Caves in the Vindhya Hill region of Mardya Pradesh, which date back to 2,000 B.C., are filled with sexual images of dancers. Some show harpists with erect penises playing before dancers performing homosexual acts. Other show girls dancing together and then lying in beds in intimate embraces.

Hinduism has traditionally looked upon sex as a necessary and natural and was the subject of considerable amount of research. The “Rig Veda” described sex as a religious act, bringing together universal forces and reenacting the creation of the world by the union of Shiva and Skakti. Shiba is symbolized by the phallic-shaped lingam and Skakti by vagina-shaped yoni. Some Hindu gods are bisexual.

Leanne Italie of Associated Press wrote: “ Kissing was first documented in human societies around 1500 B.C., in India's Vedic Sanskrit texts that serve as the basis of the Hindu religion. One describes the practice of smelling with the mouth. Another recounts how a "young lord of the house repeatedly licks the young woman," and describes which could symbolize a kiss or related caress. By the end of the Vedic period, Satapatha Brahmana talks of lovers "setting mouth to mouth," and early Hindu law reprimands a man for "drinking the moisture of the lips" of a slave woman.” [Source: Leanne Italie, Associated Press, March 12, 2011]

There is vast canon of ancient literature on sex in India. The Kama Sutra is one of many works that were released on the subject. The Kama Sutra was written in the A.D. third century and includes an entire chapter on kissing alone.

In an important fertility ritual held in the old days a Hindu Queen pretended to be the mare goddess Saramyu and took the penis of a dead horse and planted between her legs while urging 'the vigorous male" to "lay seed." [Source: “Natural History of Love” by Diane Ackerman]

Sexual Art in India

Most erotic Indian sculpture features bare breasts and torsos, but not full nudes, and copulation. Harvard’s Sackler Museum hosted an exhibition on sexual art called “The Sensuous and the Sublime: Representations of Love in the Arts of the Middle East and Southern Asia.” Among the works that were featured were “The Working of Kama, the God Love”, which shows an orgy inspired by Kama’s arrows with the figures having sex in a number of creative positions; and “Crime Passionale: An Outraged Husband Murders His Unfaithful Wife and Her Lover”, depicting the bleeding and naked lover and the wife being dragged from her bed by her husband.

The curator of the exhibit, Rochelle Kesser told AP that many of the works have an underlying spiritual meaning. He said: “Someone might walk in and say, ‘Wow, this is quite wild. What’s going on here? But then they will hopefully look at the label and see how this work of art can also be a tool of contemplation...Love can elevate you to the heights of spiritual endeavors and acts of self-sacrifice, it can totally go awry and turn jealous and obsessive.”

Love Temples and Erotic Sculptures at Khajuraho

The great “love temples” of northern India, including Khajuraho, were built in the eleventh century by the Chandella dynasty. Khajuraho (260 miles from Agra) is remote city famed for its erotic temples. The origin of the temples and the history of the Chandela dynasty that built them is not completely understood. But it is known that at least 850 temples were built between A.D 950 and 1050 over a wide area, of which 22 are still in fairly good shape. The city was built in such a remote location so that it could escape the ravages of invaders.

What makes Khajuraho so interesting are the sculptures of people—and perhaps gods and goddesses—in various love-making positions on the sandstone walls of the temples. In one extraordinary bas-relief a man doing a headstand is shown getting it on with a woman—held off the ground by a pair of large-breasted assistants—doings the splits. The sculptures are considered to be some of the best examples of erotic Hindu art in India. Most of the temples have two or three bands of these sculptures.

The Khajuraho temples feature a variety of art work, of which 10 percent is sexual or erotic art outside and inside the temples. Some of the temples that have two layers of walls have small erotic carvings on the outside of the inner wall. Some scholars suggest these to be tantric sexual practices. Other scholars state that the erotic arts are part of Hindu tradition of treating kama as an essential and proper part of human life, and its symbolic or explicit display is common in Hindu temples. Over 90 percent of the art work at the temple is about daily life and symbolic values in ancient Indian culture. The Khajuraho temples represent one expression of many forms of arts that flourished in Rajput kingdoms of India from the A.D. 8th through 10th century.[Source: Wikipedia +]

James McConnachie, in his history of the Kamasutra, describes the sexual-themed Khajuraho sculptures as "the apogee of erotic art": "Twisting, broad-hipped and high breasted nymphs display their generously contoured and bejewelled bodies on exquisitely worked exterior wall panels. These fleshy apsaras run riot across the surface of the stone, putting on make-up, washing their hair, playing games, dancing, and endlessly knotting and unknotting their girdles....Beside the heavenly nymphs are serried ranks of griffins, guardian deities and, most notoriously, extravagantly interlocked maithunas, or lovemaking couples."

Kama Sutra

The Kama Sutra is the famous guidebook on fulfilling “kama”, sensual pleasure, with a particular emphasis on sex, probably produced during the Gupta period. It was written by a celibate yogi named Mallanaga Vatsyayana in the A.D. 4th or 5th century. In the West, it is perhaps best known for the 64 love making positions in recommends, some of which only contortionists can perform, and the sexual art and instructive paintings that often accompanied them.

According to PBS: “Kama means love, desire, or pleasure in Sanskrit, and the Sutra is the earliest surviving example of the kama shastra, or science of erotica genre, that would become popular in later centuries. The Kama Sutra is composed of seven books with two or more chapters each, and much of the book gives advice to the urban male or nagaraka about courtship. Women were encouraged to learn 64 practices of the kama shastra, including singing, dancing, and even carpentry, and solving riddles. The Kama Sutra treats sex as both an art and a science and divides men and women into sexual types, discusses sexual positions, details appropriate conduct for married women and provides advice for courtesans. The Kama Sutra became the archetype for subsequent works on the subject of erotic love in India and influenced later Sanskrit erotic poetry.” [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

Kama is one of the three basic ingredients for living a balanced life during the family phase of the four stages of a Hindu man’s life. The other two are “dharma” (moral and social duties) and “artha” (the pursuit of wealth and power to support one’s family). A sutra is a scripture or a religious text. "Sutra" literally means a thread or line that holds things together

The Kama Sutra describes 17 types of kisses, 12 kinds of embraces and eight kinds of nail marks. But it also says sex should only be performed in the context of marriage. According to the Kama Sutra sexual preference vary from place to place in India: “The women of the central countries dislike pressing the nails and biting, the women of Aparitka are full of passion, and make slowly the sound, ‘Seeth.’”

According to “The Kama Sutra (or Kamasutra) is a famous Hindu text, which is widely considered to be a classic work on human sexual behavior. It was originally written in Sanskrit by Vatsyayana. A portion of the literature consists of practical advice on sexual intercourse. The text is written largely in prose form, with many inserted anustubh (quatrain of four lines) poetry verses.. But a more metaphorical meaning of the word refers to an aphorism (or line, rule, formula). It is a common perception in the west that Kama Sutra (Kamasutra) is sex manual, but it actually a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure oriented faculties of human life. [Source:]

The Kama Sutra is one of the most notable pieces text from a group of texts known as Kama Shastra (or Kamashastra). Traditionally, the first transmission of Kama Shastra or "Discipline of Kama" is attributed to the sacred bull of Shiva. He was his doorkeeper and is known by the name Nandi. He overheard the lovemaking of the Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati and later recorded his utterances for the benefit of mankind. Historians suggest that Kama Sutra was composed sometime between 400 B.C. and A.D. 200. John Keay believes that the Kama Sutra is a compendium that was collected into its current form in the A.D. 2nd century. The famous English adventurer Sir Richard Burton did a well-known English translation of the Kama Sutra published in 1883.

Chapters of Kama Sutra

Part I: Introductory: Chapter I: Preface; Chapter II: Observations on the Three Worldly Attainments of Virtue, Wealth, and Love; Chapter III: On the Study of the Sixty-Four Arts; Chapter IV: On the Arrangements of a House, and Household Furniture; and About the Daily Life of a Citizen, His Companions, Amusements, Etc:; Chapter V: About Classes of Women Fit and Unfit for Congress with the Citizen, and of Friends, and Messengers.

Part II: On Sexual Union: Chapter I: Kinds of Union According to Dimensions, Force of Desire, and Time; and on the Different Kinds of Love; Chapter II: Of the Embrace; Chapter III: On Kissing; Chapter IV: On Pressing or Marking with the Nails; Chapter V: On Biting, and the Ways of Love to be Employed with Regard to Women of Different Countries; Chapter VI: On the Various Ways of Lying Down, and the Different Kinds of Congress; Chapter VII: On the Various Ways of Striking, and of The Sounds Appropriate to Them; Chapter VIII: About Females Acting the Part of Males; Chapter IX: On Holding the Lingam in the Mouth; Chapter X: How to Begin and How to End the Congress: Different Kinds of Congress, and Love Quarrels; ; Part III: About the Acquisition of a Wife; Chapter I: Observations on Betrothal and Marriage; Chapter II: About Creating Confidence In the Girl; Chapter III: Courtship, and the Manifestation of the Feelings by Outward Signs and Deeds; Chapter IV: On Things to be Done Only by the Man, and the Acquisition of the Girl Thereby: Also What is to be Done by a Girl to Gain Over a Man and Subject Him to Her; Chapter V: On the Different Forms of Marriage.

Part IV: About a Wife: ; Chapter I: On the Manner of Living of a Virtuous Woman, and of Her Behaviour During the Absence of Her Husband; Chapter II: On the Conduct of the Eldest Wife Towards the Other Wives of her Husband, and of the Younger Wife Towards the Elder Ones.

Part V: About the Wives of Other People:; Chapter I: On the Characteristics of Men And Women; Chapter II: About Making Acquaintance with the Woman, and of the Efforts to Gain Her Over; Chapter III: Examination of the State of a Woman's Mind; Chapter IV: The Business of a Go-Between; Chapter V: On the Love of Persons in Authority with the Wives of Other People; Chapter VI: About the Women of the Royal Harem, and of the Keeping of One's Own Wife.

Part VI: About Courtesans: Introductory Remarks;; Chapter I: Of the Causes of a Courtesan Resorting to Men; Chapter II: Of a Courtesan Living With a Man as His Wife; Chapter III: Of the Means of getting Money; Chapter IV: About a Reunion with a Former Lover; Chapter V: Of Different Kinds of Gain; Chapter VI: Of Gains and Losses, Attendant Gains and Losses, and Doubts; and Lastly, the Different Kinds of Courtesans.

Part VII: On The Means of Attracting Others to One's Self; Chapter I: On Personal Adornment, Subjugating the Hearts of Others, and of Tonic Medicines; Chapter II: Of The Means of Exciting Desire, and of the Ways of Enlarging the Lingam: Miscellaneous Experiments and Receipts; Concluding Remarks.

Advise from the Kama Sutra

On entertainment, the Kama Sutra, reads: “Spending nights playing with dice. Going out on moonlight nights. Keeping the festive day in honour of spring. Plucking the sprouts and fruits of the mango trees. Eating the fibres of lotuses. Eating the tender ears of corn. Picnicking in the forests when the trees get their new foliage. The Udakakashvedika or sporting in the water. Decorating each other with the flowers of some trees. Pelting each other with the flowers of the Kadamba tree, and many other sports which may either be known to the whole country, or may be peculiar to particular parts of it. These and similar other amusements should always be carried on by citizens.”

The Kama Sutra suggested the use of pomegranates as an aphrodisiac. For prostitutes Vatsyayana, author the Kama Sutra, advises: “Sleeping with strangers for gain does not come naturally for women. Yet to succeed as a prostitute, you must disguise your love of money as natural desire for the man himself. Prove to him that he, not his money, inspires your divine lust by always seeming selflessly devoted. Don’t be too obviously grasping; use your wits to fleece him intelligently.”

About wine Vatsyayana said:

Serve only the finest wines:
madhu of a blend in which the wild honey
does not overpower the grape.
licorice-perfumed maireya.
fragrant mango sura and wood-apple asava
Serve foods that complement the wines"
like snacks in spicy sauces,
green vegetable salads,
fresh fruit, baked breads, chutneys and relishes,
sweet pickles and salted nut.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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