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Reading the Kamasutra: The Mare’s Trap and Other Essays on Vatsyayana’s Masterpiece Hardcover – 7 Aug 2015
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About the Author
Wendy Doniger is the author of several acclaimed and bestselling works, among them, The Hindus: An Alternative History; Hindu Myths; On Hinduism; Siva, the Erotic Ascetic; Dreams, Illusion and Other realities; and translations of the Rig Veda and the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). She is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. She has also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the University of California, Berkeley.
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The Mare's Trap is a strong case by Ms. Doniger for reading the Kamasutra by men and women alike and also about debunking popular myths about the Kamasutra. She also explores how Vatsayanan's Kamasutra aligns with Kautilya's Arthashastra and Manu's Dharmshastra, criticizes Sir Robert Burton's translation, appreciates the Kamasutra with respect to how it treats / thinks about women and same sex unions (the best part of the book). The book also consists of an essay on what and why Kamasutra's position is in the current Indian society, whatever it is.
I feel enriched after reading the book and certainly would want to read the Kamasutra (Ms. Doniger has done a translation of Kamasutra too). However, The Mare's Trap is not a must read text, but if you have read Kamasutra, especially Burton's version, this book will bring up some surprises for you.
Doniger explains how Arthashatra and Manusmriti borrows from each other and in turn Kamasutra borrows from both of them. Although Kamasutra evidently goes agiast Manusmriti in matters of sex, pleausre, adultry etc. And every step of the way Doniger complements Kamasutra with Yashodhara's Jayamangala. She explains how contrary to popular belief, Kamasutra is much much more than just positions. It is about a complete way of life, how a man is supposed to live, how to dress, what to eat, what arts and skills to learn, albeit all in the pursuit of women.
My favourite chapter of this book is one called 'Women in Kamasutra'. While most of the text is aimed at a man about town as in a respectable and well to do man in Kamasutra, there are large parts and a few chapters in Kamasutra entirely dedicated to women. Author says that as women's pleasure has slowly started to take precedence in modern culture, Kamasutra emphasizes on women's pleasure. It teaches men to put their partners' satisfaction first, explains why and how to go about achieving it. It is astonishing to know that Kamasutra had detailed G-spot and female ejaculation almost two millennia ago, which have been discovered by modern scietists barely a few decades ago and their existence is debated still today. Doniger points out that compared to other contemporary Indian texts which prohibited women from reading any sort of texts calling them feeble minded, Kamasutra actually insists women to read, understand and practice its advice.
Next chapter details 'Third Nature' by which she argues that Kamasutra means homosexuality and bi-sexuality. Although not as openly as it has become today, but it elaborates how to practice it both to men and women. And it is much forgiving and accepting than other contemporary texts.
Doniger also discusses comparisons of sizes of genitals of men and women with that of animals in the eponymous chapter. Male fascination (or should I say insecurity) with penis size prevalent in popular culture all over the world today, Kamasutra elucidates remedies including medicines and surgery.
Throughout the book, Doniger appreciates the efforts and sheer guts of Richard Burton and his co-authors in successfully translating Kamasutra for the first time from original Sanskrit to English during Victorian period but she also criticizes Burton translation for being inaccurate and perverting the actual meaning in several places.
In the last chapter, Doniger charts the history of sexual attitudes of people in India till present day. She criticizes Hindu attitudes of typically blaming Muslim invasion and British 'Victorianism' for prudish attitudes towards sex in India. She states that people who blame muslims & british and refuse to even gaze invards for their own society's attitudes forget about contribution of Muslim rulers to erotic traditions of India. Lodi dynasty of 16th century had commissioned the last great Sanskrit erotic work called Anangaranga. Mughals, especially Akbar and Dara Shikoh, had Sanskrit erotic and religious works translated to Persian and had them illustrated with persian paintings. How progressive or at least different Indian society could have been, had it adopted Kamasutra & Arthshastra as a way of life instead of following Manusmriti to attain one of dual goals of asceticism and material-domestic life stipulated in Upanishads?
This is my second time reading this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are interested in ancient Indian culture or in knowing more about sex or Kamasutra in particular, then you should read this first before you graduate to Kamasutra. And if you really want to get maximum out of Kamasutra, read Kamasutra translated by Wendy Doniger (Oxford Univeristy Press). It is the only version you will find in any language without a single illustration. Complete text.
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