The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana

Illustrated by Victo Ngai

Translated by Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot and Sir Richard Burton

Limited to 750 numbered copies each sent with a print signed by Victo Ngai

One of the world’s great literary legacies, this manual of virtuous living, courtship and pleasure affords an intimate glimpse into Hindu culture.


The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana

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.

Winner of a Silver Cube in Illustration at the ADC Annual Awards 2019

Production Details

Limitation colour print signed by the artist

Limited Edition
Translated from the Sanscrit by Sir Richard Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot
Typeset in Aria and printed on Abbey Pure Rough paper.
Title page printed in two colours
Eight colour plates by Victo Ngai tipped into decorative borders. 25 black and white drawings integrated with the text
Bound in cloth blocked in gold on the spine and inset with a cloth label printed and blocked in gold foil with a design by the artist
Endpapers printed with a design by the artist
Gilded top edge, ribbon marker
264 pages. Book size: 13’’ x 9¾’’

Commentary volume
Essays by W. G. Archer, Hanif Kureishi and John Keay
64 pages set in Aria and printed on Abbey Pure Rough Paper
Quarter-bound in cloth with paper sides blocked in dark blue foil
64 pages. Book size: 13’’ x 9¾’’

Presented in a solander box bound in cloth, blocked in gold and lined with cloth printed and blocked in gold foil with a design by the artist

Sumptuous imagery

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 classic English translation

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.

Fascinating commentary

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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