More notes on the _Kama Sutra_

In a previous note, where I juxtaposed the Kama Sutra with a poem by Jyotsna Milan, I spoke of the fact that the Sutra does not speak of the art and the war of loss-the necessary paring of the gemstone, the ‘kshay’ that must accompany fulfilment in any form. Here, I continue my observations on this Sutra, this time on the cultural/ideological inheritance about gender and sexuality in the Indian ethos.

As we know, the Sutra places the sustainable practice of ‘kama’ among the two other goals in life–Artha and Dharma; Moksha, the fourth goal, lies beyond the veil of the body.

I found then, the arts of the courtesan–those who were made into ‘baijis’ during the British Raj–to be the arts of the cultivation and the care of the self. This was no treatise aimed at the cultivation of sexual acts, but one that, through its injunctions, delved into the psychology of sexual attraction and desire as a whole, as well as the motives and the aims thereof. Thus, one had to cultivate the whole person and the persona in order to remain attractive to all the senses, to the mind as well as to the spirit.

And it speaks, or seems to speak, to women to enjoin upon them the virtues and benefits of such ‘cultivation.’ And to men, too. Yet, when it came to the culling of the flowers, it drew a borderline of desirable behavior–the ‘lakshmanrekha’–between men and women. Men could enjoy women for a purpose, women couldn’t vice versa.

And it named as a public woman one who has been enjoyed twice or more by men, whether that woman is married or not. Marriage seemed only to confer ownership, not sexual aegis.

I wondered about the4 judgment above. What notions of purity and possession drove, and still drive, this demarcation? Why may a woman be deemed public but not a man?

Why is ‘she’ made so fragile? For, biologically speaking, the woman is the constant gene. The feminine/feminized is also the receptacle, the one to be controlled, feared. Yet desirable above all. [All that is to be conquered, all that is desired, all that is possessed and yet defeats the possessor unless he bends to it in some way–all that is feminized–‘she’–the vehicle, the citadel, the other. The road, the goal, the unattainable. Yet, she–characterized not as goddess above but as yoni and the sex of the world below–is not a citadel to be brought down.]

Chastity, like a blemish that becomes a beauty-spot, is a thing of the eye. A woman may be ravished in body and yet her soul may remain untouched. And vice versa. The ‘nayika’ of the Kama Sutra is a dramatic persona, suitable to a text that speaks of the pleasures of a set of ‘mudras’ within the social edifice.

So different from the concept of the ‘kumari’ present in philosophical interpretations of some Hindu goddesses. [I paused to wonder about Athena here, but I find the Western tradition problematic. The binary between Athena/Aphrodite remains trenchant, and Hestia seems a numinous figure. Minerva wasn’t as anthropomorphic or metaphysically significant as her Greek counterpart. Isis may be a better bet, and there are others I would take up in a different note] Take, for example, my current thought-interest: Durga ("The inaccessible," "Beyond Reach"). Many of the figures associated with her are officially virgin, but ‘virgin’ could mean ‘one-in-herself’ or ‘belonging-to-no-man,’ one whose power is not dependent on her relation to a husband-god (Esther Harding).

[Am I, through the passage above, espousing a ‘break-all-boundaries,’ ‘down-with-patriarchy’ maelstrom? Not really. Just looking for an arrow of meaning through it all, an integrity which would render life livable and sustainable.]

(to be continued)