The Kama Sutra is thought to have been written around the year AD 300 by a Hindu philosopher named Vātsyāyana Mallanaga, of whom historians know very little other than his name. However, the book is actually thought to be a collection of previous texts that the author simply stitched together. And according to Anand, some believe that much of the book may have actually been written by women.
“He says that he took all his information from texts that were written a thousand years before, and that he’s pretty much copied and pasted the bits that he likes. He says that in his introduction,” Anand explains. According to Indian mythology, she says, some of those original texts are believed to have been written by the wife of the God of Love himself, Kama. Other stories suggest courtesans of the time paid for the book to be written, she says. Anand personally believes the famous section on sex (section two out of seven sections) may have been written by a woman because of the way it focuses so much on women’s pleasure, which was still radical at the time of its writing.
While its authorship remains shrouded in mystery, the Kama Sutra went on to become a very important and widely disseminated text across the region that later became India. According to Anand, there have been hundreds if not thousands of versions of the Kama Sutra. “Literally every kingdom across what we call India would have their own version of this written,” she explains, though she says that over time, as different cultures and different ideas of morality came into play in the region throughout history, the text gradually fell from prominence.
Then, in 1883, a British explorer named Richard Burton published a translation of the book that became massively popular across Europe and the world. “That’s when it also goes askew because a lot of it is translated pretty badly,” says Anand. Burton’s version focused heavily on the erotic themes of the Kama Sutra and specifically the sex positions, which is where today’s misunderstandings about the text stem from.
“Unfortunately, as a result of Richard Burton’s translation and Western caricatures of what it means, it has now been marketed as a ‘solution’ to sexual health problems,” Srinivasan adds. “I don’t know of one Indian woman who hasn’t been accosted by a white man asking her if she can do some of the moves from the Kama Sutra. Common misconceptions are that it is a book about sex positions and that all Indians are experts in the Kama Sutra. Wrong.”