist. A woman is placed squarely at the head of domestic matters and in a role of servitude to her husband. That said, Hinduism has never shied away from the fact that it sees a woman's control of her house as an immense source of power and responsibility. It is up to the woman to keep the husband afloat and to ensure that he fulfills his worth as a man by keeping the family together, charming his relatives, making sure that the family is fed, managing the expenses, and having children. For all the anti-feminist overtones, the subtext is that the woman is responsible for the family's livelihood.
At the same time, it is quite clear that a wife's chief responsibility is to bear children - and, specifically, to bear sons. If a woman cannot bear children, then the husband - in a radical departure from everything else in the Kama Sutra - is allowed to remarry. Not only is he allowed to remarry, but the first wife must take care of the younger wife in order to ensure that their husband produces children. This is technically polygamy, of course, but the Kama Sutra presents the arrangement as a solely functional endeavor - a way of making up for the first wife's failings.
Ideally, there is a great deal of trust between man and wife. There are repeated mentions of the fact that women should not betray their husbands by sharing their secrets - either to family members, people outside the family, or to a second wife if one is brought into the house. Moreover, the husband needs to know that his wife is like the rock of the house - faithful, loyal, and always attentive to her duties. Thus, the Kama Sutra preaches even the smallest details of fidelity, such as wearing casual home clothes upon a husband's return from a long journey in order to show him that the home has been cared for in his absence.
There is certainly room for disagreements between a husband and a wife, but if a wife is ill-tempered or if her husband truly cannot stand her, then the Kama Sutra allows for separation or remarriage. However, if the disagreement is one-sided (for example, if the husband can't stand his wife, but the wife is still in love with her husband), then the implication is that the wife should simply stay as far away from the husband as she can while performing her wifely duties.
The question of widowhood has long been a subject of debate in Hinduism, especially as modern pragmatism encroaches on ancient tradition. But the Kama Sutra suggests that there are only two good reasons for a widow to remarry. One is if she is of "poor circumstances" and needs a man to ensure that her livelihood remains intact. In other words, the man suddenly becomes the source of a woman's survival - which is in direct contrast to the earlier part of the chapter, which suggests that a man is dependent on his wife for his sustenance. The second condition under which remarriage is possible is if a widow is of "weak character," but what constitutes a weak character is never explained. We are left with the understanding that if a woman knows that this pejorative term "weak" comes with her desire to remarry after being left a widow, she will refrain from doing so.
Kama Sutra Essays and Related Content
- Kama Sutra: Major Themes
- Kama Sutra: E-Text
- Kama Sutra: Questions
- Kama Sutra: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Vatsyayana: Biography
- Kama Sutra Summary
- About Kama Sutra
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Book 1
- Summary and Analysis of Book 2
- Summary and Analysis of Book 3
- Summary and Analysis of Book 4
- Summary and Analysis of Book 5
- Summary and Analysis of Book 6
- Summary and Analysis of Book 7
- Kama Sutra Image
- Kama Sutra Image 2
- Kama Sutra Image 3
- Kama Sutra Image 4
- Kama Sutra Image 5
- Related Links on Kama Sutra
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources