The Kama Sutra (/; Sanskrit: कामसूत्र, pronunciation (help·info), Kāmasūtra) is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text on sexuality, eroticism and emotional fulfillment in life. Attributed to Vātsyāyana, the Kama Sutra is neither exclusively nor predominantly a sex manual on sex positions, but written as a guide to the "art-of-living" well, the nature of love, finding a life partner, maintaining one's love life, and other aspects pertaining to pleasure-oriented faculties of human life.
Kamasutra is the oldest surviving Hindu text on erotic love. It is a sutra-genre text with terse aphoristic verses that have survived into the modern era with different bhasya (exposition and commentaries). The text is a mix of prose and anustubh-meter poetry verses. The text acknowledges the Hindu concept of Purusharthas, and lists desire, sexuality, and emotional fulfillment as one of the proper goals of life. Its chapters discuss methods for courtship, training in the arts to be socially engaging, finding a partner, flirting, maintaining power in a married life, when and how to commit adultery, sexual positions, and other topics. The majority of the book is about the philosophy and theory of love, what triggers desire, what sustains it, and how and when it is good or bad.
The text is one of many Indian texts on Kama Shastra. It is a much-translated work in Indian and non-Indian languages. The Kamasutra has influenced many secondary texts that followed after the 4th-century CE, as well as the Indian arts as exemplified by the pervasive presence Kama-related reliefs and sculpture in old Hindu temples. Of these, the Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh is a UNESCO world heritage site. Among the surviving temples in north India, one in Rajasthan sculpts all the major chapters and sexual positions to illustrate the Kamasutra. According to Wendy Doniger, the Kamasutra became "one of the most pirated books in English language" soon after it was published in 1883 by Richard Burton. This first European edition by Burton does not faithfully reflect much in the Kamasutra because he revised the collaborative translation by Bhagavanlal Indrajit and Shivaram Parashuram Bhide with Forster Arbuthnot to suit 19th-century Victorian tastes.
manuscript page preserved in the vaults of the Raghunatha Hindu temple in Jammu & Kashmir.
The original composition date or century for the Kamasutra is unknown. Historians have variously placed it between 400 BCE and 300 CE. According to John Keay, the Kama Sutra is a compendium that was collected into its present form in the 2nd century CE. In contrast, the Indologist Wendy Doniger who has co-translated Kama sutra and published many papers on related Hindu texts, the surviving version of the Kamasutra must have been revised or composed after 225 CE because it mentions the Abhiras and the Andhras dynasties that did not co-rule major regions of ancient India before that year. The text makes no mention of the Gupta Empire which ruled over major urban areas of ancient India, reshaping ancient Indian arts, Hindu culture and economy from the 4th-century through the 6th-century. For these reasons, she dates the Kama sutra to the second half of the 3rd-century CE.
The place of its composition is also unclear. The likely candidates are urban centers of north or northwest ancient India, alternatively in the eastern urban Pataliputra (now Patna).
Vatsyayana Mallanaga is its widely accepted author because his name is embedded in the colophon verse, but little is known about him. Vatsyayana states that he wrote the text after much meditation. In the preface, Vatsyayana acknowledges that he is distilling many ancient texts, but these have not survived. He cites the work of others he calls "teachers" and "scholars", and the longer texts by Auddalaki, Babhravya, Dattaka, Suvarnanabha, Ghotakamukha, Gonardiya, Gonikaputra, Charayana, and Kuchumara. Vatsyayana's Kamasutra is mentioned and some verses quoted in the Brihatsamhita of Varahamihira, as well as the poems of Kalidasa. This suggests he lived before the 5th-century CE.