Review: The Kama Sutra, attributed to Vatsyayana, in a new translation by A. N. D. Haksar

The Kama Sutra
attributed to Vatsyayana
translated by
A. N. D. Haksar
Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition
The Kama Sutra is one of the most popular and most controversial written works in history. Its exotic yet universal nature is appealing to a wide range of personalities, and its reputation as a visual how-to for sexual amusement is well-known.

There are hundreds of versions of the illustrated Kama Sutra, with various styles and for a plethora of target audiences. But despite its cliché, The Kama Sutra was originally considered the mark of a well-rounded education. And if you’re looking for the cliché, you won’t find it here.

The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, newly translated by A. N. D. Haksar, and published this week, is a focus on the work’s original historical and social importance, rather than a collection of sexual positions. In fact, the closest you’ll get to any of that is on the cover, designed by Malika Favre. The interior is all a linguistic dance around the methods and means of seduction, marriage and passion. But for all that, for all that it could be, it’s rather dated and lackluster.

The sexist nature of the original work does not translate well for a twenty-first century audience. Sure, sex is sex and it hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last 50,000 years, but the idea that a man must bewitch a woman or that forcible marriage (by way of kidnapping, rape, and/or murder) is necessary, or that it’s okay to seduce the wife of another man if that man has treasure that belongs to you…these ideas are crude, dated, sexist and just plain uncomfortable. Even the more benign concepts of marriage, which establish women as the keepers of the home and maintainers of a sanctuary for their husbands, are now (though perhaps most recently of all the changes) outdated.

Add to that the descriptions in the chapter on “Esoteric matters” (wherein we learn that a certain powder “…when mixed with monkey shit and sprinkled over a virgin girl, ensures that she is not given to another man.”) and you’ve got a relatively unattractive volume of advice on sexual socialization that has little bearing on today’s world.


  1. The version on my IPod, which (I read aloud to a group of friends while we had breakfast at Whole Foods) has this part: "Do not have sex with someone who is too black. Do not have sex with someone who is too white."

    Do you think a cafe-latte would be about right?


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