Illustrated by Victo Ngai
Translated from the Sanscrit by Sir Richard Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot
One of the world’s great literary legacies, this manual of virtuous living, courtship and pleasure affords an intimate glimpse into Hindu culture.
The illustrations reproduced here are representative of Victo Ngai’s style, however, the majority of the illustrations in the book are more explicit, befitting the subject matter.
Written 2,000 years ago, The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana is a seven-part compendium of instruction for wealthy citizens. An early Indian treatise on the science and art of sex and love, the guide concerns itself with the pursuit of happiness and how the enjoyment of life can best be achieved. Famed for providing a guide to the practical techniques of sex, the book also advises the reader on selecting the perfect wife or husband, how to live in a virtuous manner, of taking a courtesan (and how courtesans should receive their lovers, and get rid of them), and of achieving a happy home filled with contentment for both parties. Its blend of morality and uninhibited eroticism piqued the imagination of Victorian society, and its content still fascinates today.
While the ‘various kinds of congress’ have long been a focus of Western attention, these are just one element of the holistic life that Vatsyayana outlined for his enlightened audience. For example, before seeking out the sensual pleasures, men and women should first be schooled in the 64 arts and sciences, which include tattooing, magic, the art of making flower carriages and, directly after breakfast, of teaching parrots to speak.
There have been many editions of the Kama Sutra, but none more vividly imagined as through the work of award-winning artist Victo Ngai. Each full-colour illustration weaves an intricate story and tantalises with erotic suggestion. Ngai has also created 25 beautiful black and white interpretations of the sexual positions and these liberally illustrate the text. A signed artist’s print portraying an amorous couple locked in the Embrace of Thighs is presented with every book.
The fictional ‘Kama Shastra Society of London and Benares’ first brought the Kama Sutra to Western attention, having employed Indian scholars to compile a single text from four extant versions, before translation. Initially printed anonymously ‘for private circulation only’, rumours of the content resulted in reprints and pirated copies, and the identities of the erstwhile translators, Sir Richard Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, were revealed.
An explorer, linguist, spy and diplomat, Burton was fascinated by Indian culture and had a particular penchant for the erotic. With a similar taste in subject matter – and a love of India gained through a career as a civil servant in the subcontinent – Burton’s close friend Arbuthnot shared his fervent desire to publish the Kama Sutra. Despite many subsequent translations of the epic work, Arbuthnot and Burton’s text has distinguished itself in the pantheon of Victorian writing.
Beautifully presented, the commentary opens with the preface to the 1963 edition of this translation by W. G. Archer, in which the former Keeper of the Indian Section of the Victoria and Albert Museum explores the cultural context of the Kama Sutra. This is followed by multi-award-winning novelist and playwright Hanif Kureishi’s The Kama Sutra: A Guilty Pleasure, first published in 2011. The final essay, by historian John Keay, was specially commissioned for this edition; in it he discusses the pivotal role of sensuality in ancient Indian society. Together these three pieces add much to the appreciation of this unique work.
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Review by rbalkris on 14th Jun 2018
"Absolutely fantastic production of this masterpiece of Indian cultural and love treatise. Fascinating commentary volume, superb illustrations by Victo Ngai and very handsome production values. A must ..." [read more]