Way back in the mists of time, I belonged to a book club. Not one of those where a bunch of middle-aged housewives sit around talking about the latest books, but one where they sent you an actual little catalog of the discount publisher’s offerings every month.
One month, one of the highlighted offerings was The Complete Kama Sutra: The First Unabridged Modern Translation of the Classic Indian Text by Alain Daniélou. Like most of you, I’d only heard of the Kama Sutra as an erotic guide to making love. Here was a chance to actually read the darn thing, and then be able to say I’d read it.
And not just because it didn’t have any pictures. As I liked to put it, whoever wrote it had “the mind of an accountant”. Everything was in lists. From a list of the Types of Arranged Marriage to the Types of Fingernail Marks One Can Leave on Their Lover. Seriously, that was one of the lists.
It sat on my bookshelf for many a year, begging to be re-read. I shied away from it, recalling the boredom.
But now, I have this blog. And I need something to write about.
So, why not follow along with me as I have another go at it?
First, the introduction.
The work was compiled by around the late 3rd century, and is a compilation of works going back to at least 400 BCE. The idea behind it is that there are four parts of a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life. “Artha”, or material goods – the things that allow you to live. “Kama”, the “sensual” part of life – the pleasures of the senses and the body. “Dharma”, one’s responsibility to society. Finally, “moksha”, spiritual fulfillment (to put it simply) – “enlightenment” if you will. They are all connected, and you cannot really achieve one without having a good deal of the others.
With that in mind, the target audience is someone in the upper middle class. Someone well-off enough to be able to afford to entertain a lover in a decent manner and aware of their obligations to behave properly, both to their partner and society as a whole.
This edition not only contains the parts that Richard Burton left out when he translated, er, hacked it to bits, completely bungled the translation, and gave the work its lascivious reputation, but also includes two commentaries: the Jayamangala Commentary which dates to the twelfth century, and a modern commentary by Devadatta Shastri. To keep things separate, the original text is in bold, the Jayamangala Commentary is in italic, and Shastri’s commentary is in regular type. You get used to it.
I’ve read some criticism of Daniélou’s translation, but I’ve also read that a translation by his main critic has come under it’s own fire.
Guess no one can avoid putting their own spin on things when they translate a work as old as this.
Anyway, buckle up!
I’ll be covering it over the next several weeks. What, you didn’t think I’d miss a chance to pad my post count?