Sunday, 7 October 2012

Theatre, religion and painting - Kamasutra part 3

The unbridled success of the Kamasutra flowed over into other forms of art. It was the theatre in particular that embraced the new found love for artistic expression, where sensuality found its way to the stage even more than before. Tastes were assigned to human emotion, of which the most fashionable was the taste of the “rapturously erotic”. It is thus thanks to the playwrights of the time, that the Kamasutra was kept alive, where its predecessors did not survive history.
Poems and plays in the centuries to follow show not only remarkable similarities to the Kamasutra, there are sometime direct copying of the behaviours described that the playwrights and writers emulated in their own works.

In later centuries the influence of the Kamasutra extended into religion even more. Only now it was more subtle and kama was brought into the realm of love at a higher level of existence, not the physical. This love was pictured as divine in essence and as such lead poets to abusing this new love in their writing – if sex now had a divine expression, they could use every single chance to exploit it, couldn't they?

Despite all the interest in religion and eroticism, people no longer studied the original text of kama. Until about the twelfth century when a Buddhist monk (anyone else notice the irony here?) took up the baton by studying the ancient text of the Kamasutra, For by this time it was ancient. Like the writer of the Kamasutra who studied its ancient predecessor, so did Padmasri . He considered the Kamasutra to be the authoritative text on the subject, even though at that time it was far outdated for its social context.

The monk may have used the Kamasutra as the reference, but he updated its psychological approach and added a magical touch mostly influenced by the Tantric theologies of traditional medicines. Remember the aphrodisiacs? Padmasri's recipes now included the more rustic ingredients of a hyena's eye, or coating the genitals with red arsenic, sulphur and honey, not to mention an ingredient or two that had to have made even the hardiest believer cringe.

There were others to follow doing the same thing as Padmasri, but then added their own interpretation to some aspects of the Kamasutra. Kokkoka classified women into four categories, and thus adapted the text accordingly. (Good thing he is long dead, or he would not have lived very long in this era!)

More and more sex manuals saw the light, but each became more obsessed with sex to the point that kama became equated with sex, instead of pleasure that originally included other activities as well. As time passed the Kamasutra became more obscured, eventually becoming relegated to the religious libraries.
But as the Kamasutra became more forgotten so grew the visual arts of the erotic, thanks to the Persian influence of painting. There are no surviving manuscripts before the twelfth century, thanks to the lack of concern for preservation of such texts and paintings, although it seemed unlikely that there would have been illustrated versions of the Kamasutra anyway. The visual representations of the erotic can mainly be ascribed to the late fifteenth century, because of Persian predilection for miniature painting.

It was however a British scholar, Sir William Jones, who found the ancient relic almost by accident. And it was thanks to two unusual amateur enthusiasts in the Victorian period, that not only brought the Kamasutra to the attention of the West, but also managed to let India rediscover its own erotic classic.