Kama Sutra


The most widely known English translation of the Kama Sutra was privately printed in 1883. It is usually attributed to renowned orientalist and author Sir Richard Francis Burton, but the chief work was done by the Indian archaeologist Bhagwan Lal Indraji, under the guidance of Burton's friend, the Indian civil servant Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, and with the assistance of a student, Shivaram Parshuram Bhide.[16] Burton acted as publisher, while also furnishing the edition with footnotes whose tone ranges from the jocular to the scholarly. Burton says the following in its introduction:

It may be interesting to some persons to learn how it came about that Vatsyayana was first brought to light and translated into the English language. It happened thus. While translating with the pundits the 'Anunga Runga, or the stage of love', reference was frequently found to be made to one Vatsya. The sage Vatsya was of this opinion, or of that opinion. The sage Vatsya said this, and so on. Naturally questions were asked who the sage was, and the pundits replied that Vatsya was the author of the standard work on love in Sanscrit[sic] literature, that no Sanscrit library was complete without his work, and that it was most difficult now to obtain in its entire state. The copy of the manuscript obtained in Bombay was defective, and so the pundits wrote to Benares, Calcutta and Jaipur for copies of the manuscript from Sanscrit libraries in those places. Copies having been obtained, they were then compared with each other, and with the aid of a Commentary called 'Jayamanglia' a revised copy of the entire manuscript was prepared, and from this copy the English translation was made. The following is the certificate of the chief pundit:

'The accompanying manuscript is corrected by me after comparing four different copies of the work. I had the assistance of a Commentary called "Jayamangla" for correcting the portion in the first five parts, but found great difficulty in correcting the remaining portion, because, with the exception of one copy thereof which was tolerably correct, all the other copies I had were far too incorrect. However, I took that portion as correct in which the majority of the copies agreed with each other.'

In the introduction to her own translation, Wendy Doniger, professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, writes that Burton "managed to get a rough approximation of the text published in English in 1883, nasty bits and all". The philologist and Sanskritist Professor Chlodwig Werba, of the Institute of Indology at the University of Vienna, regards the 1883 translation as being second only in accuracy to the academic German-Latin text published by Richard Schmidt in 1897.[17]

A noteworthy translation by Indra Sinha was published in 1980. In the early 1990s its chapter on sexual positions began circulating on the internet as an independent text and today is often assumed to be the whole of the Kama Sutra.[18]

Alain Daniélou contributed a noteworthy translation called The Complete Kama Sutra in 1994.[19] This translation, originally into French, and thence into English, featured the original text attributed to Vatsyayana, along with a medieval and a modern commentary. Unlike the 1883 version, Alain Daniélou's new translation preserves the numbered verse divisions of the original, and does not incorporate notes in the text. He includes English translations of two important commentaries:

  • The Jayamangala commentary, written in Sanskrit by Yashodhara during the Middle Ages, as page footnotes.
  • A modern commentary in Hindi by Devadatta Shastri, as endnotes.

Daniélou[20] translated all Sanskrit words into English (but uses the word "brahmin"). He leaves references to the sexual organs as in the original: persistent usage of the words "lingam" and "yoni" to refer to them in older translations of the Kama Sutra is not the usage in the original Sanskrit; he argues that "to a modern Hindu 'lingam' and 'yoni' mean specifically the sexual organs of the god Shiva and his wife, and using those words to refer to humans' sexual organs would seem irreligious." The view that lingam means only "sexual organs" is disputed by academics like S. N. Balagangadhara.[21]

An English translation by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar, an Indian psychoanalyst and senior fellow at Center for Study of World Religions at Harvard University, was published by Oxford University Press in 2002. Doniger contributed the Sanskrit expertise while Kakar provided a psychoanalytic interpretation of the text.[22]

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