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Life of Vatsyayana: the Author of the Kama Sutra

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The Kama Sutra, generally translated as “Aphorism of Love”. What does Aphorism mean? it means a short clever saying that is intended to express a general truth. The Kama Sutra is an ancient Indian Hindu text widely considered to be the exponent of human sexual behavior. It is written in Sanskrit and supposed to be authored by a man named Vatsyayana.

It has 1250 verses, distributed in 36 chapters, which are further organized into 7 parts. Contrary to popular perception, especially in the western world, Kama sutra is not an exclusive erotic manual; it is also a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life, and human life.

It was first translated in 1883 by the renowned orientalist and author Sir Richard Francis Burton. Despite the book having come down from ages and being translated by Richard Burton yet the fact remains that the author of the book has remained an obscure person and nothing much is known about him. Burton carried out research but he could not unravel the life of this author of the Kama sutra.



The writer of the Kamsutra has remained a shadowy figure as hardly any authentic biography of this man is available. We can only make an attempt to glean something about his life from the book Kamasutra itself. However, we know the complete name of the writer which was Malinaga Vatsyayana. In all probability he was Hindu and one can surmise that he would have to be a Brahmin. This is so as in those ancient times only a Brahmin was supposed to be the custodian of wisdom and education and had access to all the learned manuals, spiritual treatises, and books. The lower casts like the Shudras had hardly any access to knowledge and education, hence we can conclude that Vatsyayana must have been from the highest caste i.e a Brahamin.

Again we can glean that Vatsyayana was probably a man of influence and lived an opulent life. He must have had a lot of leisure time available which he could devote to his writings. In addition, the writer must have been steeped in Hindu thought and thus was in a position to interpret this part of Hindu philosophy. i.e. Achievement of God and self-realization. Hinduism has long advocated the 4th path to salvation and that is through TantVatsyayana besides transcribing the Kama Sutra is also credited with having transcribed the Nyaya Sutras This is an ancient Indian text of philosophy that was composed by the Buddha Gautama in the 2nd century B.C. We can just get an idea of the antiquity of the book which probably was written around the third century BC and that's a pretty long time back.

There is a subtle difference in the two books as the Kama Sutra tackles Kama (or sensual pleasures) in contrast to the Nyaya Sutra which delineates the paths for achieving moksha( Salvation) in a man's life. Nyaya means truth and justice and Sutra means a Hindu law of philosophy.

The period during which Vatsyayana lived cannot be pinpointed though we can make a general assessment. From the Book itself, we learn that he was a resident of Benares. This is very plausible as Benares has for centuries been a holy place and seat of learning of the Saints and Rishis( holy men) of the Hindu religion. There is also a real possibility that Vatsyayana just put into print what was ancient folklore from the Vedic age (2000BC).

Vatsyayana himself mentions that the ruler of Kuntal Satakarni Satavahana, killed his wife while making love to her in the heat of passion with a karter (small dagger). Kuntal is supposed to be the Jat land (modern Western Utter Pradesh). This king is believed to have ruled during the first century A.D., and hence we can safely conclude that Vatsyayana must have lived during this period. The killing of the Queen in the fit of passion by the king is not justified by Vatsyayana but mentioned in passing as the effect of passion.

We can try and pinpoint the period when Vatsyayana lived from the book by the mathematician Astrologer Daivajna Varahamihira. In his book titled "Brihatsanhita" the writes of Vivah Patal( marriage world). This chapter appears to be taken from the Kama Sutra. Now Varahamihira who was from South Bengal is said to have lived during the sixth century A.D. Therefore one can conclude that Vatsyayana must have lived before him. So we can roughly surmise that the period of Vatsyayana's existence is perhaps from the first to the 3rd century AD.

Richard Burton

Richard Burton

The mystery

The mystery of Vatyasyana and his life and the period he lived becomes deeper. A fact that is unexplained and defies logic is the mention of Vatsyayana in the Bhagavad Gita ( the Song Divine ) of Lord Krishna. The Bhagwat Gita is supposed to have originated around 4000 BC and one really cannot correlate how it mentions Vatsyayana who from tangible evidence probably lived around the second and third century BC. The mention of the name of the writer of the Kama Sutra in the Bhagwat Gita probably means that Vatsyayana was an immortal. The Bhagavad Gita is one of civilization's seminal texts on philosophy and religion.

Scholars have tried to unravel the mystery but there is no document or anything referring to Vatsyayana available. Folklore says that Vatsyayana was a great saint who never had any physical relationship himself but this appears a little far-fetched and can be heard /read with a pinch of salt. Nobody can write in such detail if he has not experienced himself.

We must however bow our heads to Sir Richard Burton who not only studied Sanskrit but came down to India and translated this monumental work for people to read and relish in the modern age.

But whatever the period during which Vatsyayana lived, we must thank Burton for his translation.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 30, 2020:

Flourish, the reference is unmistakable. many historians are stumped. Thank you for commenting.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 30, 2020:

I always assumed this was a sex manual rather than having the other information about family life, etc. that you alluded to. The mentioning of him long before he lived almost seems like a time warp (or someone else entirely perhaps, as many people can adopt the same name out of reverence?).

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 28, 2020:

thanks. is it on youtube?

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 28, 2020:

Tom, yes I read about Burton's visit to Mecca. Burton also translated the Perfumed Garden the Arabic sex manual. As far as Vatsyayan is concerned it's a bit of a mystery because there is mention of him in the Gita and there is mention of also of him 4000 years later, so I really do not know what to believe.

tom on November 28, 2020:

richard burton first westerner to visit mecca,no historical records culture in india,so vatsyana is a mystery

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