Category Archives: T. Assorted Themes in Hinduism

Hinduism in Occidental Literature

The subject of representations of Hinduism within Occidental literature is both vast in scope and transient in nature. Older texts such as those composed by British Imperial agents and Catholic missionaries are marred by Darwinian notions of their own more “highly evolved” society, but contemporary texts too, find themselves obscured by a mix of cultural appropriation and postcolonial discourse. Despite the wide breadth of such a topic, even when only considering “contemporary” works, patterns of representation do emerge. As one might expect, representations of Hinduism at the popular level tend to tread a narrow path. Generally, India is valued for just a few articles: its mysticism, its (imagined or real) religious fervour, ascetic men, and the trope of Hinduism’s caste system (Narayan 477). In fact, the figure of the sadhu adequately stands in for the way that India has been characterized as a whole for much of its history (Narayan 480-81). The figure is defined by his gender and religion, and the philosophical trappings that accompany it; however, besides his religion, the sadhu also represents the “dirtiness” and spiritual and moral backwardness of India and Hinduism (Narayan 480-81). Consider that all these negative connotations are contained within the ascetic practice of smearing one’s skin with ash: the Occidental epistemology perceives the ash as both dirty, and representative of the inflated images of sensationalist, over-zealous asceticism circulating in popular representation (Narayan 480). Such tropes are more overt in colonial discourse, but inform modern imaginations, and have come to largely dominate the spectrum of representation given to Hinduism in popular culture. Despite the bleakness of such prospects, deeper examination reveals a vastly more attractive vein of literature that struggles to meaningfully engage with Hinduism’s long history of religious and ontological philosophy. These texts are part of a continued literary tradition in the West that scorns reason and Western materialism in favour of ubiquitous spirituality, connectedness, and semi-ascetic tendencies. It is for this reason that the following authors and excerpts are chosen.

As previously suggested, modern representations of Hinduism hinge on their genesis in colonial England. Beginning around 1612, when the East Indian Company gained a foothold in India, British travelers to the region began to compose literature about it (“colonialism, Western”). Among the most influential of the early works is John Campbell Oman’s wildly popular 1905 book, Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India (Narayan 482-83). Like the other foundational texts mentioned above, Oman’s novel was read by many of the authors discussed below, and had a tangible effect on their own works. Oman was notable for his portrayal of India as defined by the renouncer, and for the commentaries his successor William M. Zumbro would make upon his text (Narayan 482-83). Zumbro valued India for its intense spiritualism, which for Zumbro, commendably preempts the material (Narayan 482-83). Other writers such as Sir William Jones, Sidney Owenson, and Georg W.F. Hegel hold equally lofty positions of influence. Jones is noted for his work with Sanskritic translations and philosophical works that paved the way for many other Indologists, like Owenson’s The Missionary: An Indian Tale (Uddin 35). Hegel is responsible for the spread of India as defined by its “Imagination,” which is picked up by the Romantics in a big way, even though Hegel meant this to be pejorative [Here, Imagination is meaningfully capitalized to follow both Hegel’s theory of the Imagination and the Romantic sense of the word.] (Soherwordi 211). All of the above works and authors deserve more attention in relation to Hinduism; however, their place within this article is in relation to later works, discussed below.

The first modern movement to engage with Hinduism is German Romanticism, which was at its height from the beginning to the middle of the 19th century (Narayan 489). Leaders of the movement like Johann Gottfried Herder and Friedrich Creuzer employed scholarship on India for, what they perceived to be, its emphasis on symbolic, mythical, and non-rational themes (Inden 413). To the Romantics, Hinduism expressed and supported their anti-Enlightenment discourse by reversing the hierarchy of reason implicit within their own societies that placed reason above all else. India came to be a place idealized by the Romantics for its oversaturation of Imagination, but also because the Romantics adored the concept of Brahman: put simply, divinity permeating all things (Soherwordi 211). The Romantics challenged traditional conceptions of religiosity within the Christian systems of their own countries, stressing especially that divinity is both within and is the self, but also the natural world. As Romanticism spread to England, the same ideas came along with it, spurring the creation of works such as Percy Shelley’s drama, Prometheus Unbound. Shelley is among many Romantics in England known to have read and written about Hindu texts, a fact that reveals itself through his work. Prometheus Unbound is set figuratively in India, and although the actual setting and frame is Europe, this is a conscious attempt by Shelley to confuse Hindu and Greek mythology (Uddin 47 & 44). Tied in to Shelley’s mixing of these cultures is the conflation of mythological figures associated with them. Critics observe that the passive Prometheus is akin to the god-concept Iswara in both his speech and action, while his lover Asia, (the name itself meaningful,) is like the active Shakti (Uddin 40). Prometheus is also equated with Rama in the play, drawing on both as embodiments of divine principles their authors wished to forward (Uddin 48). Another Hindu concept that comes forth in the text is an understanding of the Yogic tradition, especially raja-yoga in its historical sense of an ultimate stage, leading to “the full expression of the Will and the complete regeneration of the individual in the realm of the spirit of wisdom” (Uddin 39). Yet others have noticed elements of the sage Vasishta’s thought in Prometheus’s selfless suffering, and in the way he represents a principle of perfection that is barred from ultimate achievement (Uddin 40). Lastly, Shelley’s use of veil imagery mirrors Hindu notions of the contrast between inner reality and outer illusion (Uddin 39). Shelley’s approach to Hinduism is revealed in its ontology, but not all authors from the period are so sympathetic. For example, Robert Southey “displayed his fierce animus against Hinduism by opening his poem with the widow-burning ritual of sati, providing powerful propaganda for the Evangelicals who were lobbying Parliament to secure missionary activity in British India” (Murray 833). While this article has focused on Shelley as emblematic of the entire English branch of Romanticism, many other writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord George Byron, and William Blake are noteworthy for their use of Hinduism as well.

Following the Romantics, the American Transcendentalists of the mid-19th century picked up on many of the same components of Hinduism that their predecessors had, including individualism, nature, and intuition. The former concepts fit the ideology of the Transcendentalists perfectly, encouraging a great deal of involvement with Hinduism. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an iconic and preeminently influential scholar of the movement was no exception, writing in his “Indian Superstition” that, “Young muses caroled in thy sunny clime…. / Fair science pondered on thy mountain brow, / And sages mused-where Havoc welters now” (cited in Goodman 627). This statement reveals Emerson’s perception of India as both a place of philosophical and religious knowledge, and decline (Goodman 627). This follows the scholarship of those aforementioned writers such as Jones who characterized India in terms of the sadhu. Emerson was so involved with Hinduism that his most extensive essay on the subject, entitled “The Over-Soul,” is a direct translation of the Hindu term paramatman, meaning supreme soul/spirit and synonymous with Brahman (Goodman 631). This work informs his overtly Hindu poem, “Brahma.” The poem begins with mention of the “red slayer,” an obvious allusion to Siva, and a direct derivation of Rudra, a name considered synonymous with Siva (Chandrasekharan 507). This reference to Siva is important for his association to the creator god Brahma because the next section concerns itself with the endlessness of Brahman, reincarnation, and the cyclical nature of time. The principle is clear in the lines: “. . . if the slain think he is slain, / They know not well the subtle ways / I keep, and pass, and turn again” (Emerson 3-5). Here, Emerson’s treatment of Hindu thinking is imperfect. First, considering the subject of his poem, the title should read “Brahman,” (Chandrasekharan 506-07). Also, it is strange that Siva should be associated with the regeneration and continuation of the universe when that role is much more aptly filled by Visnu. This is explained either by Emerson’s own ignorance of his mistake due to the sources he would have had access to, imperfect and scarce as they were, or his assuming the unity of Visnu, Siva, and Brahma. The second and third stanzas discuss the illusions that distort the truth of Brahman in all things, termed maya by Hinduism (Chandrasekharan 507-08). Emerson expresses this in the lines: “Shadow and sunlight are the same; / . . . And one to me are shame and fame” (Emerson 6,8). Finally, the poem’s concluding line, “Find me, and turn thy back on heaven,” refers to the ultimate goal of being one with Brahman, not going to heaven (Emerson 16). In the Hindu conception of cosmology, heaven is not the end goal of religion, which is why Emerson slyly spells heaven with a lower-case “h.” As with the Romantics, many important Transcendentalist figures such as Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman have been neglected in favour of close readings.

The final movement in this sequence is the Beat Movement, or Beat Generation, which arose in the 1950s. The connection between this movement and others, as well as its devotee’s engagement with Hinduism, is demonstrated in a peculiar incident that happened to the poster-child of the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg describes in great detail a “hallucination” he had one afternoon while reading William Blake’s poetry. In the vision, Ginsberg heard and saw Blake appear to him as if he were divine (Pevateaux 40-42). Blake revealed to him the interconnectedness of all things, and Ginsberg reported feeling a sensation of awakening to the illusory cloak of reality he had been living under (Pevateaux 40-42). The things he experienced that afternoon would change his life and inform his poetry for the rest of his career. Ginsberg attributed to Blake the status of rsi, or divine seer, claiming that the knowledge Blake possessed and then transmitted to him can be traced “back to the same roots, same cities, same geography, same mushrooms, that give rise to the Aryan, Zoroastrian, Manichaen pre-Hindu yogas” (Pevateaux 38). Although Ginsberg was not taking mushrooms that day, he would go on to mimic various Hindu practitioners in experimenting with hallucinogenic entheogens in pursuit of experiences just like this one. Ginsberg traveled extensively through India, and upon return, the influence on his poetry was noticeable. In his collection Planet News: 1961-1967, Ginsberg reduces the words “whom bomb? We bomb you,” to “Hu ̄m Bom” (Hungerford 278-79). By altering the phrase, Ginsberg consciously places the importance of sound above meaning, thus employing Hindu ideas of mantra (Hungerford 278-79). Disciples of certain schools of mantra, which Ginsberg learned from, believe vibrations can change the consciousness and by-pass the mind (Hungerford 278-79). Ginsberg’s goal in this is to transform the overtly aggressive words into sounds of peace, while also drawing on the idea that to bomb anyone is to bomb the self by alternating into: “whom bomb? You bomb you” (Hungerford 278-79). Ginsberg’s most famous poem, Howl, also contains many traces of Hindu thought, despite having been written before his pilgrimage to India. For example, one line states that the people of his generation are “burning for the ancient heavenly connection” (Ginsberg 182). The parallels to Hinduism lie in “heavenly connection,” suggesting theories of Brahman, but also in “burning,” which imagistically invokes the sacrificial fires so important to Hindu rituals (Ginsberg 182). He also speaks of “Absolute Reality,” reflecting his awakening experience, which is quite similar to what one might term moksa (Ginsberg 186). Another example is the puzzling line: “joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together” (Ginsberg 188). The phrase hints at Ginsberg’s knowledge of the Hindu conception of language, perhaps blending the Nyaya and Vaishesika schools and scholarship in line with the writings of Panini and Bhartrhari. These are just a few of the many references to Hinduism that occur in Ginsberg’s poetry.

Modern representations of Hinduism is a subject that finds refuge in emerging and avant-garde movements such as those above. Despite the reputation of such movements as progressive, Hinduism continues to be valued overwhelmingly in terms of its philosophical contributions, especially the concept of Brahman and moksa. At the more popular level, the range of representations is perhaps worse yet. Many depictions maintain the narrow definition of Hinduism through the figure of the sadhu or caste system, condemning Hinduism to an unceasing history of duality: spiritual enlightenment on one side, and moral/cultural degeneration on the other.


Chandrasekharan, K. R. (1960) “Emerson’s Brahma: An Indian Interpretation.” The New England Quarterly Vol. 33, No. 4: 506-512.

“colonialism, Western.” (2015) In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1856) “Brahma.” Poetry Foundation N.A.

Ginsberg, Allen (1956) “Howl.” In The New American Poetry: 1945-1960. Ed. Donald M. Allen.  New York: Grove Press.

Goodman, Russell B. (1990) “East-West Philosophy in Nineteenth-Century America: Emerson and Hinduism.” Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 51 No. 4: 625-645.

Hungerford, Amy (2005) “Postmodern Supernaturalism: Ginsberg and the Search for a Supernatural Language.” The Yale Journal of Criticism Vol. 18 No. 2: 269-298.

Inden, Ronald (1986) “Orientalist Constructions of India.” Modern Asian Studies Vol. 20, No. 3: 401-446.

Murray, C. (2004) Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn.

Narayan, Kirin (1993) “Refractions of the Field at Home: American Representations of Hindu  Holy Men in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 8, No. 4: 476-   509.

Pevateaux, C. J. (2008) “Widened Awareness: Allen Ginsberg’s Poetic Transmission of a Blakean Inflected Esoteric Dream-Insight.” Aries Vol. 8, No. 1: 37-61.

Soherwordi, S. S. (2011) “’Hindusim’ – A Western Construction or an Influence?.” South Asian        Studies Vol. 26 No.1: 203-214.

Uddin Khan, Jalal (2008) “Shelley’s Orientalia: Indian Elements in his Poetry.” Atlantis Vol. 30,       No. 1: 35-51.

Further Reading

Barlow, Paul (2011). “The Aryan Blake: Hinduism, Art and Revelation in William Blake’s Pitt  and Nelson Paintings.” Visual Culture in Britain Vol. 12 No. 3: 277.

Dharwadker, Aparna Bhargava (1972) “Modernism, ‘Tradition,’ and History in the Postcolony:  Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram kotwal.” Theatre Journal Vol. 65, No. 4: 466-487.

Guha, Naresh (1968) W.B. Yeats: An Indian Approach. Calcutta: Jadavpur University.

King, Bruce Alvin (1987) Modern Indian Poetry in English: Revised Edition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Singh, Charu Sheel (1981) The Chariot of Fire: A Study of William Blake in the Light of Hindu  Thought. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg.

Weir, David (2003) Brahma in the West: William Blake and the Oriental Renaissance. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Winternitz, M., Vuppala Srinivasa Sarma, Subhadra Jha, and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2008) History of Indian Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Related Research Topics

Appropriation of Voice



Edward Said

Hindu Literary Movements: the Progressive Writers Movement, the (New) Little Magazine Movement, and the Tagore and Chayavad movements.

Hindu Authors: Sake Dean Mahomet, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, Salman Rushdie, Nayantara Sehgal, Rohinton Mistry, Raja Rao, R. K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, and many, many more.

Indian Diaspora Literature & its Authors

Related Websites


Article written by: Donny Kimber (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.


Hijra Religion

The Hijras are an institutionalized third gender in India. They live mainly in Northern India, with the major Hijra temple located in Gujarat, near Ahmedabad (Nanda 1990:xxii). Hijras are biological men who renounce sexuality and dress and act like women. Some Hijras are born hermaphrodites, or with ambiguous genitalia (Nanda 1990:5), but most Hijras are impotent or infertile men who undergo a sacrificial emasculation procedure called the nirvan operation, which involves the removal of male genitalia (Reddy 2005:56). This ritual emasculation is said to give them the power to bestow fertility to newlyweds and prosperity to newborn children (Reddy 2005:2). The traditional work of a Hijra is to perform at the birth of a child, at weddings, and at temple festivals; a group of Hijras will dance, sing, and bestow blessings in an exaggerated parody of female behavior, for which they receive payment (Nanda 1990:3, Reddy 2005:84).

Hijras practice a pluralistic form of religion: identity formation is related to Hinduism, but many Hijras also identify as Muslim (Reddy 2005:99). Hijras, being neither male nor female, are able to blur gender boundaries within Muslim traditions (Reddy 2005:102). They will sometimes embark on the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Karbala or Mecca or Medina, but unlike Muslim women, they do not need to be accompanied by a male relative (Reddy 2005:103). Muslim Hijras will wear a burqa when not performing (Reddy 2005:104), but are also permitted to wear male clothing upon returning from their pilgrimage (Reddy 2005:105). [see Reddy, 2005 for more information on Muslim Hijras]

Hindu Hijras trace their origins back to the time of the Ramayana (Reddy 2005:9). A common myth that Hijras tell regarding their history is that when Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was exiled from Ayodhya, the entire city followed him to the edge of town to say goodbye. Everyone was in tears when they reached the banks of a river, and Rama asked all the men and women to stop crying for him and to go back to their homes. The Hijras, who are not men and not women, waited for fourteen years on the banks of the river. Upon his return, Rama was so moved by their extreme devotion that he gave them a blessing: he told them they would be kings in the kali yuga (Reddy 2003:189). [A yuga refers to a cosmic period in Hindu Cosmology (Reddy 2003:189)] . It is interesting to note that we are currently in the kali yuga, and that Hijras are entering the political sphere in India (Reddy 2003:164) as somewhat ideal candidates for leadership due to their celibacy and lack of kinship ties (Reddy 2003:182).

Within the Hindu pantheon, Hijras identify primarily with the god Siva (particularly in his ardhanarisvara state, when he is portrayed as half man, half woman), Arjuna, a hero from the Mahabharata epic and incarnation of Visnu, and the goddess Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). In one Hindu creation myth, Siva was appointed to create the world but he took so long that the job was given to another god, Brahma (the Creator). When Siva was finally ready to begin creating the world, he saw that it was already done, and was so angry that he broke off his phallus and threw it into the earth (Nanda 2003:195). Hijras, like Siva, bury their severed penises in the ground, which they believe gives them the power of creation (Reddy 2005:97). By giving up individual fertility, they acquire universal creative power (Reddy 2005:97). Another clear identification for the Hijras is with Arjuna from the Mahabharata epic (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). During the epic Arjuna spends a year in the court of king Virata disguised as a eunuch named Brhannala, dressing like a woman and teaching dance to the women of the court (Nanda 2003:195, Reddy 2005:81). However, worship of Bahuchara Mata (a version of the mother goddess particularly associated with transgendierism and transvestism) is the most important for Hijras. Each Hijra household has a shrine to her and it is in her name that Hijras bestow their blessings of fertility and prosperity (Nanda 1990:24). [See Nanda, 1990, for myths attesting to Bahuchara’s special connection to Hijras]

Hijras engage in two kinds of occupations: badhai work, (singing and dancing at marriages and births) which is seen as a respectful occupation, and kandra work (sex work), a practice which is criticized by senior Hijras but is still the main source of income for roughly half the Hijra population (Reddy2005:15,80). Some Hijras will even take on regular clients as ‘husbands’ (Reddy 2003:165). Reddy suggests that due to their association with sex work and their ambiguous gender identification, Hijras are generally viewed as outside of the social order (Reddy 2003:166). They are seen as besarm (without shame), and people are often afraid to interact with them (Reddy 2003:166). Hijras have the power to bless but they also have the power to curse; if they are not adequately compensated for their services they will threaten to expose their mutilated genitals, a sight which is believed to cause impotence (Nanda 1990:7). For this reason Hijras are socially marginalized, but they are also feared (Nanda 1990:8). Badhai refers to the payments Hijras receive for their services, usually in the form of flour, cane sugar, sweets, cloth, saris or money (Nanda 1990:3). At the birth of male children Hijras will dance, entertain, and bless the child with fertility, prosperity, and long life. They will also examine the genitals of baby boys; if they are ambiguous they will sometimes try to claim the child as one of their own (Nanda 1990:2-5). Hijras will also perform at marriages; the social class of the bride and groom determines how elaborate the performance will be. They will bless the newlywed couple with fertility in the name of the mother goddess (Nanda 1990:5).

In the Hindu tradition chastity and renunciation of sexual activity gives one tapas (inner heat) which is associated with creation (Reddy 2005:96). For men in particular, abstinence or semen-retention is seen as a way to generate tapas (Reddy 2003:175). A Hijra is seen as a kind of sannyasin (renouncer) who has transformed their sexual impotence into procreative power (Nanda 2003: 195). Hijra men are said to receive a call from the Goddess Bahuchara Mata to serve her: those who deny her risk seven cycles of impotent rebirths (Nanda 2003:195). The nirvan operation is a form of rebirth in many ways; and the post-operation rituals mirror post-childbirth rituals (Nanda 2003:195). Only after the nirvan operation are Hijras truly believed to be able to channel the power of Bahuchara Mata (Nanda 2003:195). Although the operation is currently illegal in India, it is still practiced. The operation is a way of gaining respect within Hijra communities (Reddy 2005:93). Sex work is seen as contradictory to the ascetic ideal of sexual renunciation (Nanda 1990:12). The view among Hijras is that the ‘real’ Hijras are the ones who renounce sexuality completely and undergo the nirvan operation as proof of their legitimacy (Reddy 2003:175).

The gender neutrality of the Hijras has captured the imaginations of gender studies scholars worldwide (Reddy 2003:164). They are also beginning to enter the political sphere. They have become increasingly visible worldwide. Many Hijras see this as a fulfillment of Rama’s diving prophecy, and believe this to be the beginning of a new era. [I have included some links to current events articles regarding Hijras and politics, see below]



Nanda, Serena (1990) Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Nanda, Serena (1985) “The Hijras of India: Cultural and Individual Dimensions of an Institutionalized Third Gender Role” in Richard Parker and Peter Aggleton eds. Culture, Society, and Sexuality: A Reader, p 237-250. New York: Routledge

Nanda, Serena (2003) “Hijra and Sadhin: Neither Man nor Woman in India” in Constructing Sexualities: Readings in Sexuality, Gender and Culture. Suzanna LaFont (ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 192-201

Reddy, Gayatri (2005) With Respect to sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India. London: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2003)”Men Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics” in Social Research, vol 70 (1), p p163-200

Lal, Vinay (1999) “Not This, Not That: The Hijras of India and the Cultural Politics of Sexuality” in Social Text, No. 61, p119-140: Duke University Press.


Related Readings

Cohen, Lawrence (1995) “The Pleasures of Castration: The Postoperative Status of Hijras,
Jankhas, and Academics” in Paul R. Abrahamson and Steven D. Pinkerton eds. Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Reddy Gayatri (2006) “Bonds of Love: The Desire for Companionate Marriages Among Hijras of India” in Hirsch, J and H. Wardlow eds. Modern Love: Companionate Marriage and the Politics of Love, University of Michigan Press


 Related Research Topics





-Bahuchara Mata



Suggested websites

General information

Current events\

Photos of Hijras



Written by Molly Matheson (April 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Guna Concept and its Relationship to Ayurveda

The Sanskrit word guna is difficult to define and has many meanings, although it may be best described as the modes of matter. There are three main categories of gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. Everything in prakrti (nature) is constituted of each of these categories, although not in a way that allows for separation. The gunas and prakrti are dependent on each other and thus, one cannot exist without the presence of all other components (Ramakrishna Rao 62).

Sattva is the category of guna that is responsible for creation, goodness and the beneficial characteristics that make up prakrti. Sattva activities allow the mind to be still and move towards a state of balance or equilibrium. Such actions lead to the realization of purusa (the true self) and thus, sattva qualities are said to be responsive to the light of purusa (Vatsyayan 116). In order to gain and maintain sattva, avoidance of rajas and tamas is necessary. Consuming sattvic food is also thought to be a way of enhancing the sattva quality, helping to illuminate the mind (Guha 146). Such foods are those that come in pure or natural forms such as fruits or vegetables.

Rajas is the guna category that refers to passion, preservation and is the cause of all activity. Rajas expresses itself in motion and, because it is present in all matter, it causes all things to be in a continuous state of change (Vatsyayan 116). Rajasic actions are often selfish and driven by a desire to gain power, wealth or fame. Rajas is associated with heat and because of this, spicy, hot or fried foods fall under this category.

Tamas is the third guna which refers to ignorance or delusion and the negative attributions that arise because of it. It is in opposition to sattva and thus resists activity and the light of purusa (Vatsyayan 116) by inhibiting the expansion of the mind. Tamasic actions are often classified as immoral, deceitful, hostile or violent. Foods such as meats, junk food or heavily processed items are included in this category.

The combination of these three gunas is thought to make up the characteristics of all beings. They make up prakrti similar to the way the three primary colors are able to make up the colors of the entire spectrum. Prakrti is in its purest state when all three of these qualities are in equilibrium. This state is labeled by the Sanskrit term samyavastha (Ramakrishna Rao 65). The imbalance of these three qualities is believed to cause disruptions in the normal functioning of the body. This approach to medicine is referred to as Ayurveda and is based around a holistic approach to healing.

Ayurveda, much like the inseparable relationship between the gunas and prakrti, supports the concept that the body is an entity inseparable from its social, cultural and spiritual environments (Verma 7). Believers support the notion that the cosmic laws that govern the universe also apply to our bodies, and that sickness is caused by the imbalance of the gunas which create disharmony to the cosmic order. This belief stems from the idea that there are five basic elements that make up all matter in both the cosmos and our bodies: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements make up the three bodily humours: vata, pitta and kapha (Verma 10). Vata comes from both ether and air and is responsible for movements of the body as well as mind activities such as blood circulation and enthusiasm (Verma 10). Pitta comes from fire and is responsible for things such as heat regulation, hunger and digestion (Verma 10). Kapha comes from water and earth and makes up the structure of the body while also being responsible for things such as strength and heaviness (Verma 10).

The concept of Ayurveda is focused around the idea of equilibrium and balance. When the elements, humoural qualities and gunas that make up prakrti are in balance they are thought to create harmony, longevity and good health, but while they are imbalanced, they are believed to cause negative effects. Ayurvedic healing is suggested when these negative effects develop and cause a decline in health. This form of healing is focused on the promotion of sattva qualities that will help to clear the mind and encourage the restoration of balance to the three gunas.

Because the humoural qualities of prakrti are affected by each element, and the quality of each element is based upon the proportion of each of the three gunas, the elements may be seen as a link through which the gunas determine prakrti’s humoural qualities. This interconnectedness is why, when following the holistic approach of Ayurveda, almost anything can be used as a form medicine assuming it is used in the appropriate way, with correct quantities, and at the correct times. However, this also means that the incorrect use of these materials can lead to an imbalance and negative attributes.

According to Ayurveda, good health is also dependent on daiva and puruskara. Daiva is the karmic seeds we acquire from our previous lives whereas puruskara is the personal effort and actions we perform within our lifetime (Verma 11). These two concepts explain why, according to the Ayurveda concept, illness never occurs by chance. Ayurveda advocates believe that karmic seeds acquired from daiva and puruskara can cause imbalances in the three gunas, which may in turn cause imbalances in the three humours, creating poor health. It is for this reason that Ayurveda uses multiple forms of therapy as a method of treatment for physical symptoms.

There are three forms of therapy used in Ayurveda: rational, psychological and spiritual (Verma 11). Rational therapy administers appropriate quantities of sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic foods, sometimes in combination with medication, in order to reinstate proper balance to the body. There are also forms of non-material rational therapy, such as massage or physical restraint that some view as an alternative option (Engler 423). Contrary to rational therapy, psychological therapy uses only the power of the mind to heal the body (Verma 11). This psychological therapy is understood to be effective because of the interconnectedness between body and mind that exists in the Ayurveda tradition. For example, if the mind is causing the imbalance and therefore the pain, the mind also has the ability to cultivate sattva in order to restore balance and rid the body of pain. Spiritual therapy involves such things as reciting mantras, practicing auspicious acts (Verma 12), gems, fasting, and performing religious rites and sacrifices (Engler 422). These three forms of therapy are prescribed simultaneously to promote a more efficient healing process between the amalgamated body and mind.

Although modern medicine, or allopathy, is the most common form of treatment available, a large focus remains on home remedies in some areas, such as the villages located outside large cities in India (Verma 16). For example, buttermilk can be used to treat head colds and stomach pains, fat from the green pigeon can be used to treat dry eczema, and sea salt may be used to treat intestinal worms, fever, or head lice (Morris 327, 330 & 332). Contrary to the prominent allopathic focus, funding to support holistic forms of medicine has been increasing over recent years (Islam 145) as this Ayurveda approach continues to gain popularity worldwide. [Islam (2009) states that roughly 5% of the money allocated to medical treatment from West Bengal state goes towards holistic medicine.]


Bibliography and Related Readings

Abraham, Leena (2009) “Medicine as Culture: Indigenous Medicine in Cosmopolitan Mumbai.” Economic and Political Weekly 44 #16(April): 68-75.

Engler, Steven (2003) “‘Science’ vs. ‘Religion’ in Classical Ayurveda.” Numen, Vol. 50, No. 4: 416-463.

Guha, Dina Simoes (1985) “Food in the Vedic Tradition.” India International Centre Quarterly 12 #2(June): 141-152.

Islam, Md. Nazrul (2009) “Reviving Ayurveda in Modern India: Prospect and Challenges.” International Review of Modern Sociology, Vol. 35, No. 1: 137-147.

Morris, Miranda (2003) “The Soqotra Archipelago: concepts of good health and everyday remedies for illness.” Proceedings of the Seiminar for Arabian Studies 33 (July): 319-341.

Vatsyayan, Kapila (1995) Prakriti, the Integral Vision. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts: D.K. Printworld.

Verma, Vinod (1991) “Holistic Medicine in India and the West.” India International Center Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2/3: 7-20.

Ramakrishna Rao, K. B. (1963) “The Gunas of Prakrti According to the Samkhya Philosophy.” Philosophy East and West, Vol. 13, No.1: 61-71.



Related Research Topics








Three humours








Related Websites,.htm


Article written by: Caitlin Green (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mathematics in India

There is little known about the history of Indian mathematics; this is due to a small amount of authentic records containing their mathematics.  The first known mathematics was preserved in the city Mohenjo Daro, during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization.  The Indus Valley Civilization is thought to have been settled around 2,500 B.C.E.  Mathematics was found everywhere in Mohenjo Daro, from its advanced architecture to its methods of measurement, counting and weighing items. The Indus Valley Civilization rivaled the other great ancient civilizations of its time in both knowledge and architecture styles. Examples of their architectural advancements were their tiled bathrooms, brick buildings, and temples, which all required a high level of geometrical understanding (Eves 181).

There is also evidence of a written numerical system imprinted on seals from the Indus Valley Civilization, consisting of the numbers one through thirteen depicted by vertical lines. After the findings at Mohenjo Daro there was little evidence of numbers being written down, but there is evidence of maths and numbers in the Vedas, specifically, the usage of the number eight in the Rgveda.  These writings suggest that even though there is nothing directly stating the numbers, the people of the Indus Valley Civilization must have had a very sophisticated numerical system.  This is in contrast to the Romans whose numerical system did not go farther than ten to the exponent of four, where the Indus Valley Civilization at the same time had knowledge of denominations as large as ten to the exponent of twelve, which is suggested by the Yajurveda Samhita (Singh 20).

After the Indus Valley Civilization disappeared the Aryan peoples started expanding into India. Indian mathematics can be split into two periods; the first of the two, coined the Sulvasutra (also written as Sulbasutra) period, which goes up until 200 C.E.   The Sulvasutras are also texts that are appendices to the Vedas. The literal meaning of Sulvasutra is “the rules of the cord”; the texts written in this period are dated sometime between 800B.C.E. and 200 C.E. (Cajori 84).  It was during this period the great grammarian Panini, who perfected the Sanskrit language and the Buddha became very influential.  There are three different types of ganita (mathematics) found in ancient Buddhist texts; the first is finger arithmetic (mudra), the second mental arithmetic (ganana) and the third higher arithmetic (samkhyana)(Singh 7).

It was also in this period that mathematics were taught and learned for the purpose of geometry, to build temples and aid in other architecture.  The Sulvasutras themselves were part of the Kalpasutras, and explained how to construct the sacrificial altars used in Hindu rituals. The Sulvasutras also contained some of the first references of the formula known around the world today as the Pythagorean Theorem. It is stated in the Sulvasutras the diagonal “…produces as much as is produced individually by the two sides”, which shows they understood the idea of Pythagorean Theorem before it was ever proven as a theorem (Berlinghoff 139).  Among the geometrical rules referring to the Pythagorean Theorem, there are references to the expression of the square root of two down to five decimals; others such as Heron the Elder in 100 B.C.E. also knew a similar method of approximation (Cajori 43).

One of the most famous rulers of the Mauryan Empire (King Asoka 272-232 B.C.E.) gives us an insight as to how early on the Hindu people were using the number system we use today.  King Asoka built stone pillars in every major city in India, many of which still stand today.  It is on these stone pillars we find the earliest examples of the Hindu-Arabic number system that is currently used.  It is not only on these pillars that you can find written numbers, on the walls of a cave at the top of Nanaghat hill (near Poona) are numerous inscriptions of numerals. A more complete list of these numerals can be found in another cave, with these writings dated in the first or second century C.E.  There are different theories as to where these symbols came from.  Some would say they were from the Indus Valley Civilizations pictographic writing; another theory is that they have evolved from the Egyptians pictographs (Singh 26-28). Independently of where they came from, these depictions do not use the zero and decimal system that we now associate with Indian Mathematics (Eves 19).  Even though these are some of the first depictions of our number systems there was no evidence to show the Hindus ever used any other number system (Singh 8).

There is little known about why the base ten system was used, but it is speculated it was due to how we count on our fingers. The Hindus were also one of the first to use a symbol to indicate a place value of zero; the Hindus used a small circle to indicate that the place value was empty.  The mathematicians of India were not only one of the first to have a symbol for the missing place, they were also the first to explore zero as an actual quantity in itself. Thinking about numbers in this way was one major step above the mathematics of the ancient Greeks.  It was thinking about numbers in this abstract way that enabled the Hindus to start doing math algebraically. Unfortunately, the usage of the base ten systems and zero as a number both took centuries to be accepted in European mathematics. It was after this period Hindu Mathematics was able to really flourish (Berlinghoff 80).

As the Sulvasutra period came to an end, Indian Mathematics started to turn towards other practical uses.  This period was called the astronomical and mathematical period, which dated from 400 C.E. to around 1200 C.E. (Cajori 84).  This period was heavily influenced by outside forces; with India being invaded by other empires came outside knowledge of geometry, astrology and other mathematics.  Unlike other countries that quit placing emphasis on investigating sciences while invasions took place, India turned the situation into an opportunity to learn from these new people.  With this new knowledge the Indians placed more emphasis on learning which lead to founding universities.  As a result India became a center for learning everything from the sciences to the arts.  Mathematics had always been one of the most honored sciences, as suggested by the Vedanga Jyotisa, which states: “As the crests on the heads of peacocks, as the gems on the hoods of snakes, so is ganita at the top of the sciences known as the Vedanha.” (Singh 7).

From then on mathematics was found in many different literary works such as the Puranas.  The Puranas are literary works designed to spread education about historical and religious information among the peoples.  Even the oldest of these works have references to place values and the base ten system; there are similar references in Patanjalis Yoga-Sutra.  One of the first important astronomical works was written anonymously and is titled the Surya Siddhanta, which is translated as “Knowledge from the Sun”. The Surya Siddhanta contained mathematics related to astronomical events but however, it did not have a specific section on mathematics.  It did, however, have a more important role in influencing another great piece of literature, written a century later.

Varaha Mihira wrote the Panca Siddhantika, which contains a comprehensive summary of the trigonometry known by the early Hindus.  An anonymous document written on birch bark was found in 1881 that had been buried since perhaps the eighth century.  It is likely a copy of an older manuscript dated (from the style of verse) around the third or fourth century (Cajori 84-85). It contains methods of algebraic computation.  This arithmetic is termed patiganita, coming from the words, pati, which means “board” and ganita meaning “science of calculation”.  Thus patinganita, is the science of calculation that requires it being written.  However, sometimes the carrying out of arithmetic was called dust-work or dhuli-karma because they would write their arithmetic in the sand instead of on a board.

After the Panca Siddhantika was written, the Hindu astronomer Aryabhata wrote his self entitled Siddhanta, which contained a whole chapter on mathematics.  This chapter included one of the best estimations of the irrational number pi (π), the only closer estimation of the time had been made only fifty years prior by a Chinese scholar Zu Chongzhi.  After the Aryabhata, it was common to include a chapter in astronomical texts specifically on the mathematics being used.  Following Aryabhata mathematics continued to thrive in India, spurring on the work of Brahmangupta.

Brahmangupta’s work the Brahma-sphuta-siddhanta (“Revised System of Brahma”) contains two chapters on mathematics, and some of the first rules for negative numbers. Both Aryabhata and Brahmangupta could solve linear equations, with Brahmangupta taking it one step further to solve more difficult equations containing squares.  He was also one of the first to work with negative quantities; regarding them as debts, he stated rules of addition, multiplication, subtraction and division of negatives. Even with these rules stated by a well-known scholar, people and mathematicians alike were still skeptical of these non-tangible numbers.  It was later when Bhaskara II took Brahmangupta’s ideas and generalized them, giving a method of solution of equations nx²+b=y² (whenever a solution existed), as well as solutions with negative numbers (Berlinghoff 25-28, 93-94).

After Bhaskara II, there were few recognized mathematical works, but we do have the works of Sripati.  Sripati wrote a Ganita-sara, which can be translated as the “Quintessence of Calculation”, which helped refine the Hindu method of completing the square (Cajori 94).  During this time period there were great advancements in geometry.  Aryabhata’s advancements in a method of approximating sines, led to his table of sines, which correspond to the particular angle.  This was the beginning of the emphasis on estimation (Berlinghoff 186).

Indian mathematicians took the idea of approximation to another level, taking simple ideas and using them to develop sophisticated formulas to solve or approximate difficult solutions to problems.  With an interest in algebra Indian mathematicians were able to compute square and cubed roots.  They were also able to do the sums of arithmetic progression, this led to mathematics being investigated for its own sake, which you can see in how the problems were worded.  They had essentially the same formula for the quadratic equation as we do today, with their version being expressed in words, as many of their formulas were.  The problems in their texts were often posed in a playful manner, an example from Bhaskara II, describes monkeys skipping through a grove and applying them to the mathematics at hand (Berlinghoff 27).  Many of the mathematicians of India made discoveries of approximation by building upon one another; the formulas becoming more sophisticated as time goes on, it was these discoveries that anticipated ideas later rediscovered by European mathematicians.

Due to the location of India, in comparison to European countries, Indian mathematics almost always traveled to European countries through Arabic mathematicians.  These Arabic mathematicians learned of astronomy, among other ideas as well, and took the Hindu trigonometry and expanded upon it.  It is through this translation of ideas, that many of our mathematical terms are derived; for example “sine” comes from the Hindu jya (a cord for measurement) that the Arabs changed to jiba, which then came to be falsely interpreted as cove which is sinus in Latin, ultimately leading to the modern day “sine” (Berilinghoff 187).

Hindu mathematicians were the first to create many of the numbers and formulas we use today.  It was their number system that allows us to do simple math efficiently and effectively, instead of the minute system used in the Roman Empire. The Hindus were advanced in their geometry, which enabled them to build elaborate temples and cities.  There is also evidence of numbers and their place value system in the Vedas.  This enabled the Brahmins (priestly class) to learn and explore mathematics.  However, it was not only the Brahmins that were able to engage in mathematics, but also the Kshatriyas who took care of war and government matters.  This led to the practical uses of mathematics for temple building, geometry, and most importantly astronomy and helped to pave the way for future generations.

References and Further Recommended Readings:

Berlinghoff, William P. & Gouvea, Fernando Q. (2004) Math through the Ages. Washington: Oxton House Publishers, The Mathematical Association of America

Cajori, Florian (1980) History of Mathematics. New York: Chelsea Publishing Company

Dani, S. G. (1993) ‘Vedic Maths’: Myth and Reality Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28 No.31 pp1577-158. Economic and Political Weekly.

Eves, Howard (1964) An Introduction to the History of Mathematics. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Flood, Gavin (2004) The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing

Gheverghese Joeseph, George (2000) The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Grattan-Guinness, Ivor (1994) Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of Mathematical Sciences. New York: Johns Hopkins University Press

Selin, Helaine & D’Ambrosio, Ubiratan (2000) Mathematics Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Mathematics. Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic

Singh, Avadesh Narayan & Datta, Bibhutibhushan (1935) History of Hindu Mathematics- A Source Book. Allahabad: Allahabad Law Journal Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Bhaskara (I and II)


Indus Valley Civilization

Mauryan Empire (King Asoka 272-232 B.C.E.)


Rgveda (Vedas in General)

Sripati (Ganita-sara)


Surya Siddhanta

Vedanga Jyotisa

Related Websites – History of Mathematics in India

Article written by: Kirby Carlson (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kama Sutra

The purpose and the meaning of the Kama Sutra have been widely misconstrued throughout most of the Western world to be a text regarding the positions in sexual intercourse. Though the Kama Sutra does contain information about intercourse and the various ways of performing sexually, it is much more than that. It is a text about a certain way of living – “about finding a partner, maintaining power in a marriage, committing adultery, living as or with a courtesan, and using drugs” (Doniger and Kakar xi). This text describes in great detail the principles and rules (sutra) of love (kama). The Kama Sutra was originally composed in the ancient Sanskrit language of India. It is not known when the text was written and there is little information on its author, Vatsyayana Mallanaga. Clues as to the origins of this text are found within the writings but scholars have not come to a collective decision about the exact dates of authorship. Vatsyayana begins the Kama Sutra with an allusion to the four goals of life: dharma, kama, artha, and moksa. Righteousness, pleasure, wealth, and liberation respectively describe the terms used above. Vatsyayana explains that he wrote the Kama Sutra in order that others may learn about pleasure just as other texts such as the Dharma Sastras are used to learn about other goals in life.

The Kama Sutra belongs to a set of texts that are part of an erotic science known as kamashastra (the science of kama). Vatsyayana lays out particular guidelines and methods in this text that he believes to be the appropriate and standard ways of living, not just sexually, but more broadly sensual. Sensuality includes food, perfume, and music in addition to the obvious sexuality. Vatsyayana says that “because a man and a woman depend on each other for sex, it requires a method” (9). The Kama Sutra is therefore, a text explaining methods required to please both the man and the woman in sexual intercourse. The text is mainly directed at men because men are supposed to be in power when it comes to sexual prowess. They must learn the techniques and processes involved in order to be successful.

The understanding of the text is a science because Vatsyayana’s prose can be very obscure and mysterious. One must understand the connections that are being made within the text by being aware of the context and subject of the words. Because the text is written in sutras (similar to the English words ‘sew’ and ‘suture’) one can describe the Kama Sutra as having threads of meaning that are connected throughout the entire body of literature. Because of this ambiguity it is easy to understand why most people think of just sexual positions when they hear the name Kama Sutra. Most people do not understand the deeper meanings and religious significance behind sexual intercourse and the life of a woman and a man pursuing kama.

Vatsyayana produces information about sexual behaviour in the Kama Sutra which can be interpreted as merely guidelines. He is not stating in this text that one has to use a specific sexual position or that one must act in a certain way around one’s spouse, he says that one ‘should’ act in a certain way or perform in a certain sexual manner. After describing one method of oral sex Vatsyayana states that “when a man has considered the region, and the time, and the technique, and the textbook teachings, and himself, he – or may not – make use of these practices (Mallanaga 69).

The pursuit of kama is the main focus of this text because Hindus believe that kama is one of the four main goals of life. This concept is related to the idea that pleasure is the most important pursuit of humanity. This way of thinking is related to the philosophy of hedonism. The pursuit of pleasure is placed at the highest importance in hedonistic thinking. The Kama Sutra can be considered a hedonistic text because it portrays how men and women can strive to achieve the highest state of kama through desire and pleasure. He describes how to kiss, how to perform oral sex, how to win a virgin, and many other situations that would arise throughout one’s quest for pleasure.

Although the Kama Sutra contains many books describing the acquisition of pleasure, it also has many books on other aspects of sexual relationships that are not quite as positive but can still be considered hedonistic. Chapters such as “Ways to Get Money from Him” (Mallanaga 142-145) and “Ways to Get Rid of Him” (Mallanaga 145-147) are surprising to people who only believe the Kama Sutra to be about sexual positions. The text contains many of these surprisingly harsh and blunt subjects that one would not expect to see in a book about love and lust.

One of these surprising subjects is homosexuality. In book five, Vatsyayana discusses female homoeroticism in the women who are part of a harem. The women of the harem have one husband shared by many so he explains how the females satisfy themselves sexually without the aid of a man. According to Vatsyayana, a woman may satisfy her sexual needs through the use of masturbation or homosexuality. A servant girl can dress up as a man and relieve the desires of another woman through the use of “dildos or with bulbs, roots, or fruits that have that form” (Mallanaga 126). The female plays a role as a man in order to fulfill sexual needs.

The concept of homoeroticism and the ambiguity of gender can be seen through the writings of other authors who are interested in this text as well. Walter Penrose discusses female homoeroticism and the ambiguity of fixed gender roles in his article entitled “Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a “Third Nature” in the South Asian Past.” Penrose states that the Hindu religion allows “institutionalized gender variance” (4). This confirms Vatsyayana’s belief that women are allowed to act as men when their purpose is to relieve their desires. However there are a great number of stories that claim homosexuality is not something to be desired.

Ruth Vanita discusses the story of Bhagiratha’s birth to two women in her article entitled “Born of Two Vaginas”. According to this story, a child born as a result of female on female sexual intercourse results in the conception and birth of a lump of flesh or jelly. The child has no bones because a male was considered to be the one who contributes the bones to the baby. This story can be read in the Sushruta Samhita, written in the first century. Vatsyayana refers to this story in the Kama Sutra in the chapter entitled “Sexual Typology” (28-37). He agrees that sexual desire must be between a man and a woman because “the man is the active agent and the young woman is the passive locus” (Mallangaga 34). They complement each other in such a way that a woman and a woman could not.

There are numerous books in modern literature that clam to be influenced by Vatsyayana Mallangaga’s Kama Sutra but all that they entail is a detailed description of sexual positions and the pleasure that sex gives to men and women. The Kama Sutra does indeed include descriptions and pictures of sexual positions but it is not the main focus of the text. The text focuses on power in the relationship, methods in which to please your partner in ways other than sexual and just general advice on how to live a life in which kama is fully achieved.


Vatsyayana, Mallanaga. Kamasutra. Trans. Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003

Penrose, Walter. “Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticim and Women of a “Third Nature” in the South Asian Past.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.1 (2001) 3-39. 31 January 2009

Rodrigues, Hillary. Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books,  2006

Vanita, Ruth. “Born of Two Vaginas: Love and Reproduction between Co-Wives in Some Medieval Indian Texts”. A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies11.4 (2005) 547-577. 31 January 2009

Related topics for further investigation




Sushruta Samhita



Noteworthy Wesites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Sarah Sawatzky (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Ananga Ranga

The book The Ananga Ranga was written by Kalyana Malla in 1885 in the Sanskrit language; this book was translated by Richard Francis Burton into English and includes nine chapters and two appendixes. The Ananga Ranga is heavily condensed with specific categorizations. As a result, I will provide a brief summary of the translated version for each chapter or appendix; this paper will also discuss additional information that is pertinent to the inquiry.

Chapter one contains two sections that explain the four orders of women. They are known as Padmini, Chatrini, Shankhini, and Hastini. A Padmini is also known as the Lotus-woman, and is described as having a yoni [a yoni is a woman’s vagina] that resembles the open-lotus bud; she only sleeps a small amount, is respectable, and religious. She possesses the walk of a swan. A Chitrini is also known as the Art-woman, and is described as having a medium sized body, her yoni has hair that is thin, and her walk is described as being like that of an elephant. A Chitrini also loves to sing and loves pets. A Shankhini is also known as the Conch-woman, and is described as having a bilious temperament that sometimes makes her hot headed and confused; a Shankhini is also described as having a body that is large with small breasts and a yoni that is moist. A Hastini is short, has dead white skin, large hips and a harsh voice. A Hastini can only be truly satisfied by prolonged sex.

In chapter one, and also in section three, there is a table which classifies the greatest days of enjoyment for the four classes of women. In section four there are the hours prescribed which gives one the highest enjoyment.

In chapter two, Malla describes “The Various Seats of Passion in Women”. This means the four classes of women have different ways to enjoy their sexual desires and achieve satisfaction. Malla advises the husband to continue his action until he sees the body-hair bristle and hears the Sitkara, and then he will know that his wife is truly satisfied.

There are four different tables of manipulation [a manipulation is a way of pleasuring one’s wife] in chapter two, each one relating to one of the four different classes of women. Manipulation is directed towards a woman’s body and certain body part. A Padmini can be manipulated by her throat, cheek, hair, waist, breast, back, bosom, side, thigh, belly, arm, lip, nipple, space between her eyes, and her foot. A Chitrini can be manipulated through her yoni, lower lip, throat, waist, navel, lip, breast, ear, thigh, back, butt, forehead, chest, hair, eye, and the middle of her body. A Shankhini can be manipulated by her body in general, lower lip, arm, breasts, belly, chest, throat, ear, foot, mouth/face, yoni, lip, inch below her head, and the lower edge of her yoni. A Hastini can be manipulated through her yoni, navel, lip, side, breast, chest, nipple, body generally, eye, and armpit.

In chapter three, section one, Malla describes three types of men. A Shastra (Hare-man) is described as having a linga [a linga is a man’s penis] that does not exceed three inches while erect. He has features that are clear, well proportioned, and large eyes. He is humble, moderate in carnal desires, and nothing is offensive about his semen. A Vrishabha (Bull-man) is portrayed as having a linga that is four and a half inches, and a body that is robust and tough. He is cruel, violent, restless, and his semen is ever ready. An Ashwa (Horse-man) has a linga that is six inches long; he is tall, muscular, and has coarse and thick hair. An Ashwa is passionate, reckless and lazy, full of sleep, and his semen is copious, salty and goat-like.

In chapter three, section two, the women are further subdivided into three categories; this is dependent upon the depth and extent of their yoni. They can be categorized into: Mrigi (Harini) (Deer-woman) who has a yoni that is six fingers deep, Vadava (Ashvini) (Mare-woman) who has a yoni that is nine fingers deep, and Karini (Elephant-woman) who has a yoni that is twelve fingers in depth.

In Chapter two, section three, there are prescriptions to how men from section one, and how the women from section two, should be placed together in a relationship. This is done by tables which go on to describe a person’s best, middle, and worst match.

In Chapter two, section four, Malla describes four minor distinctions in sex. He describes the various degrees in sexual lust among the women. Malla reports that there are twenty-seven different kinds of congress [congress meaning sex], and when multiplied by nine species and three periods, the total is two hundred and forty-three.

In Chapter four, Malla explains the “Description of the General Qualities,” characteristics, and temperaments among women. There are four periods of life for women. The first, Bala (11-16 years old), is in darkness towards congress. Second, Taruni (16-30 years old), is in light towards congress. The third, Praudha (30-55 years old), is both in light and darkness towards congress. Lastly, the fourth, Viddha (beyond 55 years old), becomes sick and infirm towards congress. Malla describes the principle causes that cause women to deviate from engaging in proper behavior; those being the twelve periods when women have the greatest desire for congress, four kinds of love-tie connections, and the four different kinds of yonis.

In chapter five, Malla explains the characteristics of the women from different lands. I will explain only a selected few, with brief examples. A woman from the middle region has red nails and is an excellent housekeeper. Mathra from Krishna’s Country (Cow-herds’ Land) is satisfied by various forms of kissing. A woman from Lata-desha exhibits pleasure that is frequent and violent, with pleasure being gained by gentle insertion, striking with the hand, and soft biting of her lips. Andhra-desha (Telangana) does not feel shame and is considered wicked when compared to others of her sex.

In chapter six, “Treating of Vashikarana,” Malla describes Vashikmuna who uses specific drugs and charms to have various effects; there are three prescriptions, four magical prescriptions for winning love and friendship, three prescriptions that reduce people to submission, a philter-pill (Vatika), four charms, and two different incenses.

In chapter seven, Malla illustrates different signs in men and women; for example, a woman should marry of equal rank, be free from vices, and have brothers. She should have hair that is as black as Bhramara’s, teeth that are clean, ears that are small and well-rounded, a stomach that is flat, and a walk like that of an elephant. She should not come from a bad family and have inappropriate features (e.g. eyes that are yellow) and characteristics (e.g. violent temper).

In chapter seven, Malla explains the following: four ways a man should be tried, different considerations that need to be taken into account when picking a man (learning, disposition, qualities, and action), twenty-one qualities of a excellent man, seven kinds of troubles that result as a consequence when a man has intercourse with a married woman, ten changes in the natural state of men, a list of women who should never be enjoyed, a list of women who serve as go-betweens, a list of women who cannot be easily subdued, signs and symptoms that women become charmed by, places where a woman should not be enjoyed, times when a woman should not be enjoyed, and a description for the best woman fitted for sexual intercourse.

Chapter eight references the “Treating of External Enjoyments” [this precedes sexual intercourse]. Malla explains eight Alinganas, which are ways in which a woman can be embraced such as Vrikshadhirudha, Tila- Tandula, Lalatika, Jaghan-alingana, Viddhaka, Urupagudha, Dughdanir-alingana (Kshiranira), and Valleri-vreshtita.

Malla describes seven places to kiss a woman, which are the lower lip, both the eyes, both the cheeks, the head, the mouth, both breasts, and the shoulders. There are ten types of kisses which are Mlita-kissing (mixing or reconciling), Sphurita-kissing [ this kiss is associated with twitching], Ghatika (neck-nape kissing), Tiyak (oblique kissing), Uttaroshtha (upper-lip kissing), Pindita (lump-kissing), Samputa (casket-kissing), Hanuvatra-kissing [this kiss is done in an irritating way such as a prank], Pratibodha (awakening kiss), and Samaushtha-kissing [this kiss is accomplished by the initiation of the wife].

Malla explains Nakhadana, which is titillating [titillating means sexually exciting another] and scratching with the nails. Nakhadana can be exerted to the neck, hands, thighs, breasts, back, sides, axillaes, the whole chest or bosom, hips, the mons veneris and all parts of the yoni, and the cheeks. There are certain times and seasons when a style of manipulation is suitable and Malla discusses seven ways of applying the nails.

Malla describes seven Dashanas, which are ways of applying the teeth to the human body. He explains the four Keshagrahana’s, which are the manipulations of the woman’s hair. He describes four Karatadana’s, which are known as soft tappings and pattings with the hand by the husband or wife. Sitriti is a sound that is produced through inhaling the breath between closed teeth; this sound is produced from women and can be divided into five categories. Also, Malla describes men inhabiting characteristics of the Ashtamahanayika (eight great forms of Nayika).

In chapter nine, Malla discusses the “Treating of Internal Enjoyment in its Various Forms,” this means different sex positions. The Uttana-bandha is a position where the woman lies on her back, and this can be divided into eleven different subdivision positions. Tiryak-bandha is a sex position where the woman lies on her side, and this can be further divided into three positions. Upavishta is known as a sitting sex position, and this can be further subdivided into ten different positions. Utthita is the standing posture, and can be divided into three different sex positions. Vyanta-banda is a sex position where there woman has her breast and stomach to the bed or carpet, and this is divided into two different subdivisions. Purushayitabandha is where the man lies on his back with the woman on top, and this can be divided into three different positions. Malla does note that there are women that need to be excluded from the Purushayita; an example would be a woman who is pregnant.

Appendix one explains how astrology can be connected with marriage. Malla shows where consonance or dissonance emerges due to the stars of a bride and groom to be. A table was made by Malla to predict this; there is the zodiacal sign, presiding planet, genus, and the caste of a person. Malla discusses eight Gunas that are dispersed under eight heads and these are the caste, vashya, the nakshatras, class, planets, groups, kuta, and the nadi or point of time.

Appendix two is brief and comprised of six recipes, which are related to Rasayana, which is the preparation of metals for medicinal reasons.

The Ananga Ranga has been slow to become appreciated and learned because of its controversial discussions on sex. Malla wrote this book primarily to have the husband and wife live happily together as one, and to prevent the separation of a married couple.


Burton, R (1885) The Ananga Ranga (Translation). Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved February 10, 2009, from

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Article written by: Lindsay Kleiner (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Hijras

I hope to send “through the thickets of our separateness” the very human voices of individuals who seem, at first glance, very different from most people, exotic, perhaps even bizarre, but who share in our common humanity (Nanda 1999:xxi).

The hijras are a religious community of men who dress and act like women and whose culture centers on the worship of Bahuchara Mata, one of the many versions of the Mother Goddess worshiped throughout India (Nanda 1999:ix). There are many myths, legends, rituals, religious roles and themes in Hinduism which entertain the notion of “sexually ambiguous or dual gender manifestations” (Nanda 1999:20).

A true hijra is born intersex, that is, an individual displaying both male and female sexual characteristics and organs. While being intersex is rare, true hijras are also considered individuals that have had an emasculation operation, referred to as nirvana (cessation of rebirth) by hijras. During this operation, their genitals are removed to “become vehicles of the Mother Goddess’s power” (Nanda 1999:25). The emasculation ritual is considered a rite of passage for hijras as they are reborn from an impotent male into a hijra, an individual endowed with sakti (power).

In India, the emasculation operation is illegal, but it is still performed secretly in spite of potential urological consequences and operative mortality [Master and Santucci (2003) report on a case of male genital self-mutilation in America related to the desire to become a hijra]. A hijra, called a dai ma (midwife), performs the operation. The dai ma has no medical training, but believes that Bahuchara Mata gives them the power to perform the operation. Bahuchara Mata’s blessing is always sought prior to the operation by way of a puja (devotional worship). In addition, positive omens are sought after. For instance, the dai ma breaks a coconut; if it breaks evenly in half, the operation can take place, and if it breaks unevenly, the operation will be postponed (Nanda 1999:27).

The relationship between hijras, emasculation and Bahuchara Mata is told in the following legend of the origin of Bahuchara Mata’s worship.

Bahuchara was a pretty, young maiden in a party of travelers passing through the forest in Gujarat. The party was attacked by thieves, and, fearing that they would outrage her modesty, Bahuchara drew her dagger and cut off her breast, offering it to the outlaws in place of her virtue. This act, and her ensuing death, led to Bahuchara’s deification and the practice of self-mutilation and sexual abstinence by her devotees to secure her favour (Nanda 1999:25).

Hijras also refer to Indian epic literature in order to legitimize their existence and to gain respect in Indian society. From the Ramayana, hijras often allude to the following story.

In the time of the Ramayana, Rama fought with the demon Ravana and went to Sri Lanka to bring his wife, Sita, back to India. Before this, his father commanded Rama to leave Ayodhya [his native city] and go into the forest for 14 years. As he went, the whole city followed him because they loved him so. As Rama came to the banks of the river at the edge of the forest, he turned to the people and said, ‘Ladies and gents, please wipe your tears and go away.’ But those people who were not men and not women did not know what to do. So they stayed there because Rama did not ask them to go. They remained there 14 years and when Rama returned from Lanka he found those people there, all meditating. And so they were blessed by Rama (Nanda 1999:13).

Within the Mahabharata, hijras point to the following story involving Arjuna as the story of their origin.

Yudhisthira, one of the Pandava brothers, is seduced by his enemies into a game of dice in which the stake is that the defeated party should go with his brothers into exile for 12 years and remain incognito for the 13th year. The Pandavas lose and go into exile as required. When the 13th year comes around, Yudhisthira asks Arjuna what disguise he will take up for the 13th year in order to remain undiscovered. Arjuna answers that he will hide himself in the guise of a eunuch and serve the ladies of the court. He describes how he will spend the year, wearing white conch shell bangles, braiding his hair like a woman, dressing in female attire, engaging in menial works in the inner apartments of the queens, and teaching the women of the court singing and dancing (Nanda 1999:30) [See Lal (1999) for more accounts on the mythic dimensions of hijra origin stories].

Just as Arjuna participated in births and weddings as a eunuch (castrated man), hijras fulfill their traditional ritual roles by dancing and singing at auspicious occasions and by “conferring blessings of fertility on newborn males and on newlyweds” (Nanda 1999:5). In the process of conferring blessings in the name of Bahuchara Mata, hijras are able to give what they do not have, that is, “the power of creating new life, of having many sons, and of carrying on the continuity of [the] family line” (Nanda 1999:3). The faith in the powers of the hijras rests on the Hindu belief in sakti (Nanda 1999:5).

In addition to having the power to bless, hijras are also known to have the power to curse. If hijras feel that they have not been compensated (badhai) fully for their performance their audiences may face some extremely outrageous behaviour. The effectiveness of extortion through public shaming by hijras is legendary (Nanda 1999:49) [See Hall (1997) for a discussion on hijras and their use of insults].

As in Indian society, a hierarchical system is also evident in hijra communities. The relationships of gurus (teachers) and chelas (disciples) not only support social and family needs, but economic needs as well. In order to become part of a hijra community, one must be sponsored by a guru and a dand (fee) must be paid. For the most part, hijras live together in a household that is run by a particular guru. They are expected to contribute part or all of their earnings to the household as well as assist with household chores. In return they get a roof over their heads, food, protection from the police, and a place to carry on their business, whether this is performing, begging, or prostitution (Nanda 1999:39).

In addition to hijra households, hijras are also organized into seven houses, which are in essence symbolic descent groups. For each house within a region there is a leader called a naik (chief). These leaders get together in a jamat (meeting of the elders – modeled after the Muslim jamat) when there are new initiations as well as important decisions to be made, such as, “sanctioning hijras who violate community rules” (Nanda 1999:40). One of the most important norms in every hijra commune is honesty with respect to property (Nanda 1999:40) [Bockrath (2003) further explores the code and structure that hijras adhere to].

Considering hijras are unable to reproduce they engage in various patterns of recruitment in order to sustain their lineage. For instance, parents themselves may give a child to the hijras (especially one that is intersex), or upon growing up, individuals themselves may join the hijras, or in rare cases hijras may claim an intersex child as their right [Agrawal (1997) analyzes various recruitment practices of hijras as discussed in colonial literature].

As mentioned above, in addition to performing at auspicious occasions, hijras also earn a living by begging or prostitution [See Reddy (2003) for a discussion regarding hijras rapidly gaining visibility in contemporary Indian politics]. Hijras who earn a living performing at births and weddings are the elite of their community (Nanda 1992:10). Unfortunately the opportunities for these traditional ritual roles are declining, especially in light of the family planning programs the Indian government has been supporting, as such hijras have been required to find other means to support themselves. Hijras commonly view themselves as samnyasins (renouncers) since they have renounced all sexual desire and family life, and as such a second traditional and public occupation of hijras is that of asking for alms either from passersby on the streets or, more commonly, from shopkeepers (Nanda 1999:50).

Prostitution has also become a means of supporting hijras even though it contravenes the cultural ideal of the hijra as a samnyasin and it goes against the wishes of the hijra Mother Goddess, who is herself celibate (Nanda 1999:53). Hijras who are forced into prostitution as a way to earn a living are not only looked down upon by Indian society in general, but by their own hijra community as well. As one of the most marginalized groups in Indian society, “whether as performers or as prostitutes, hijras have effectively adapted to the society that surrounds them” (Nanda 1999:54), and in effect, they have created a place for themselves and will continue to survive as they fight to legitimize their existence and to gain respect [Bakshi (2004) further explores the possibilities and limits of the gendered performances that hijras undertake, including ritualistic and religious aspects].

References and Further Recommended Reading

Agrawal, Anuja (1997) “Gendered Bodies: The Case of the ‘Third Gender’ in India.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 31, no. 2, 273-297.

Bakshi, Sandeep (2004) “A Comparative Analysis of Hijras and Drag Queens: The Subversive Possibilities and Limits of Parading Effeminacy and Negotiating Masculinity.” Journal of Homosexuality 46, no. 3, 211-223.

Boccia, Maria (1995) “Physical Sex and Psychological Gender: Neither Man nor Woman, The Hijras of India.” Journal of Developing Societies 11, no. 2 (December): 276-278.

Bockrath, Joseph T. (2003) “Bhartia Hijro Ka Dharma: The Code of India’s Hijra.” Legal Studies Forum 27, 83-95.

Cohen, Lawrence (1995) “The Pleasures of Castration: The Postoperative Status of Hijras, Jankhas and Academics.” In Abramson, Paul & Pinkerton, Steven (Eds.), Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hall, Kira (1997) “’Go Suck Your Husband’s Sugarcane!’ Hijras and the Use of Sexual Insult.” Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender & Sexuality 430-460.

Hall, Kira & O’Donovan, Veronica (1996) “Shifting Gender Positions Among Hindi-Speaking Hijras.” In Bergvall, Victoria L., Bing, Janet M. & Freed, Alice F. (Eds.), Rethinking Language and Gender Research: Theory and Practice. London: Longman.

Khemka, Anita (2006) “Munna Guru: Portrait of a Eunuch.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 7, 2.

Lal, Vinay (1999) “Not This, Not That: The Hijras of India and the Cultural Politics of Sexuality.” Social Text 61, 17, no. 4, 119-140.

Master, Viraj & Santucci, Richard (2003) “An American Hijra: A Report of a Case of Genital Self-Mutilation to Become India’s ‘Third Sex’.” Urology 62, no. 3 (December): 1121.

Nanda, Serena (1984) “The Hijras of India: A Preliminary Report.” Medicine and Law 3, no. 1 (January): 59-75.

Nanda, Serena (1992) “Third Gender: Hijra Community in India.” Manushi: A Journal About Women and Society 72 (September): 9-16.

Nanda, Serena (1999) Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Toronto: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Ould, Patricia J. (2003) “Passing in India.” The Gay & Lesbian Review (May-June): 27-28.

Reddy, Gayatri (2003) “’Men’ Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation, and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics.” Social Research 70, no. 1, 163-200.

Towle, Evan B. & Morgan, Lynn M. (2002) “Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the ‘Third Gender’ Concept.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8, no. 4, 469-497.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bahuchara Mata


















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Article written by: Brooke Somers (April 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kamasutra

The full details of the composition of the Hindu literary text, Kamasutra, is not fully known but is estimated to have been composed around the first century B.C.E. (Peterson 135). It was composed by Vatsyayana in northern India and written in the ancient Indian literary language, Sanskrit. There is very little on the background of Vatsyayana but it is believed that he was a Hindu religious man who was a part of the upper classes (Peterson 135). Vatsyayana had taken pieces of earlier works from the Kamasastra [Tradition of works and literature on erotics, love and pleasure (science of love)] to put together what the western world terms the “paradigmatic textbook for sex” (Doniger 2003:18). Vatsyayana directs the reader’s attention towards the promotion of the greater whole. “He made this work in chastity and in the highest meditation, for the sake of worldly life, he did not compose it for the sake of passion” (Kakar 7.2.57). Since works from the Kamasastra were not easily accessible, Vatsyayana wanted to summarize these works into one. The Kamasutra is the aphoristic summary of the Kamasastra and since sutras precede the sastras in Indian history, it is given more religious authority than the Kamasastra (Doniger 2001:82). Hence the name sutra, which literally means a “thread of thoughts and pages” are put together in such a way to form a “string” of meaning (Doniger 2001:82). Another example of this type of literary composition consists of the literature on dharma, The Laws of Manu which is part of the Dharmasastras [Hindu legal treatises on moral, ethical and social laws. To get a further understanding on the Dharma Sastra texts in comparison to the Kamasutra, see Rocher (1985)].

The Kamasutra was first translated into English by Sir Richard Francis Burton in 1893 and the majority of the English world is familiar with the text through this translation. Many other translations have been composed over the past century by such people as Indra Sinha in 1980, and most recently by Wendy Doniger in 2002. People of today have a misconception of what the Kamasutra truly delivers in terms of its contents. Many consider it a text that is about sexual positions, or a guide to make one skilful with love making. The Kamasutra does help in this area of romance, but that is only a portion of what it has to offer to those who read it. This Hindu text covers all areas in the art of loving, from finding a partner, maintaining a marriage, committing adultery, living with courtesans, the use of drugs, and of course, positions of sexual intercourse (Doniger 2002:126). Other authors after Vatsyayana composed similar texts to that of his Kamasutra. During the 11th century a man named Koka Pandit composed the Rati Rahasya [Koka Pandit physically engaged in the arts of love, and therefore was able to give a more extensive study with his personal endeavours in the Rati Rahasya] based on Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra. Then a few centuries after, another man named Kalyanmalla in the 15th century composed the Ananga Ranga [Kalyanmalla had written the Ananga Ranga originally for the benefit of his own master, Lad Khan, who was a Muslim nobleman] which is based off the other two texts (Thomas 75). All three of these texts are highly regarded for its contents on love and its pursuit in life.

Within Hindu society and tradition, the Kamasutra is generally read by males who are a part of the twice-born (dvija) class in their second stage of life, that of the householder (grhasta), which is initiated with marriage (vivaha). Within this stage of life, the male must pursue and fulfill the goals that are prescribed for the householder. These goals are dharma (religious duties, morality, social obligation—the spiritual), artha (skill, attainment of wealth—political and economic welfare), and kama (desire/attachment—love and pleasure). These are what are known as the trivarga, and Vatsyayana generates a form of hierarchy with these three aspects of the trivarga (Rocher 521-522). Unlike kama, the texts that are associated with artha and dharma to fully understand and obtain the meanings of each, are laid out in the Dharmasastra and the Arthasastra [This text was written by Kautilya with its focus upon pursuing the attainment of material success for householders. Traditionally it was intended to help aid a king in his role and guidance of ruling a kingdom. To get a further understanding on the Artha Sastra in comparison to the Dharma Sastra and Kamasutra, see Rocher (1985)]. Notice the difference between the three goals and the texts that are generally associated with it. The Kamasutra is not a sastra because Vatsyayana asserts that the actions of kama comes naturally, where dharma and artha must be developed and learned (Rocher 522). According to Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Kamasutra, “[h]e should acquire learning in his childhood; in his youth and middle age he should attend to artha and kama; and in his old age he should perform dharma…” (5).

Throughout the householder’s stage of life, it is the goal of kama and artha that are the primary concerns and in order to prosper in society one must pursue these goals relentlessly. As a result, this stage is the most crucial aspect of the life of a householder; to be able to cultivate the art of love to have children and to obtain wealth and power to leave for the children after the completion of this stage (Ostor 110).

Originally, according to traditional lore, the Kamasutra contained thousands of chapters, and over time it was reduced down to what it is considered to be “thirty-six chapters, in sixty-four sections, in seven books, consisting of 1,250 sutras” (Kakar 1.1.4-23). The written work of the Kamasutra is not composed in such a way that it resembles a rule book, where each rule is numbered and one must follow from one step to the next. The text is written along the lines of a work of dramatic fiction and underneath all the sexual content and details of married life it appears to take on the characteristics of classical Indian drama (Doniger 2003: 20). The Kamasutra therefore consists of characters whose sex lives are used to demonstrate the appropriate behaviours to be undertaken by the householders. The man and woman whose lives are illustrated throughout the text are called the hero (nayaka), the heroine (nayika), and the men who assist the hero are termed the libertine (pitamarda), pander (vita) and clown (vidushaka) (Doniger 2001:88 and Doniger 2003:20). Like most classical Indian dramas as noted above, the Kamasutra is composed of seven acts. Each act depicts the different phases of the hero’s life. Act one is an introduction into the text giving a general idea of love and its involvement in the lives of men and women. Act two is an in-depth discussion on the beginnings of sexual techniques. Act three describes the process of acquiring a potential wife and engaging in marriage. Act four is the section in which the text describes the proper conduct of a wife and her roles in a marriage. Act five depicts how a male goes about seducing other women and other men’s wives. Act six is the exploration of various women, more specifically those who are courtesans. Finally, act seven is the exposition of the male exploring different aphrodisiacs and magic spells as a means of attracting others to himself.

Throughout the text, there are a total of sixty-four chapters [The Kamasutra is not entirely composed of prose but also includes several loka verses which are cited at the end of each chapter. These loka verses comprise about a tenth of the total text, see Kakar (2002)]. Within the Indian culture, sixty-four is considered to be a sacred number, somewhat of a natural number. Hence the sixty-four various sexual positions or arts, depicted in the text (Kakar xxiii). Vatsyayana believed that there are eight different ways of making love, and within those eight there are eight different positions totalling sixty-four forms of the art on love. The Kamasutra does not only prescribe how the male should act throughout the householder stage in search of kama, but it also prescribes duties and actions of how a female should act as well. These sixty-four forms of art in which the female is encouraged to perform include, singing, dancing, cutting leaves into shapes, arranging flowers, playing water sports, making costumes, the science of strategy (Kakar 1.3.15) and many more. Therefore, Vatsyayana suggested that women should at one point be encouraged to read the Kamasutra, “[a] woman should do this before she reaches the prime of her youth, and she should continue when she has been given away, if her husband wishes it” (Kakar 1.3.2).

In total, about one-fifth of the text is committed to the art of love making and sexual pleasure, while the rest is guidance for males and females in their relationships and relationships of that with others. It has helped those who are in the householder stage of life on their pursuit to fulfill the goal of kama. Vatsyayana gave a positive definition of kama in which,

“[p]leasure, in general, consists in engaging the ear, skin, eye, tongue, and nose each in its own approptriate sensation, all under the control of the mind and heart driven by the conscious self. Pleasure in its primary form, however, is a direct experience by the sensual pleasure of erotic arousal that results from the particular sensation of touch. A man learns about pleasure from the Kamasutra and from associating with the circle of men-about town” (Kakar 1.2.11-13).

Although today in Western society, people still consider the Kamasutra to be solely based on depictions of sexual endeavours; those who follow tradition will find that the Kamasutra is a text of useful insight and guidance on their pursuit of love and pleasure. In summation, the fundamental effect one might feel while reading and following the Kamasutra is an overall experience of sukha (happiness).


Burton, Sir Richard and F.F. Arbuthonot (1997) Kamasutra of Vatsyayana. Mumbai; Jaico Publishing House.

Doniger, Wendy (2001) “On Translating the Kamasutra: A Gurudakshina for Daniel H.H. Ingalls.” Journal of Indian Philosophy. 29 no. 1-2 April, p 81-94.

______ (2002) “On the Kamasutra.” Daedalus. Spring, vol. 131 Issue 2, p126-129.

______ (2003) “The Kamasutra: It Isn’t All About Sex.” Kenyon Review. Winter, vol. 25 Issue 1, p 18-36.

Kakar, Sudhir (2002) Kamasutra. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ostor, Akos (1992) Concepts of Person: Kinship, Caste, and Marriage in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, Valerie (2002) “Text as Cultural Antagonist: The ‘Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana’.” Journal of Communication Inquiry. April vol. 26, Issue2, p 133-154.

Rocher, Ludo (1985) “The Kamasutra: Vatsyayana’s Attitude towards Dharma and Dharmasastra.” Journal of the American Oriental Society; Jul.-Sept., vol. 105, no. 3, p 521- 529.

Thomas, P. (1956) Kama Kalpa: The Hindu Ritual of Love. Bombay; D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kama Sastra

Dharma Sastra

The Laws of Manu


Artha Sastra




Rati Rahasya

Koka Pandit

Ananga Ranga






Courtesans (Act Six)

Aphrodisiacs and drugs (Act Seven)

64 arts

Women in the Kamasutra

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Article written by Alicia Penny (March 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.