The Kamasutra is an old Hindu book on love. Kama in Sanskrit means sensory pleasure, and sutra is a word for a text. Contrary to popular belief in western society however, the Kamasutra does not solely focus on sex positions and erotic love. The Kamasutra not only contains positions for sexual intercourse, but also features information on many other topics. These topics include, but are not limited to: finding a partner, virgins, courting, marriage, marriage to more than one woman, wives, the role of women, the role of the man, committing adultery, and living with courtesans.
The Kamasutra was written by Vatsyayana Mallanaga. Not a lot is known about Vatsyayana besides the fact that he was a Hindu from India. The Kamasutra was originally written in Sanskrit but since then has been translated numerous times by numerous people. This article will mainly focus on the translation done by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar in 2002. Both Doniger and Kakar are accomplished authors and scholars and both have studied religion at university.
Book Four in the Kamasutra is all about wives and that is the main focus of this article. Book Four consists of two chapters and within the two chapters are eight topics. These topics include: The Life of an Only Wife, Her Behaviour during his Absence, The Senior Wife, The Junior Wife, The Second-hand Woman, The Wife Unlucky in Love, Women of the Harem, and A Man’s Management of Many Women.
The first chapter and topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Life of an Only Wife. An only wife is to treat her husband as if he were a God. Everything she does is to be done for him. She also takes on the responsibilities and actions of a housewife. This includes keeping the house clean and beautiful to look at at all times. This also includes making the proper offerings three times a day to keep the household in good standings with the gods, and to make sure the gods are getting the proper amount of worship. The only wife is to treat her husband’s relatives based on their merits (Doniger & Kakar 94).
The only wife also tends to a garden. She should plant herbs, vegetables, flowers, mustard seed, sugar-cane, lemon grass, and much more. The garden should always be weeded. It should also have a pond and should be a wonderful display to look at. Her relationships are limited and she may not have a close one with any of the following: a beggar, a Buddhist nun, a fortune-teller, or a magician. When preparing meals the only wife puts her husband first. She cooks meals that depend on what he likes, what he does not like, what is good for him, and what is not (Doniger & Kakar 94).
When she is called by her husband she is always ready to serve. She is never seen in his eyes without makeup or jewellery on, she is always to be made up and to be a pleasant sight to look at. She is only allowed to go out to an event, such as a wedding, or even just out with her friends with her husband’s permission. He is very much in control. Her sleep schedule depends on his. She is to only get slightly offended at her husband’s infidelities, making sure he is not too humiliated. The only wife makes sure to keep herself clean. This includes having clean teeth, no body odour, and she tries not to sweat at all, as this would not be pleasing to her husband. When going to make love to her husband, she must be dressed up in her finest clothes, jewellery, and oils. When her husband fasts or vows the only wife also undergoes these things with him (Doniger & Kakar 95).
When she has the money, the only wife spends money on household items, perfumes, oils, seeds for the garden, and more. She never tells anyone about these assets however. She strives to be much better than any other women in her grouping in every way. The only wife has a number of duties. She is to keep track of the finances, make meals, and after meals make things such as butter with the leftovers, she makes clothing out of cotton and thread, she works in the fields, and she takes care of the livestock (Doniger & Kakar 95-96).
The only wife finds use for all her husband’s old and worn out clothes. She stocks, uses, buys, and sells wine and liquor properly. She honours her husband’s friends and serves his parents. She likes the people her husband likes and hates the people he hates. She is kind and considerate to servants. That is the life an only wife is to lead (Doniger & Kakar 96).
The second topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is Her Behaviour During his Absence. When her husband is away, the only wife fasts, dedicates herself to the gods, and takes care of the household. She goes to older relatives to get the same guidance she would normally receive from her husband. She is not to act on her own accord. She takes on her normal daily tasks and also needs to finish anything her husband has started and left. She is only allowed to see her own relatives on special occasions and even at that time she has to be escorted and cannot stay as long as she would like. She tries to make as much money as possible while her husband is gone by spending less and selling more (Doniger & Kakar 97).
When her husband returns from his absence, she honours the gods and gives offerings unto them. An only wife who cares about her husband tends to his every need, no matter what type of woman she is. Successful wives make their husbands happy in every way without the need of a co-wife (Doniger & Kakar 97).
The third topic begins chapter two in Book Four of the Kamasutra. It is The Senior Wife. If the only wife fails in her duties, her husband is to find a co-wife to aid her. A woman tries to avoid this in every way by working hard to make sure her husband is satisfied. If she cannot have children, she herself is to ask for a co-wife. She however, puts herself in the higher position. She becomes the senior wife (Doniger and Kakar 98).
The senior wife looks at the new wife like a sister. She helps her in every way she can. She does not concern herself if the new wife gets hostile or even makes a mistake with their husband. She might give some advice to the wife but will reveal everything that has happened to her husband privately (Doniger and Kakar 98).
She does not give special treatment to her co-wife’s children. She treats her servants and her friends special but does not give any special attention to her own relatives. She does however give special attention to the other woman’s relatives. If there is more than one co-wife, the senior wife will only associate herself with the wife directly below her. She will pick fights with the favourite and cause problems with the one her husband likes most. She keeps this fight going until the husband favours her, then she lets it go. This is the life a senior wife is to lead (Doniger and Kakar 98-99).
The fourth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Junior Wife. The junior wife is to look up to her co-wife and see her as a mother. She reports everything to her. She gets permission from her to sleep with the husband. She never gossips. She cares for other women’s children more than her own. Secretly however, she serves the husband more than the other wife. She tries to win all his love. (Doniger & Kakar 99).
If the senior wife cannot have children the junior wife tries to get the husband to pity her, unless there is a chance that the junior wife can get rid of her altogether. If she can do this then the junior wife will assume role of the only wife. This is the life a junior wife is to lead (Doniger & Kakar 99).
The fifth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Second-hand Woman. A second-hand woman is a widow who gets to find a husband for a second time. She, however, is already tormented and so tries to find a good one who will make her happy. She seeks to find physical pleasure and so searches for a husband who is well endowed (Doniger & Kakar 100).
She will get the husband to cover costs of her parties and entertainment. If she is to leave the man, she has to return everything except for love gifts he has given her. If he decides she has to leave, however, she gets to keep everything. She takes over the house. She has great skill and knowledge from her past experiences. She does favours for her co-wives by paying special attention to their children. They are to serve her in return. She is always in the mood for partying. This is the life a second-hand woman should lead (Doniger & Kakar 100-101).
The sixth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is The Wife Unlucky in Love. The wife unlucky in love seeks support from the favourite wife of the husband. She has no secrets. She does the job of nurse for all her husband’s children. She leads the house in religious offerings and fasts. She treats the servants well and actually sees herself no greater than they are. She mends fights with the women and the husband. This is the life a wife unlucky in love should lead (Doniger & Kakar 101).
The seventh topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is Women of the Harem. The woman of the harem brings gifts from the queens to the king. The king gives these back to the queens as a gift. The women of the harem are all very well dressed. At the end of the day the king goes to see them all together. He treats the women according to how long they have been in the harem. That is what their worth is based on. After this he goes to see his second-hand women, his courtesans, and his dancing girls (Doniger and Kakar 102).
When the king wakes in the afternoon, the servants of the woman whose turn it is to sleep with him, the woman who has been passed over, and the woman who is fertile go to him bringing scented oils and the stamp of each woman. Whichever one the king takes is the woman he will sleep with that night (Doniger and Kakar 102).
At festivals and other events all of the women of the harem are honoured. These women however never go out, and only select few are allowed in so as the worlds do not mix. This is the life women of the harem should lead (Doniger and Kakar 102).
The eighth topic in Book Four of the Kamasutra is A Man’s Management of Many Women. A man must treat all of his acquired wives equally. He must not tell the wives about the others. A man should keep his wives happy by honouring her, giving her gifts, and confiding in her. He should spend time with each wife individually. A woman who behaves properly puts her husband in power (Doniger & Kakar 103).
Another popular translation of the Kamasutra is the translation done by Richard Burton. Although similar, the translation done by Richard Burton varies from the translation done by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. In Book Four of Burton’s translation of the Kamasutra, the chapter titles are much more detailed but the chapters themselves are more condensed. Book Four in Burton’s translation is called About A Wife and it only consists of two sections. These sections are: Chapter One: the Manner of Living of a Virtuous Woman, and of Her Behaviour During the Absence of Her Husband, and Chapter Two: On the Conduct of the Elder Wife Towards the Other Wives of Her Husband, and on That of a Younger Wife Towards the Elder Ones. Also on the Conduct of a Virgin Widow Remarried; of a Wife Disliked by Her Husband; of the Women in the King’s Harem; and Lastly on the Conduct of a Husband Towards Many Wives. Doniger and Kakar separate the topics into specific, easy to follow, subheadings. Burton, however, places everything within Book Four into two very broad chapters. Although the contents of Book Four in both translation are very similar the wording is very different and each and each translation focuses on different specific points.
References and Further Recommended Reading
Vatsyayana (2002) Kamasutra.Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. New York: Oxford University Press.
Vatsyayana (2006) Kamasutra. Translated by Richard Burton. New York: Dover Publications.
Related Topics for Further Investigation
Kamasutra Book Four
The Senior Wife
The Junior Wife
The Only Wife
Women of the Harem
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by: Nicole Atkinson (March 2016), who is solely responsible for its content.