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The Wisdom Of The Kama Sutra

A new translation of the Kama Sutra. We’ll talk sex, ancient wisdom, and how to live right.

Kama Sutra Statues (Nir Sinay/Flickr)

Kama Sutra Statues (Nir Sinay/Flickr)

Say Kama Sutra and everybody thinks sex.  And there is plenty of that in the ancient text out of India.  Carnal engagement every which way and meticulous advice on exquisite form.  For years after its first translation the West was agog.  What a world.  What a view.

But there is much more to the Kama Sutra, it turns out, than the gymnastics of love.  There is a deep and generous meditation on how to live.  How to compose a life, its parts, the work and pleasures within it.  We could use a little ancient wisdom.

This hour, On Point: love lessons, life lessons, from the Kama Sutra.

-Tom Ashbrook


Aditya Haksar, author of the new translation, Kama Sutra: A Guide to the Art of Pleasure. You can read an excerpt here.

Wendy Doniger, Sanskrit scholar and expert on Hinduism and mythology. She’s a professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, and author of many books and translations. She published her own translation of the Kama Sutra in 2003.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “This clear and elegant new translation is the work of A. N. D. Haksar, a former Indian diplomat and a well-known translator of Sanskrit classics. It’s worth attending to, and not merely because Valentine’s Day is nearly here, and your partner might find this sleek new Penguin Classics edition an intellectual aphrodisiac, though it contains no erotic illustrations, except several sublime ones on its cover.”

CNN “Not that the Kama Sutra has suffered much from neglect in recent decades. But since Sir Richard Burton’s 19th century English translation was widely published in 1962, successive interpretations have funneled its meaning until it shrunk into a graphic synonym for sex squeezed into a book the size of a pocket. ”


Excerpt: Kama Sutra

Reviving Passion

It is said:

Even at its ending, pleasure

still nurtured with caring acts

and words exchanged in confidence,

causes a supreme delight.

Responding to each other’s feelings

which inspire mutual pleasure -

one moment a show of anger,

in the next a loving gaze -

they play at ring around the roses,

they sing, they dance the Lata way,

their eyes rolling, moist with passion,

they stare at the orb of the moon.

Talking of old times,

the wishes they both had

at their very first meeting

and the sadness and pain

when they were parted,

and after this ardent

embraces and kisses.

With such exchanges

passion increases.



“Kaithapoo Visariyumay” by K.J. Yesudas & Madhuri
“Sona Chandi” by Alka Yagnik & Udit Narayan

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  • Terry Tree Tree

    It will be interesting to listen to them dance around this subject!
      Necessary for life, some of the greatest pleasures, denied by restrictive religions?

    • http://twitter.com/saradonn Sara Donn

      Sex is denied by religion? I’m guessing not, even among the most “restrictive” (whatever that means), since it is necessary for reproduction.

      • BEEZ

        You’re right. The Catholic church has been molesting boys since its inception.

        • http://twitter.com/saradonn Sara Donn

          I’m right about the Catholic church? Considering I didn’t make a claim about the Catholic church it looks like you have a grudge on your shoulder about something. I suggest addressing that in an appropriate venue rather than taking it out on a random commenter on an NPR blog.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            BEEZ was responding to my comment?

          • Modavations

            Bleat 3
            The Pervert Priests did it

          • Terry Tree Tree

            Moda has seen the light of truth!

      • Terry Tree Tree

        The Shakers became extinct because they restricted sex and children from their religion?
           Many religions ‘allow’ sex, ONLY for procreation?
           Many religions decry the enjoyment of sex, as evil?
          Some religions claim ‘abstinence’, resorting to the worst kinds of perversion?

        • Modavations

          I’m curious,during congress do you act as the male or female

          • Terry Tree Tree

            I wasn’t elected to Congress!

    • Modavations

      Bleat 3
      The Pervert,pedophile,homo Priests did it

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Moda’s finally seeing the truth?

  • Anonymous

    When we love and are loved we feel the presence of God in our lives.

    • gemli

      This is a nice sentiment, but I don’t feel any such thing.  God and religion are not necessary for one to feel love, especially when only certain kinds of love are included in many believers’ philosophies.  God’s most vocal defenders aren’t crazy about love between gay people, to take one example.  Catholic priests have to forego normal human sexual relationships, which is an extremely twisted and inhuman way for people to live.  The more we divest ourselves of supernatural nonsense, the more we can be true to our human nature, which fortunately includes love.

      • Anonymous

         God is love, and the ability to see all people as part of ourselves–

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          All people are a part of ourselves?  Fine, tell me what I’m thinking right now.

          Or to put it another way, your statement endangers the right of a person to be an individual.

      • BEEZ

        You’re confusing religion with spirituality.

  • gemli

    I wonder if we’ll be able to see our host blush through the radio.

  • The Sole And Universal God

    What about the Kama Shastra?

    • Terry Tree Tree


  • Jimmy Marcuse

    Listening to Charles Murray makes me think that he bears a deep envy of people he assumes are having better sex than he.

  • Yar

    Healthy and happy makes better relationships.  Bees need what is called the queen substance to work.  A hormone that tells them all is well.  Sex is part of our hormonal expression.  Back to last hour, we must provide a living wage if we expect the hive to survive.  I think this requires some flexibility from old stiff conservatives.

    • Modavations

      Living wage???Living Wage

    • Anonymous

      Sexual repression – the underlying neurosis of Conservatives?

  • Ray in VT

    I don’t know when I first heard of the Kama Sutra, but I do remember that once when I worked in a book store a middle aged woman from Southeast Asia came in looking for it.  Her English was not great, and she did not know what the book was, only that someone had recommended it to her as a tool to help win back her philandering husband.  She was embarrassed when she saw what it was, but she did inquire as to whether or not I could attest to the effectiveness of the techniques described.  That was a tricky one.

    • Modavations

      I would have volunteered to show her how it’s done

    • Pradeep

       Well, I am originally from South Asia, better still, India. I just cracked up reading this one!

  • Spizz

    The author of the Kama Sutra seems to have been the Martha Stewart of his time, LOL! But seriously, I do like the idea of a balanced life. I also see a parallel with Carlo Petrini (Slow Food) and the right to pleasure.

  • Sinharp

    Interesting conversation.  But what’s with the b-grade indian film sountracks.  The sutra can be better represented with non-film tracks.

  • Anonymous

    I heard about it ten years ago while in high school, at that time all I knew about it were the “infamous” parts. After listening to this I will definitely get a hold of a translation and look at it with a more mature eye.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    The wealthy, that only move money around, have time to pursue these uplifting methods of personal pleasures.  Many of them are so caught up in the pursuit of wealth, that they don’t know personal pleasure?

    • Modavations

      Bleat # 2
      The Greeeeeeedy rich did it

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Guppy’s goat understands!  Hope goat can educate Moda?

  • BEEZ

    You are right, sex is part of religion, for example, The Catholic Church and it’s molestation of young boys….better?
    No grudge; nothing of the sort.
    My (clearly facetious) point was that religion does deny sex in a pleasureable manner; I was using the Catholic Church example to highlight the hypocracy of organized religion

  • Jasoturner

    Sex, scotch, music, fine food.  The simple pleasures of maturity.

  • Anonymous

    I find it a shame on Western society that Hinduism is the only religion that I’m aware of that actually celebrates sex and sensuality.  Until the English Imperialism came and forced Victorian mores on these Hindus.  Now, it is still illegal to even kiss on a movie set.  The Hindus have gone from the most sensuous religion to the most chaste religion – all in the time of the English occupation.

    • A Hindu

      ” Now, it is still illegal to even kiss on a movie set.”

      Erm, you might want to check your facts before spreading them on a forum with such authority. Your deep ignorance is showing here.

    • A Hindu

       “Until the English Imperialism came and forced Victorian mores on these Hindus.”

      You missed something – the great and wonderful Religion of Peace that came to India before English Imperialism did, and destroyed temples, converted Hindus through force, killed “infidels”, took women as slaves etc. etc. That was another reason – along with English imperialism which came later – that caused much havoc in Hindu society. Then again, I can understand your reluctance – assuming it’s not ignorance – to not mention the great Religion of Peace and give it a free pass and instead, zero in on English.

    • awoman

      Judaism celebrates sex and sensuality!  Especially on Shabbat, and the husband is always commanded to please his wife!  When you take the time to learn the details of any religion, you learn that there is much more than met the uninformed eye. 

  • Andrea

    When I finally started reading it, I was amazed at what it took to become a desirable woman! I used to study about the ‘renaissance man’ but she is truly a well educated woman!

  • Gregg

    I was hoping this would morph into a discussion of “Fast and Furious”.

  • A Hindu

    It is very disappointing that someone like Doniger was invited on this show. Many inaccuracies have been found in her works, and it would have been better to get someone else to comment on Kama Sutra who doesn’t have such a narrow and limited perspective on Hinduism.

    Here’s Aseem Shukla on Doniger:
    “I revisit her work now not just because Doniger provokes so many of us
    in the Hindu American community. Doniger represents what many believe
    to be a fundamental flaw in the academic study of Hinduism: that Hindu
    studies is too often the last refuge of idiosyncratic and irreligious
    academics presenting themselves as “experts” on a faith that they study
    without the insight, recognition or reverence of, in this case, a
    practicing Hindu or even non-Hindu–striving to study Hinduism from the
    insider’s perspective–would offer.”

  • A Hindu

    Instead of getting a hack like Doniger, next time ‘On Point’ has a discussion on Hinduism, they should invite Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation. Rajiv has done extensive research and written many essays (and two books) pointing out the numerous serious shortcomings in the works of American “scholars” like Doniger who take on the mantle of gate-keepers of Hinduism (shades of “white man’s burden”?) and purport to tell us practicing Hindus what our religion is all about.

    If you’re interested in learning about Hinduism, the best way to do so is to get on your program, some knowledgeable person with an “emic” perspective, rather than “etic” non-practicing armchair “intellectuals” like Doniger.

    Rajiv’s website is here: http://infinityfoundation.com/index.shtml and he has written extensively on Hinduism and on the pathetic state of Indological scholarship in the US, as well as penned op-eds at Huffington Post. A brilliant mind who is well-respected among Hindus.

  • Slipstream

    Now this was interesting.  And people thought Playboy Magazine was something new!  (lol)  It is interesting to learn more about the Kama Sutra.  Like most Americans, I thought it was some sort of old sex manual.

  • Mark Richard Beaulieu

    Enjoyed the show. The translation is refreshing. The cover graphics and in the flaps are very modern.  The comparison of the Indian court traditions are of contrast to the Western traditions of courtly love that put more emphasis into an active role – writing love letters, singing songs, performing feats – part of my study in the origins of romance at the heart of Alienor of Aquitaine, my specialty of interest. -
     Mark Richard Beaulieu

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