Category Archives: Dharma and the Individual

The Kama Sutra (Book Seven: Erotic Esoterica)

Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra is an ancient Hindu text belonging to the Kama Sastra genre of literature (Rodrigues 152). The title, Kamasutra, is composed of two Sanskrit words: kama meaning “desire/pleasure,” and sutra meaning “treatise” (Doniger and Kakar 13). The Kamasutra covers a variety of topics, among them ways of attaining the goals of life (dharma, kama, and artha), finding and keeping a partner, sexual positions and techniques, adultery, and dealing with or as a courtesan (Danielou 20-21).

The last section of the Kamasutra, Book Seven, deals with “erotic esoterica” (Doniger and Kakar 233) or “occult practices” (Danielou 487). Book Seven consists of two chapters, “Making Luck in Love,” and “Rekindling Exhausted passion,” each of which is made up of three sub-divisions (Doniger and Kakar 233-242).

The first chapter, “Making Luck in Love” begins with a preamble stating that the methods and recipes mentioned in Book Seven should be utilized only if the methods discussed in previous books have proven unsuccessful (Danielou 489). From there, the chapter continues with methods to make yourself lucky in love. Techniques in this section claim to either enhance beauty or sex appeal, promote good luck, or make one “lucky in love” (Danielou 490-491). Methods include: wearing a garland of lotus flowers, wearing an amulet made with a conch shell or jujube berries while chanting verses from the Atharvaveda, or applying a makeup, cream, or ointment made from honey or butter and a variety of plants, flowers, or fruits. The section ends with methods specifically for courtesans and performers- many of which involve extending a daughter or servant girl’s hand in marriage in exchange for money or “special favours on a musical instrument” (Doniger and Kakar 233-235).

The second subdivision of the first chapter deals with “Putting Someone in Your Power” and contains a variety of recipes for ointments and powders which claim to enchant, captivate, or subdue a person or their sexual partner when applied to certain parts of the body (Doniger and Kakar 235). One recipe involves mixing powdered milk hedge, red arsenic, and sulphur with monkey feces; it is stated that if you sprinkle this mixture over a girl, she will not feel attraction towards anyone else (Danielou 497).

The final part of chapter one covers “Stimulants for Virility” (Doniger and Kakar 236). This portion contains multiple recipes one may consume to increase virility, and/or lifespan (Danielou 499-503). Most of these recipes include milk and/or butter, sugar, and honey. Other ingredients include, but are not limited to, “dog’s-fang,” asparagus, and prickly-fruit (Doniger and Kakar 233-237). There are also multiple recipes that claim to provide the ability to copulate with numerous women. A recipe for biscuits made from crushed sweet potatoes, sugar, honey, cow’s milk, ghee, and wheat flour claims that consumption will provide a man with the capability to sleep with countless women (Danielou 501).

The chapter comes to a close with a passage that says one may learn erotic techniques from magicians, experienced people, and the Vedas. It is stated that one should not employ procedures that are harmful, dangerous, painful, or unhygienic; apply only methods prescribed by Brahmins or other competent people (Doniger and Kakar 237-238).

The second chapter, “Rekindling Exhausted Passion” begins with a section of the same title. It is stated that if a man is unable to satisfy a woman, he should fondle her with his hand prior to copulation, engage in oral sex, or make use of an artificial phallus (some of which may require harnesses or attachments) that may be made of copper, gold, horn, iron, ivory, lead, tin, or wood (Danielou 508-510). According to Vatsyayana, those made of wood most closely resemble a real penis, and therefore are the most sought after (Doniger and Kakar 238-239). The rekindling passion section concludes with methods for piercing a penis, including ways to clean, widen, and accessorize said piercing (Danielou 512-513). According to the Kamasutra, “a man whose penis has not been pierced does not experience real sex. And so the people of the South pierce a boy’s penis just like his ears” (Doniger and Kakar 239).

The next section of chapter two is “Methods of Increasing The Size of The Male Organ” (Doniger and Kakar 240). The techniques mentioned claim to cause swelling of the penis that can last up to a month, six months, or a lifetime- depending on the technique used. One technique that is said to produce permanent swelling involves rubbing the penis for ten nights with a mixture of oil and the hairs of tree-inhabiting insects; when swelling begins, one should sleep face-down on a wooden cot and allow the penis to hang through a hole in the cot (Danielou 514-515). The Kamasutra warns that all of the methods for increasing penis size should be learned from an expert (Doniger and Kakar 241).

The final section “Unusual Techniques” contains methods for making objects invisible, turning iron pots into copper, removing passion, changing hair color, and causing insanity, among other things (Doniger and Kakar 241-241). One technique claims that if a woman bathes in buffalo’s milk with mint, extract of cow’s bile, and yellow amaranth mixed in, any man who sleeps with her afterwards will become impotent (Danielou 516). The Kamasutra comes to a close by stating that sensible people will not be consumed by passion; one must know when it is appropriate to make use of the practices mentioned (Danielou 520).



Danielou, Alain (1994) The Complete Kamasutra. Rochester: Park Street Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2003) “The “Kamasutra“: It Isn’t All About Sex.” The Kenyon Review 25(1): 18-37.

___ (2002) “On the Kamasutra.” Daedalus 131(2): 126–129.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) “Hinduism the eBook: an Online Introduction.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books. 0-9747055-4-3.

Vatsyayana, Mallanaga (2009) Kamasutra. Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Kama Sastra

Mlecchita vikalpa









Noteworthy Websites related to the Topic


Article written by: Riley Wilcox (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sexuality in Hinduism

Sexuality in Hinduism is most notable through the observance of kama, one of Hinduism’s catur-purusartha’s (four human aims).  Within the Dharma Sastras contain prescriptions for how one should live one’s life, as well as outlining various religious duties (dharma).  Kama in this instance refers to fulfilment of sensual and sexual pleasure (Lidke 108).  Attainment of kama for males is prescribed in the second of the four asramas (life stages), the grhastha stage. This stage of life is known as the householder stage, and in it Hindus are expected to marry.  Sexual relations within a Hindu marriage are meant to be for procreation, however it is expected that couples will be intimate for pleasure also.  Sexual indulgence can become a problem that will cause unhappiness for grhasthas and self-restraint is cautioned.  Mentioned in various scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita is extramarital sex, considered taboo as marriage is seen as contractual and for life (Mehta 66-67).  The catur-purusartha exists within Hinduism’s caste system, and only the upper three classes undergo the rituals that transition from one asrama to the next (Mehta 63).

Rgveda 10.85 begins by telling us that there is a divinity to human marriage, in that it is modeled after the gods, before focusing on more on the humanness of marriage.  Simply by being a woman, a bride is seen as having inherent value to not only her husband, but her husband’s family as well.  This has to do with the expectation that children will be the result of a marriage (Menski 56).  If a husband dies before the woman has conceived, she is not destined to remain a widow, but can be married to another member of her husband’s family in the hopes of conception.  Ideally the original marriage will bear children, and so gods are invoked in certain rituals in the context of fertilization; Indra is invoked for strong sons while Agni is invoked for many sons (Menski 56).  At the same time that a bride is seen as an asset to her husband and his family, she may also be seen as a danger.  On a couples’ wedding night there is an expectation that the hymen will break and a woman will bleed during the act of intercourse.  This, of course, will defile the bedding, but it is also seen as a destructive blood in a Vedic marriage.  For this reason, a husband may consult a Brahmin to purify the cloth and bring longevity to the marriage (Menski 58).

Some Puranas personify kama as Kamadeva, the god of desire and passion.  By contrasting this god with Siva in the Siva Purana, this Purana is full of insight into how Hindus view sexuality.  As Siva is sometimes seen as the eternal brahmacarin and supernaturally chaste, his interactions with Kamadeva show the sexual side of Hinduism (O’Flaherty 141). Much of the literature focuses on Kamadeva as he relates to Siva, but the information gathered in these texts give the reader some idea of what influenced Hindu attitudes and rituals relating to sexuality.

While Siva is seen as chaste in many rituals, the idea that he is tempted or does not remain chaste throughout are common. Some of the myths actually place him in the position of the creator, with an erect penis (linga) and seminal fluid that acts as the seed of creation (O’Flaherty 143).  Siva’s chastity is, however, his most powerful weapon in myths in which he is juxtaposed with Kamadeva.  In one such myth, Siva is responsible for burning Kamadeva up, destroying him.  Modern interpretations of this myth hold it as a temptation story, whereas early interpretations view it as a wholly asexual act.  Siva, being compared to fire, when the two interacted is said to have melted or destroyed Kamadeva, who is likened to snow.  In this analogy, Siva is so pure and chaste that Kamadeva’s sexuality could not possibly have affected him (O’Flaherty 143-34).

The Puranas include a different story of Siva burning Kamadeva.  Siva may be aroused by the act or bring Kamadeva back more powerful.  In the Puranas, it is suggested that Siva, rather than being so chaste that he is not affected by Karmadeva, in fact recognizes his power and possibly admires him (O’Flaherty 145).

Hinduism is unlike many western religions in that it does not have a single canonical text, but many.  Other texts from early Hinduism that mention sexuality include the Upanisads and the Tantras (Doniger 2011).  Some Upanisads compare Vedic rituals to sexuality, such as the oblation of butter into the fire resembling the acts of procreation.  Each action taken in the ritual has a counterpart in love-making and eventual birth.  The Tantras take this notion one step farther and suggest that sexual intercourse is not simply like a ritual, but that the act itself is a ritual (Doniger 2011). The most in-depth text dealing with kama is the Kamasutra, a text from approximately the third century B.C.E.  By modern standards, the Kamasutra is a liberal text, with thoughts put forth on subjects such as women’s sexuality and homosexual behavior (Doniger 2011).  In opposition to the Vedas, the author of the Kamasutra, Vatsyayana, dismisses the notion that people should only have to procreate.  There is also the idea that since people of all ages are capable of understanding sexual acts, all should be familiar with the text.  The idea of female pleasure and sexuality is strong in the text, even suggesting a woman leave her husband if he is not satisfying her, in contrast to what earlier law texts say (Doniger, 2011).

The Dharma Sastras’ view of homosexuality is one of taboo; a man who engages in same sex activity is to be punished, however slightly, for the transgression. Vatsyayana holds different ideas, where instead of the defamatory kliba [translated as eunuch, but holds many other meanings] he uses hijra, a term that means third gender.  Rather than transgressive, third genders in the text are described in a more neutral way; hermaphrodites and bi-sexuals are treated the same as all others.  Throughout the Kamasutra are references to servants and friends who perform oral sex on members of the same sex.  The Kamasutra is unlike other texts, it is not a law book, but rather one that categorizes and attempts to explain sexuality.  In this way, it is not judgmental (Lidke 124).  This lighter view of homosexuality and transsexuality is found throughout both ancient and modern India (Doniger 2011).

Homoeroticism is an important aspect of Hindu literature, even if textual authorities disagree on its morality.  The Hindu concept of rebirth, as well as its views of gods as being androgynous, means that gender and sexuality can be viewed as fluid.  Heterosexuality, however, is still highly regarded as the normative sexuality (Lidke 124-125).  Hijras can also be found in the stories of the epics, such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.  In the former is the story of Sikhandhin, who begins the tale as Amba and is captured by a warrior.  After spurning his advances in favor of one she loves elsewhere, she is eventually rejected by both the one she loves and later the warrior and his brother.  She is granted a boon by Siva and asks to be reborn a male.  She is reborn as a female hijra, her boon having not been granted as she had hoped (Lidke 126-127).  Despite a long history of hijra populations and homoeroticism attitudes about sexuality and behavior changed during and after colonization. The British imposed anti-sodomy laws in 1860 and worked to impose Christian values (Lidke 127).  Despite the efforts of the British, hijras still exist in India to this day and include those who proclaim themselves neither man nor woman.  For a majority of Hijras the dominant gender is female, with dress and mannerisms being feminine whether one is biologically male or biologically female.  In lesbian relationships this means that both partners are feminine, since masculine hijras are rare (Penrose 4).

The Kamasutra also speaks explicitly about females and their sexuality, not only in regards to hijras and males but also in regards to their relations with other females.  There are references to penetration with sex toys, both of males and females.  The word used for the penetrator is svairini, although some translators also put forth that svairini can also mean oral sex partner or prostitute (Penrose 15).  The Kamasutra describes women as penetrators, both of men and of other women.  The text, while describing homosexual acts, does not categorize the women as such (see Kama Sutra 2.8.13).  Women’s sexuality in this context is defined by her dominance in the act of penetrating, not by the gender of her partner (Penrose 16).

Sexuality in Hinduism has been influenced by divine myths and written and revealed texts and has an effect on many aspects of life.  Each of the four stages of life (asram vyavastha) have something to say on the topic and dharmic prescription in place.  Sexuality also includes how gender is defined for Hindu’s, as the large and continuing hijras population is proof of.  The texts also often have a lot to say about how one should conduct oneself in regards to sexuality, although with multiple texts there are often times contradictions.



Benton, Catherine (2006) God of Desire: Tales of Kamadeva in Sanskrit Story Literature. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2011) “From kama to karma: the resurgence of Puritanism in contemporary India.”   Social Research 78:1. Accessed February 7, 2016.

Herdt, Gilbert H (1994) Third sex, third gender: beyond sexual dimorphism in culture and history. New York: Zone Books

Kalra, Gurvinder “Hijras: the unique transgender culture of India” International Journal of Culture and Mental Health 5:121-26. DOI:10.1080/17542863.2011.570915

Lidke, Jeffrey S (2003) “A Union of Fire and Water: Sexuality and Spirituality in Hinduism.” In   Sexuality and the World’s Religions, edited by David W. Machacek and Melissa M. Wilcox, 101-32. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Mehta, J.M (2009) Four Spans of Human Life: Ashram Vyavastha. Daryaganj: Hindoology Books.

Menski, Werner F (1991) “Marital Expectations as Dramatized in Hindu Marriage Rituals.” In Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women, edited by Julia Leslie, 47-67. Jawahar Nagar: Shri Jainendra Press.

Nanda, Serena (1990) Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijaras of India. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1973) Siva the Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

Penrose, Walter (2001) “Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a “Third Nature” in the South Asian Past.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10:3-39. Accessed February 7, 2016.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Kamasutra

Ashram vyavastha






The marriage of the Pandeva’s

The Ramayana

The Mahabharata


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Adam Smith (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.




The Kama Sutra (Book Two: Sex)

The Kama Sutra is one of the most recognizable titles in much of the literate world.  The reasons for this, however, are largely misinformed.  Thanks, in large part, to both common misspelling and mispronunciation many assume the text’s title is actually Karma Sutra.  However, the book is not about karma.  Additionally, due to publications like The Cosmo Kama Sutra: 99 Mind-blowing Sex Positions, Kama Sutra: A Position a Day, and other such titles readily available in a Chapters bookstore or on the Amazon website, it is also widely believed that the Kama Sutra in its entirety is all about sex.  Again, this is not true.  Rather, it is better regarded as a guide to the pursuit of sensory pleasure.  Kama refers to more than simply sexual pleasure (Rodrigues 152).

Nevertheless, this article is indeed about the segment of the Kama Sutra that is dedicated to sexuality.  Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar offered their translation of Vatsyayana Mallanaga’s ancient text in 2002.  Although this is not the first or only translation, it will be the translation used throughout this article.  The entire text is divided into seven “books”, each with its own chapters.  For the purposes of this article, the word “book” will refer to the portion of the Kama Sutra which Doniger and Kakar title as “Part Two: Sex”.  The purpose of this book is educational in nature.  Richard Shusterman contends as much, indicating that it was created with the understanding that “human sexual performance therefore can and should be rendered more enjoyable and rewarding through the application of knowledge, methods and refinements introduced by learning, thought, and aesthetic sensitivity” (Shusterman 61).  As such, the pages of this book are divided into chapters providing information on everything from genital size to sexual positions to the manner in which an encounter of sexual intercourse should be ended.  The rest of this article will be spent examining each chapter.

The first chapter deals with “sexual typology.”  Men and women are categorized according to the size of their genitals, and regarding the joining together for sexual intercourse, it is suggested that “among these, the equal couplings are the best” (Doniger and Kakar 29).   Additionally, temperament and endurance are discussed in terms of their variations.  The author discusses a variety of arguments regarding differences in orgasm for men and women.  He concludes that “the woman should be treated in such a way that she achieves her sexual climax first” (Doniger and Kakar 35).  Different types of love are said to take four forms, listed as “arising out of habit, erotic arousal, transference, and the objects of the senses” (Doniger and Kakar 37).

Chapter 2 is titled “Ways of Embracing.”  These ways are divided into two categories, the first of which occur “when a man and woman have not yet made love together”, and are intended to “reveal the signs of their love” (Doniger and Kakar 40).  Some of the descriptions are very specific and provide an incredibly intimate understanding of the culture (Doniger 2007:75).  The second category describes embraces that are meant to be used during the act of lovemaking.   Vatsyayana specifically notes that massaging does not qualify as a form of embrace, as it “takes place at a particular time set aside, has a different use, and is not enjoyed by both partners” (Doniger and Kakar 41).

The next three chapters discuss kissing, scratching and biting.  The author argues that there is no specific order in which these three actions must occur, because they all involve passion; “Vatsyayana says: Everything at any time, because passion does not look before it leaps” (Doniger and Kakar 42).  Having said that, kissing is the first topic discussed.  Despite noting the near endless variety of kisses, Vatsyayana argues that varying local customs permit specific types only and, as such, not all types of kisses are for all people (Doniger and Kakar 42).  Types of kissing are outlined, as well as the best kisses to be used depending on how comfortable and familiar the individuals are with each other.

Following the chapter on kissing comes a chapter on scratching.  Vatsyayana is careful to note that scratching is not for everyone, and not meant for all times: “Scratching is for their first time together, or on a return from a journey or a departure for a journey, or for a woman who has just relented from her anger or is drunk” (Doniger and Kakar 45).  He discusses different sized fingernails and the types of scratching the sizes are capable of.  Additionally, he suggests that illicit lovers ought to leave marks only in concealed places, so as to “increase their passion and make them remember” (Doniger and Kakar 47).  It is worth noting that, right before this remark, he contends that variety can help keep the passions alive.  This variety extends beyond the imaginations of a monogamous couple; indeed, an entire portion of the Kama Sutra is devoted to showing men how to win other men’s wives.  This chapter ends with the words “there are no keener means of increasing passion than acts inflicted with tooth and nail” (Doniger and Kakar 48).

Biting is the next topic discussed, in chapter five.  It is said that all “the places for kissing are also for biting, except for the upper lip, the inside of the mouth, and the eyes” (Doniger and Kakar 48).  Vatsyayana briefly notes that there are both good teeth and bad teeth; he then discusses the types of biting.  Ultimately, when a man scratches or bites, “he is making advances” (Doniger and Kakar 49).  However, it is important that a man “treat a woman according to the nature of the region she comes from” (Doniger and Kakar 49); Vatsyayana then outlines the different sexual demeanors of women from a variety of areas in and around India.

Chapter six is the chapter that spawned the idea of the Kama Sutra as a guide to sexual positions.  Indeed, this chapter discusses the “Varieties of Sexual Positions” (Doniger and Kakar 51).  Sexual positions are described largely in terms of the size of one’s genitals.  For example, a woman thought to have a small vagina, in terms of both depth and circumference, is referred to as “doe” (Doniger and Kakar 28).  Vatsyayana says, “A ‘doe’ generally has three positions to choose from”; he then proceeds to outline three positions in which, one assumes, it would be easier and more comfortable for such a woman to receive a larger penis into her vagina (Doniger and Kakar 52).  It could be said that at least some of the information presented surely must have been intended to teach readers how to give a woman pleasure (Doniger 2003:30).  Further general positions are mentioned, some of which “can only be done with practice” (Doniger and Kakar, 54).  Doniger suggests that even Vatsyayana himself regarded some of the positions as “over the top” (Doniger 2007: 77).  Vatsyayana then mentions “unusual sexual acts”, some of which simply include different sexual positions; however, he also mentions threesomes and group sex.  The final unusual sexual act mentioned is “sex below”, that is, anal sex (Doniger and Kakar 56).

Chapter seven of the book is entitled “Modes of Slapping and The Accompanying Moaning.”  Much of the chapter is devoted to outlining manners in which a man might strike his lover during sex.  While some of the described acts seem rather violent and might elicit cries from the woman, there is no mention of stopping the action.  Doniger suggests that this passage “inculcates what we now recognize as the rape mentality – ‘her mouth says no but her eyes say yes’” (Doniger 2007: 70).  Vatsyayana does warn of the dangers of certain regional customs and practices, mentioning two women who had died and one who had been blinded as a result of certain slapping techniques (Doniger and Kakar 59).

The next chapter begins with “The Woman Playing the Man’s Part.”  It briefly discusses the woman-on-top position during sex, before delving into the various movements a man might make with his penis while having intercourse.  Of note, there is mention of certain movements causing a woman’s eyes to “roll when she feels him in certain spots” (Doniger and Kakar 62).  This could represent an ancient recognition and understanding of what we refer to as the G-spot (Doniger 2007: 75).  There is further discussion of a multitude of manners in which a man may thrust during intercourse, along with a brief mention of movements a woman can make whilst on top, or “playing the man’s part”.  It is said that “a man can learn everything – a woman’s personality, what sort of sex excites her – from the way she moves on top” (Doniger and Kakar 64).  At the same time, Doniger argues, Vatsyayana “acknowledges a woman’s active agency and challenges her stereotyped gender role” when he discusses women taking on the “man’s role” during sex (Doniger 2003:29).

Chapter nine discusses oral sex, in terms of both the act itself as well as the type of people who like to engage in it.  Eight acts of oral sex are outlined when it is performed by a “person of the third nature” (Doniger and Kakar 67).  This “third nature” may be reference to cross-dressing men and women, and Doniger discusses this particular portion of text at length in a separate article (Doniger 2003: 26-28).  Ultimately, though Vatsyayana himself seems opposed to the idea of oral sex, he nonetheless suggests that, “since learned men disagree and there are discrepancies in what the religious texts say, one should act according to the custom of the region and one’s own disposition and confidence” (Doniger and Kakar 68).

The tenth and final chapter of the book begins by discussing the “start and finish of sex.”  Vatsyayana mentions a specific room in a man’s house, “dedicated to sex” (Doniger and Kakar 70).  There is mention of friends, alcohol, music, and touching, utilizing “the embraces and so forth that have already been described” (Doniger and Kakar 70).  When it has been determined that the woman is aroused, and at which point the friends have been sent away, the man loosens the knot of the woman’s waistband; “that is the beginning of sex” (Doniger and Kakar 70).  The end of sex is outlined in great detail.  The man and woman leave the room separately, to bathe, “embarrassed, not looking at one another, as if they were not even acquainted with one another (Doniger and Kakar 70).  Upon returning from bathing, they are no longer embarrassed.  Indeed, they relax and enjoy some food and drink, sometimes retiring to the rooftop porch to “enjoy the moonlight and tell stories to suit their mood” (Doniger and Kakar 71).  Furthermore, “as she lies in his lap, looking at the moon, he points out the rows of the constellations to her; they look at the Pleiades, the Pole Star, and the Garland of the Seven Sages that form the Great Bear.  That is the end of sex” (Doniger and Kakar 71).

Before the chapter is complete, Vatsyayana mentions the “different kinds of sex” according to levels of passion or levels of class (Doniger and Kakar 72).  He finishes the chapter, and this book, with a brief discussion of the causes of “lovers’ quarrels”.  How might one avoid such quarrels?  The solution comes in studying the sixty-four arts alongside the Kama Sutra.  Indeed, “the lover who employs in this way the sixty-four arts of love that Babhravya taught is successful with the best women” (Doniger and Kakar 73).



Betageri, Ankur (2011) “Books at a Glance.” Indian Literature 55, No. 2: 222-224.

Doniger, Wendy (2007) “Reading the ‘Kamasutra’: The Strange and the Familiar.” Daedalus 136, No. 2: 66-78.

Doniger, Wendy (2003) “The ‘Kamasutra’: It Isn’t All about Sex.” The Kenyon Review 25, No. 1: 18-37.

Grant, Ben (2005) “Translating/’The’ ‘Kama Sutra’” Third World Quarterly 26, No. 3: 509-516.

Kureishi, Hanif (2011) “It’s a sin: the Kama Sutra and the search for pleasure.” Critical Quarterly 53, No. 1: 1-5. Accessed February 4, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8705.2011.01984.x

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Shusterman, Richard (2007) “Asian Ars Erotica and the Question of Sexual Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65, No. 1: 55-68.

Vatsyayana. (2002) Kamasutra. Translated by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Alternate translations of the Kama Sutra (Richard Burton, Alain Danielou)


Kama Sastras


Tantric Sex


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Eric Selles (2016) who is solely responsible for its content.


King Dasaratha

King Dasaratha is an important figure in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Dasaratha’s parents, Aja and Indumati have an unusual story; Indumati was a reborn apsara. Apsaras are beautiful nymphs produced during the creation of the Milky Ocean. They are unable to marry gods or demons, so they often visit Earth. Indumati faces rebirth due to a curse placed upon her by the sage, Trnabindu, however, he takes pity upon her and allows her to be born as the princess of Bhoja country. Trnabindu chose Aja to be Indumati’s husband as Aja was pronounced to be a man of the appropriate stature and wealth. Soon after Dasaratha’s birth, Indumati passes away and leaves Aja a widower (Devaky 141-143). Aja’s character is displayed in the manner in which he treats Indumati; he treats her with respect by acknowledging her mind as well as her beauty. Once Dasaratha matures and is able to act as king, Aja abandons an extravagant life and eventually passes away from a disease (Devaky 143). Some individuals say Aja was unable to perform his royal duties due to the sorrow he faced after Indumati’s death, and that he voluntarily starved himself in order to join her (Madan 190).

King Dasaratha of Kosala has three wives, all of whom are unable to conceive (Sivaraman 107). His first and oldest wife, Kausalya, has rights to the throne for her son unlike his second and third wives, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. The love King Dasaratha has for Kaikeyi is comparable to the love his father, Aja had for his mother, Indumati (Madan 191). King Dasaratha’s first two wives are unable to have children, so they are unable to provide a successor to the throne. King Dasaratha believes Kaikeyi is able to conceive and thus promises her father, Aswapati, that her son would be the kingdom’s next king. However, eventually all of King Dasaratha’s wives have sons and due to the seniority of Kausalya as first wife, her son is announced as King Dasaratha’s successor. When Kaikeyi learnt of King Dasaratha’s promise to her father, she asked King Dasaratha to grant her two boons (promises) she had earned when she saved his life.

King Dasaratha had been accompanied by Kaikeyi into battle in the Dandaka forest against Shumbar, the king of Vijayanta and the brother-in-law of a demon, Ravana. When Shumbar killed the chariot driver and broke a chariot wheel, Kaikeyi was forced to drive the chariot in order to save King Dasaratha’s life. When King Dasaratha granted Kaikeyi two boons in reward, she initially refused them until, at his persistence, she asked to save them for later (Mittal: 206-207).

As King Dasaratha was originally unable to have children, he reached out to the gods by performing an Asvamedha, the horse sacrifice, asking them to bestow a child upon him. Collectively, many gods pressured Lord Visnu into manifesting himself into the sons of King Dasaratha in order to defeat the demon, Ravana. However, there is a disagreement over how King Dasaratha received the potion that would ultimately lead to the birth of his sons. Some say Visnu himself presented the potion to King Dasaratha during the sacrifice (Sivaraman 107), while others argue that Agni, the god of fire, presented King Dasaratha with Caru, a sacrificial food (Madan 191). Despite the disagreement on how King Dasaratha gained this magical substance, all three of his wives received portions of it. Instructed to divide the potion between his wives; King Dasaratha gave half to Kausalya due to her seniority and the other half to Kaikeyi due to his fondness for her. Unfortunately, this did not leave any for Sumitra which caused Kausalya and Kaikeyi to each give her half of their portions. Since Sumitra technically received two servings, she bore two sons (Madan 191). Kausalya bore Rama, Sumitra bore twins, Laksmana, and Satrughna, and Kaikeyi bore Bharata.

The story of the Ramayana is heavily influenced by King Dasaratha and his relationships with Kaikeyi, Aswapati, and Rama. When Dasaratha must choose a successor, he chooses Rama but, Kaikeyi soon intervenes. She learns of Rama’s appointment through her maid who convinces her that Bharata should be heir to the throne. Rama happens to be Dasaratha’s favorite son, so it is difficult for her to convince him to change his decision. Kaikeyi is only able to secure Bharata’s position on the throne by reminding King Dasaratha of the two boons promised to her. Kaikeyi uses these boons to remove Rama from the kingdom by banishing him to exile for fourteen years, placing Bharata as successor to the kingdom. Upon hearing this request, Dasaratha becomes highly distraught, yet is unable to break his promise to Kaikeyi. When Rama learns about the exile, he goes to King Dasaratha and agrees to leave the kingdom in order to minimize the guilt his father feels. Despite Rama’s brother, Laksmana’s, and Kausalya’s pleas for him to stay in the kingdom, Rama declares that his dharma or highest duty, is to help his father. Rama informs his wife, Sita, of his departure and asks her to cooperate with Bharata and the rest of his family. Sita, however, believes that her duty as a pati-vrata, (devoted wife), is to follow Rama into the woods for the duration of his exile. Although Rama informs Sita of any and all possible dangers, she is persistent on accompanying him (Winternitz 3). Although Sita’s father, King Janaka of Videha, insisted that Rama compete for her hand in marriage, they were destined to be together. This is shown by Sita’s devotion to Rama despite the fact that they did not know each other before marriage.

Sita did not have a normal birth, as King Janaka had discovered her arising from the Earth while he plowed a field which led him to name her “Sita” which means “furrow”. In order to choose Sita’s husband, King Janaka held a contest containing one task, drawing a special bow designed for the gods. Although many men attempt to draw the bow, they all failed and Rama became the first man able to affect the bow’s structure, he broke it in half. This action made Rama worthy of Sita and led to a happy marriage between them until they both were obliged to leave the kingdom (Winternitz 2).

When Rama and Sita prepare for exile, Laksmana decides to join them and does not sway from this decision, despite his family pleading him to stay. A few nights after their departure, King Dasaratha is unable to sleep and recounts a curse placed upon him in his youth. This curse was placed by the father of a blind child who was mistakenly killed by Dasaratha during a hunting trip. It indicated the manner in which Dasaratha would die, namely, due to the grief of a lost son. A few days after Rama’s departure, this prophecy comes true and Dasaratha passes away. After his death, Bharata is offered the throne but he declines due to the value he places on tradition; Bharata believes Rama should be the next king as he was originally appointed by Dasaratha. Although Rama mourns his father’s death and performs a funeral for him, he refuses to return to the kingdom until he has completed the terms of his exile (Winternitz 4), eventually returning and becoming king (Winternitz 10).

King Dasaratha’s devotion to Kaikeyi ultimately leads to his own demise as well as many of the events in the Ramayana epic. Many scholars believe that Dasaratha’s love for Kaikeyi is relatable to Aja’s love for Indumati. Some refer to Kaikeyi as Dasaratha’s kama (sensory pleasure) (Madan 192). King Dasaratha was easily able to overlook any of Kaikeyi’s flaws and assumes that Kaikeyi’s anger is justified either by being provoked by someone or as a rouse in order to excite him. This love for Kaikeyi had the power to change the fate of the kingdom drastically, however, Bharata and Rama are able to prevent this from occurring. When Kaikeyi asks for her two boons, Dasaratha must grant them in accordance to the promise he made, as well as his love for her. Although Rama decides to leave the kingdom for his exile, Bharata defies his mother and willingly gives up the throne, recognizing that Rama’s seniority as well as superiority makes him a better choice for king (Madan 193-194). Dasaratha’s relationship with Aswapati plays a crucial role in Rama’s exile, because Dasaratha is unable to break his previous promise to Aswapati. If Dasaratha had been able to break this promise, Rama would not have left the kingdom, and a father would not have been separated from his son. This exile ends the close relationship between father and son, resulting in a copious amount of guilt for Dasaratha which coupled with his sorrow, eventually led to his death.

King Dasaratha’s respect for the actions of others, such as the bravery of Kaikeyi in the battle in the Dandaka forest, results in him having a verbal commitment to fulfill any request placed upon him. Those requests coupled with the admiration and love King Dasaratha has for both his wife, Kaikeyi, and his son, Rama, leads to the events in the Ramayana epic as well as his death.



Devaky, E.S. (2006) “Major Female Characters of Kalidasa.” Feminist Readings in Kalidasa’s works. India: University of Calicut.

Madan, T. N. (1988) Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in Honor of Louis Dumont. India: Motilal Banarsidass.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Mittal, J.P (2006) History of Ancient India (a New Version): From 7300 Bb to 4250 Bc. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Raman, V. Varadaraja (1998) Balakanda: Ramayana as Literature and Cultural History. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan.

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. United States of America: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Sankalia, Hasmukhlal Dhirajlal (1982) The Ramayana in the Historical Perspective. Delhi: Macmillan.

Sivarama Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New Delhi: Motilal Banasidass.

Winternitz, Maurice (1927) A History of Indian Literature. New York: Russell & Russell.


Related Topics for Further Research:







Lord Visnu








King Janaka




Noteworthy Websites for Further Research:


Article written by: Crystal Mulik (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindu Monasteries (Matha)

Hindu monasteries or mathas are any residential monastic establishments or educational centre for renouncers or sannyasis; even though, the ideal monk is classified as a wanderer. A matha can also refer to a single hut with only one ascetic or a large community of ascetics and their disciplines and students. They were founded by Sankara, a great teacher, in the 8th century. The original four mathas were strategically placed in India to be used as bulwarks for the missionaries and centres for Sankara’s ten religious groups: on the east coast, in Puri, the Govardhana matha for the Aranyakas and the Vana orders; in the Himalayas, near Badrinath, the Jyotih matha for the Giri, Parvaya, and Sagara orders; on the west coast, in Dvaraka, the Sarada matha for the Tirtha and Asrama orders; and lastly, in south India the Srngeri matha for the Bharati, Puri, and Sarasvati orders (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Later a fifth matha arose in Kancipuram, near Madras, called the Saradaptha matha (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Each matha that was founded by Sankara is led by either a teacher or a spiritual leader also known as a Sankaracarya or a Jagadguru. Individual mathas and their history are directly associated with the succession of its spiritual leader; therefore each matha operates completely independent to any other matha. Typically, the current Sankaracarya appoints one of his followers to become the new spiritual leader in the event of his passing; however, issues can arise if no successor was named and the Sankaracarya passes away unexpectedly. Eventually gurus were even given the responsibility of providing social and economic services to the community. Each Sankaracarya has their own set of followers and their goal is to meet their own religious needs such as “focus on ritual activity and devotional worship rather than renunciation or meditative realization of non-dual brahman” (Fort 613).

There are several important initiations rites to the ascetic life. According Miller and Wertz the first being that after one has determined they want to enter the ascetic life they need to acquire a guru who is willing to take them as his discipline (84). The guru can either be an ascetic from one’s village, a religious teacher or in some cases an uncle (Miller and Wertz 84). Then the discipline must cut all his family ties by performing death ceremonies with his parents (Miller and Wertz 85). After the death ceremony the discipline will no longer be allowed to perform any household services (Miller and Wertz 85). The head ascetic of a monastery will then administer a ritual called diksa (Miller and Wertz 84). The head ascetic must be a man who has already performed his last vows of renunciation (Miller and Wertz 84). The two forms of diksa are when the guru administers the ritual to a lay disciple and the other is only given to ascetic disciples (Miller and Wertz 84). This recognizes the “would be” ascetic and that he is permanently separating himself from his former life (Miller and Wertz 84). Finally, the discipline must acquire a religious name that ends with his sub-order’s name (Miller and Wertz 84). After performing these basic initiation rites a man can enter the ascetic life.

According to Guru Saccinananda the main function of a matha is to give ethical advice and moral teachings to the disciples in hopes of creating “honest, peace-loving, independent, moral, and well behaved” people (Miller and Wertz 25). However, according to Saccinananda several other functions are “to provide education in Sanskrit, to feed guests, to give money to the poor, shelter to the helpless, and the burial to the dead who have no family’ (Miller and Wertz 25). He also claimed that there are ten daily practices that are basic steps to liberation. The first is that the discipline must get up before sunrise each morning (Miller and Wertz 26). The second is that they must pay respect every morning and evening to the sun God Savitri (Miller and Wertz 26). The third is each day while bathing the discipline must recite sacred mantras or verses to a deity of their choice (Miller and Wertz 26). The fourth is that they must perform daily sacrificial fire offerings and yoga postures (Miller and Wertz 26). The fifth is that they must service all their guests (Miller and Wertz 26). The sixth is that the funeral offerings to one’s ancestors must be performed at noon (Miller and Wertz 26). The seventh is that they must take sacred food in the  afternoon and before each evening (Miller and Wertz 26). The eighth is that each evening the disciples’ deity of choice must be worshipped (Miller and Wertz 26). The ninth is that each evening before they go to bed they must perform meditation for the welfare of humanity (Miller and Wertz 26). Lastly, they are only allowed to sleep from the hours of 11pm to 4pm (Miller and Wertz 26).

According to Jagadananda, in a Hindu matha, there a ten precepts of ethical behaviour that one must follow. The first is that you must act kind towards a harsh and unpleasant man and by doing so you have the ability to change him (Miller and Wertz 34). The second is that even if others do not like you that does not mean you have to dislike them back. Eventually these people will lose their power and someday feel bad for their negative actions (Miller and Wertz 34). The third is that you need to ensure you are using the appropriate dialogue when conversing with others as this is a main factor when determining if they will be an enemy or a friend (Miller and Wertz 35). The fourth is that you must respect others when it is their turn to talk as everyone was created equally and by God (Miller and Wertz 35). The fifth is that you should not be disrespectful to people in lower classes as you might be born into that class or position on your next rebirth (Miller and Wertz 35). The sixth is that only ignorant men are prejudiced to one’s caste and skin colour (Miller and Wertz 35). The seventh is that you must consider your “superiors as well wishers and your inferiors as blessed” (Miller and Wertz 35). The eighth is that you need to be independent but also care for your parents needs at the same time as they were the ones who made you into the man you are by giving up their money, time and resources (Miller and Wertz 35). The ninth, is that when you pray to a deity you should be praying for the greatness and happiness of humanity  and not for yourself; the deity will only listen and respond to a man who is concerned about the welfare of others (Miller and Wertz 35). Lastly, “do not grasp onto things” or be materialistic; Brahman, the Vedic creator god, is always around and is everywhere in the universe (Miller and Wertz 35).

Even though numerous mathas have been established over the years as either additions to other institutions or by an individual guru, the original four mathas created by Sankara are still the main ones. Srngeri, Dvaraka, Badrinath and Puri are special and are also known as the amnaya mathas as they are connected with the four Vedas, the matching Upanisad Mahavakyas and Sankara’s four main followers (Sundaresan 110). The most famous and influential matha is Srngeri, in Karnataka State, in South Asia. It is also known as the centre of the Sankaran Vedanta tradition and was originally used as a place to stay and study for samnyasins. In the Srngeri matha the samnyasins who reside there highly regard the Vivekacudamani (Sawai 22).  However, since the fourteenth century it became a place for pilgrimage, worship and philosophical study (Fort 613). The main goddess that is now worshipped at Srngeri is Sri Sarada (Fort 613). The lay adherents of the Vedic tradition or smartas also now visit Srngeri for advice and boons from the Sankaracaryas (Fort 613).



Fort, Andrew (1994) The Faith of Ascetics and Lay Smartas: A Study of the Sankaran Tradition of Srngeri. Journal of Asian Studies 53.2: 613. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Isaeva, Natalia (1993) Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Matha (2016) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web. 07 Feb. <>.

Miller, David M., and Dorothy C. Wertz (1976) Hindu monastic life: The monks and monasteries of Bhubaneswar. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Prasad, Leela (2006) Text, Tradition, and Imagination: Evoking the Normative in Everyday Hindu Life. Numen 53.1: 1–47. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Sawai, Yoshitsugu (1987) The Nature of Faith in the Sankaran Vedanta Tradition. Numen 34.1: 18–44. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Sears, Tamara (2008) Constructing the Guru: Ritual Authority and Architectural Space in Medieval India. The Art Bulletin 90.1: 7–31. Web.7 Feb 2016.

Shankara (2016) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web. 07 Feb. 2016 <>.

Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (2000) Conflicting Hagiographies and History: The Place of Sankaravijaya Texts in Advaita Tradition. International Journal of Hindu Studies 4.2: 109–184. Web. 7 Feb 2016.


Related Topics for Further Investigation




Smarta tradition


Advaita Tradition

Srngeri matha

Amnaya mathas




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Hailey McLean (March 2016) who is solely responsible for the content




Celibacy (Brahmacarya)

In classical Hinduism, the origins of ascetic practices such as celibacy are highly debated. Chastity is defined as the abstinence of all sexual intercourse and celibacy was used to describe the single relationship status of an individual, but now more recent descriptions are approaching the definition of chastity (Olivelle 151). In Hinduism, the Sanskrit word Brahmacarya is used interchangeably to describe celibacy and chastity even though it is not the direct application of the use of the word. The word Brahmacarya more precisely refers to the first of four “religiously sanctioned modes of life” (Olivelle 158) called Asramas. These Asramas are prescribed phases of life originating from laws written in the first century CE. These were treatises written on the moral duty, and the nature of righteousness, called Dharma Sastras. Dharma is the proper actions, rituals, social and personal behaviors that are supported by the cosmic order (Rta), the natural rightness of things. One example would be The Laws of Manu containing several rules of proper social and personal conduct which include the four phases of life (Asramas). The Laws of Manu was written in the first century CE therefor “reflect the social norms of the time” and were “seldom followed strictly”. While in the Asrama known as the student stage, or Brahmacarya, it is the “student’s Dharma not to work for a living and to remain celibate” and in the second stage “a householder’s Dharma to be employed and lead a conjugal life with his partner” (Narayana 50).

The Laws of Manu go into great detail of many restricting rules and systems such as the caste and class system that are supported by even older highly regarded Vedic texts such as the Rg Vedas. The laws state, that only certain classes are permitted to commence the once highly regarded religious journey of studying the Vedas through the four Asramas. Studying the Vedas is a privilege only granted to the religious classes belonging in the greater classification group named the Twice-Born. The story of creation entitled ‘Hymn of the supreme person’ from the Rg Vedas can accommodate the origin of various elements of the universe such as the class system. It is the Purusa Sukta, Purusa is believed to be the original being of the universe from which the ultimate sacrifice was made to create man. The dismemberment of Purusa is the origin of the class system. “From his mouth came the priestly class, from his arms, the rulers. The producers came from his legs; from his feet came the servant class” (Narayanan 27). The Brahmin (priestly) class, Ksatriya (ruler) class, and Vaisya (producer) class make up the twice born, but do not include the Sudras (servant) class. The Twice Born have the privilege of following the prescribed Asramas to pursue the ultimate goal of complete liberation (Moksa) following a spiritual re-birth.

A ceremony must be performed to mark the second birth of a Twice-Born male into the studies of the Vedas. The sacred threat ritual (Upanayana) is the first ritual marking the rite of passage into the first Asrama (Brahmacarya). The Upanayana and marriage are examples of Samskara; a ritual that marks the rite of passage into the next Asrama. A different stage marks the pursuit of different goals and the attainment of a different set of knowledge or values. This can be better understood with the apprehension of Dharma. The first goal is to abide by the dharmic principles of sexual asceticism while studying the Vedas, but in the second Asrama (Grhastha), the focus shifts to the pursuit of sensory pleasure (Kama) and self-empowerment (Artha). In the third Asrama (Vanaprastha) one begins to practice various methods of gaining transformative insight, and in the last Asrama (Samnyasin) the goal is to attain the highest level of complete liberation.

If an individual were to attain moksha, through devoting one’s life to following the Asramas or other practices, the individual is then liberated from Samsara. In most Hindu philosophies (Darasanas) it is believed that every action has Karmic consequences, and after death in this world the Karmic seeds will bear fruit, and be the ultimate deciding factor of the realm of rebirth. Samsara is the cycle of endless rebirth in another realm unless the cycle can be broken by attaining Moksa (Olivelle 156). Liberation from endless cycles of Karmic rebirth is attained by dispelling illusion, and gaining transformative insight on the self (Atman) or knowledge about ultimate reality (Brahman) (Narayanan 52). Those that practice sexual asceticism tend to have as a goal the pursuit of liberation (Moksa). Since detaching from the sensual world is the first step toward renunciation, “the sexual impulse was viewed as the greatest source of attachment and the greatest impediment to progress on the spiritual path” (Olivelle 160). The biggest obstacle to ascetic detachment is the natural attraction towards the opposite sex, and the sexual nature of the body which is seen as impure (Olivelle 160). One of the five preliminary restraints (Yama) that need to be practiced is abstinence as highlighted in Yoga Sutra for the pursuit of liberation. Time and time again we see that sexual asceticism is clearly favored as one of the key practices in the bigger goal of attaining liberation, nonetheless during the householder (Grhastha) Asrama stage the practice of celibacy and chastity is disregarded.

It is the dharma of a married householder to raise children, therefor there are no negative karmic consequences. Offspring and marriage are undesirable to a renounced individual seeking liberation because they cannot help nor hinder the present Karmic state of the individual. Choosing not to practice celibacy, or believing in the institution of marriage and the action of procreation,  is closely tied to the rejection of ritual activity, and is seen as harmful to spiritual progress. This can explain why the acceptance of householder ideals such as procreation bears no fruit in the search for Moksa but one can also argue that it is indeed necessary for some Hindu religious practices. The Vedas talk about a great spiritual and physical debt that is owed to the gods since birth. Two of them are “offering sacrifices and procreating sons” (Olivelle 154). Vedic religion used sons for death rituals and thus, the birth of a son is “viewed as ensuring immortality of the father” (Olivelle 153). Some Vedic theology promotes the married householder way of life as being the ideal, while other Vedic theology also supports ascetic and celibate ideologies. These contrasting principles warrant different outcomes, but are supported and followed equally.

An unbalanced ratio of renouncers who neglect the benefits of the householder stage would be devastating for the continuity of the population and would require adjustments to the Asrama system over time to promote healthy proliferation. The four Asramas were originally meant for an individual wanting to pursue a sacred ascetic life; free of unnecessary ties with the artificial world. In the old Asrama system, after graduating from Vedic studies, the individual was able to choose between four modes of life to pursue permanently for this persons entire lifetime. There was the option to continue the Asrama of a student through adulthood and devote one’s life to the study of the Vedas while remaining celibate (Olivelle 159). Another Asrama was the forest-hermit, where the individual could roam the forest, and most texts mention the ability to have a wife or family while other texts order celibacy. And the last Asrama from the old system was the world renouncer, marked by celibacy and no familial ties (Olivelle 159). Years after the Common Era, the reformed version of the four Asramas were known to be temporary stages of life. Nonetheless, celibacy and chastity played a major role in all four Asramas. In the second Asrama, the Householder (Grhastha) stage, the pursuit of sensory pleasure (Kama) and self-empowerment (Artha) is permitted. The aims of each Asrama can be pursued in moderation and in the order prescribed (Narayanan 50). If one chooses, Brahmacarya is also practiced during the householder stage, as the term is adapted to justify the Dharmic duty to create offspring. Throughout time, The Laws of Manu closely guarded by the Brhamin class needed to change in order to more accurately parallel other popular Vedic beliefs. To further promote the highly reputed concept of Brahmacarya in the context of sexual asceticism, Brahmanical adaptations were made to integrate sexual asceticism in all Asramas including Grhastha. The householder equivalent to sexual asceticism is sexual intercourse with one’s wife at night if the sole purpose is procreation (Olivelle 162).  Domesticating the practice of Asceticism during the householder stage would be justified with Dharma. The Third Asrama is the Forest-Dweller (Vanaprastha) and the last is the renouncer (Samnyasin) Asrama, where death rituals are performed to shed the bonds of family, marriage, kids or sexual activities to facilitate the detachment from the world in the pursuit of Moksa (Olivelle 159).

Mental and Physical powers such as the ability to fly, the ability to see into the future and read minds are said to be related to the retention of semen, while the opposite effect of physical and mental impotence is related to sexual relations (Olson 165). “The celibate body is extremely fit, and as such evokes a divine and heroic mystique of epic proportion” (Alter 46). The internal, unnatural heat (Tapas) found in a celibate renouncer can lead to the acquisition of powers. Comparing the celibate renouncer to the sexually active householder, who generates a different kind of natural heat with no control over the excessive indulgence of sexual behavior, reveals a theme. The heating of the renouncer and cooling of the householder is the tension visible throughout the history of devotional Hinduism (Olson 167).

Brahmacarya is used to describe the model example of celibacy in Hinduism, referring to the stage of ascetic study of the Vedas, but not directly meaning chastity or celibacy (Olivelle 152). Brahmacarya comes prior to the accepted but unstable sensual release in the householder Asrama. This is followed by the necessary condition of sexual continence for the pursuit of liberation while renouncing the world. Celibacy, chastity, marriage, and procreation are all supported by the Hindu tradition, but at specific times throughout life and also within moderation.



Alter, Joseph (1994) “Sexuality and the Transformation of Gender Into Nationalism in North India.” The Journal of Asian studies 53:45-66.Accessed 07/01/2009.

Buswell. R, Lopez. D (2014) The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Narayanan, Vasudha (2002) “Chapter One: The Hindu Tradition.” In World Religions, Eastern Religions, edited by Willard G. Oxtoby, 12-125. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Olivelle, Patrick (2008) “Celibacy in Classical Hinduism.” In Celibacy and Religious Traditions, edited by Carl Olson, 151-164. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Olson, Carl (2008) “Hindu Devotionalism, Tantra, and Celibacy.” In Celibacy and Religious Traditions, edited by Carl Olson, 165-180. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Article written by: Uriel Karerwa (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Dasanami Samnyasins

The development and the components of Hindu monasticism may appear complex. Sankara, the famous Indian philosopher, founded a Hindu monastic federation referred to as the Dasanami Order (Wade nd). Hindu monks, known as samnyasin, were divided into ten lineages which trace back to Sankara and compose the Dasanami Order. The ten different monk/renouncer groups were then divided up among the four monasteries founded by Sankara (Clark 2). The four monasteries (mathas) are located in the east, west, south, and north of India and they are respectively called Govardhan, Sarada, Srngeri, and Jyotir (Clark 115). This order is the most respected and influential in the Hindu tradition (Werner 148).

Historically, it has been viewed that the four monasteries are representative of Sankara’s travel and his spiritual authority. Sankara’s life is regarded as somewhat legendary. He lost his father at a young age and he was an admirer of the samnyasin life style. Sources claim that at the age of eight, Sankara was captured by a crocodile while he bathed in a river. Sankara told his mother that if he did not receive her blessing to become a samnyasin the crocodile would have taken his life (Pande 31). Historians believe that three factors contribute to why Sankara is held in the highest regard. It is said that Sankara was an incarnation of Siva (Pande 73). His strong connection to and the belief in his embodiment of Siva could be due to Sankara’s connections to miracles. Secondly, the implementation of authentic practices was to emphasize the social and spiritual claims of the reorganized monasteries. The final aspect which made Sankara legendary was the expansion of the Advaitic and non Advaitic schools (Pande 73). The rationales behind legends of his incarnation have been to fortify the Vedic faith and help spread the spiritual way of living across India (Pande 82).

Samnyasin (renouncing) is the final stage of one’s life. One may renounce after they have completed the householders’ stage grahastha (Miller 3). However, some Hindus enter renunciation earlier, once they have completed their education, though such young renouncers are less common. A renouncer is considered to be a wise holy man. He is expected to withdraw from society. From that point on, his life is dedicated to the attainment of moksa (Werner 147). A renouncer’s withdrawal from society is theoretical because, he may live in close proximity to society and interact with its members however, physical detachment is essential (Olivelle 272). One must leave their family and possessions in order to discover the meaning of life and gain inner peace (Burghart 635). Renouncers are placed outside of the caste system and are highly valued. A renouncer who receives offerings and praise from Hindus is not uncommon.

Once Hindu monks formally renounce, they are categorized in relation to the method of initiation and their way of life (Wade nd). Renouncers may fall into one of three distinct categories: the dandis, nagas, or paramahamsas. However, all Dasanami consider themselves as Siva (Clémentin 2). Many Dasanami renouncers decorate themselves with rudrāka beads and put three white horizontal stripes on their forehead to embody the symbolism of Siva and Visnu (Clémentin 3). Each type of renouncer group is affiliated with one of the four monasteries. To formally renounce, a monk must attain a new identity. He is given one of the ten surnames which made him a part of that particular spiritual lineage. The name one receives is linked to the monastery they are associated with and reflects their caste as well as their renouncing lifestyle. The monasteries from the south and west are mainly composed of dandi renouncers. The lineages commonly assigned to these monks, once they formally renounce include: Bharati (speech), Sarasvati (learning), Tirtha (sacred bathing), and Asrama (hermitage). Puri (town) and Giri (hill) are lineages linked to naga renouncers. Other names, sometimes received by all types of renouncers include: Vana (woods), Aranya (forest), Parrata (mountain), and Sagara (ocean) (Dazery na). Receiving a new name is significant because it symbolizes the relationship one has under a guru which acts as an investiture. An opportunity for the new renouncers to teach and ordain followers is given (Clémentin 16). Once a name is received, one is able to initiate another person into the samnyasin stage of life. All three branches of the Dasanami (dandi, nagas, and the paramahamsa) have networks of mathas (monasteries) spread across India.

The dandis traditionally come from a high caste background and hold knowledge of the Sanskrit language. They are the wanderers who usually carry a staff. The staff may be embellished with a saffron cloth with an axe head under it (Clark 28). Generally, dandi renouncers were previous householders, have short hair, and believe that they are the true samnyasin (Clark 41). Their initiation ceremony is completed by a guru and the name given depends on what matha one is affiliated to (Clark 41). One of the four brahmacari names is given at the ceremony either being Svarup, Prakasa, Ananda or Caitanya (Clark 42). The second ceremony a dandi partakes in is called the viraja home (Clark 89). A short sacred utterance that presumably encapsulates the essential wisdom of Vedanta from the monk’s monastic lineage is spoken (Wade nd).

Renouncers, who fall under the paramahasa grouping, discard all belongings including their staff, perform the most asceticism and obtain the highest amount of respect (Clark 102). They more frequently live in mathas and are affiliated to an akhara. However, paramahamsan monks are not deeply connected to the akharas life compared to the nagas (Clark 42).

Lower caste members form the naga renouncer group (Clark 39). Some scholars refer to them as “naked fighting monks” (Wade nd).  The naga have been known to travel nude and they cover their entire bodies (sometimes just their private areas) in ash, especially on festive holidays (Clark 35). The nagas are organized into seven akharas (Clark 48). To be initiated into the akhara as a naga, one must go through a third process referred to as the tang tode (Clark 98). This is a unique initiation among the three groups.

Typically, males are the ones who enter the stage of renunciation. However, women renouncers have recently been reported. About ten percent of female renouncers belong to the Dasanami (Clark 31). However, women may become brahmacarini, but they cannot enter the second stage of initiation in becoming “full” samnyasin (Clark 33). Women remove all jewelry as a symbol of their renunciation. The majority of women belong to the paramahamsa renouncer group. Two known monasteries exclusively admit women. The least number of women belong to the naga group (Clark 34).

A life apart from society cultivates detachment through a community which shares similar perspectives (Clémentin 2). Some renouncers may choose to join a monastic community (Tambiah 300). Monastic communities provide a shared living space between many samnyasin monks. It is where asceticism is ingrained through tradition (Clémentin 2). This concept of communal settlement was introduced by Sankara, and is referred to as the matha system (Miller 4). The purpose was to create a sense of solidarity through group support. The matha was a larger unit comprised of temples, a traditional Sanskrit school, a library, and a shelter for lay followers (Clémentin 4). The caste system was embedded into the institution. Individuals were born to specific gurus. Gurus raised money to support children’s education for their caste (Aya 58). Donations from patrons allow for monks to teach, provide medical care, and help feed the community (Miller 5). Service to the community was viewed as important and resembled Hindu cohesion. Monks may continue traveling, but if they remain in a community for an extended period of time they are less respected, except if it is the rainy season (Olivelle 271).  Clémentin addresses that, “the important point to stress is that they do not owe their allegiance to a monastery, but to a lineage of spiritual succession” (3). Sankara’s successor, a Sankaracarya (head of 1 of the 4 monasteries) essentially becomes “the teacher of the world” by representing the founder of his lineage (Clémentin 6). Sankaracaryas have substantial spiritual power and settle disputes within the matha by helping with court cases (Clark 79). For example, cases may include initiation and personal affairs, adultery, abuse, and caste pollution. Sankaracaryas help decide the punishment of a fine, a fine, forms of social exclusion, and sometimes even excommunication ceremonies (Clark 80).

The origins of the Dasanami Samnyasin illustrate the prominence of Sankara’s philosophical influence in creating the order. Spiritual lineages of the samnyasin monks are traced back to Sankara. The samnyasins aquire a new religious identity in which they abide by certain roles, codes, and practices (Clark 2). The different groupings of renouncers across the four cardinal directions are symbolic of Sankara’s spiritual journey and the prominence of Brahman (Wade nd). The caste system is significant to the Dasanami Order because it allows for different renouncer groups to exist. Subtle differences exist among the samnyasins such as, their appearance, initiation process, status, and their affiliation to a distinct lineage (Clark 39). The matha system was important for the development of education and philosophical ideas for the samnyasin and their lay followers (Clémentin 4). Life consisted of days of expressing bhakti in prayer, meditation, and lectures (Werner 147). Overall, evidence suggests that the Dasanami Order has been very influential and is a representation of Sankara’s philosophy. 


References and Further Recommended Readings

Burghart, R., (1983) “Renunciation in the Religious Traditions of South Asia”. Man18(4), 635–653.

Clark, Matthew (2006) Dasanami Samnyasis. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Clémentin-Ojha, C. (2006) “Replacing the Abbot: Rituals of monastic ordination and investiture in modern Hinduism”. Asiatische Studien, Etudes Asiatiques, Vol.60, 535- 573.

Ikegame, A (2012) “The Governing Guru”. The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives, London & New York, NY: Routledge 5, 46.

Miller, D. M., & Wertz, D. C (1976) Hindu monastic life: The monks and monasteries of Bhubaneswar. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

 Olivelle, P. (2001)”The Renouncer Tradition”. In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism,  G. Flood (Ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing  271-287.

 Pande, G. C (1994) Life and thought of Sankaracarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

 Tambiah, S. J. (1982) “The renouncer: his individuality and his community”. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 15(1), 299-320.

Wade, D. (2012) “Dasanamis.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, Vasudha Narayanan. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from < hinduism/dasanamis-BEHCOM_9000000043>

Werner, Karel (2013) Love Divine: Studies in bhakti and devotional mysticism, London & New York, NY: Routledge 147-152.


Topics for Further Investigation

The Ramanadi Order



The Four Monasteries




Noteworthy Websites


Article written by: Miranda Deringer (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kamasutra (Book Four: Wives)

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

Hindu Wives

Wendy Doniger

Sudhir Kakar

Richard Burton

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.

The Upanayana Rite

One of the most imperative components of the Hindu religion are the rites that believers take part in. The upanayana rite is fulfilled in a young man’s life around the age of puberty (Pandey 112). The upanayana, otherwise known as the sacred thread ceremony, entails presenting the young man with a sacred thread initiating him into society, and symbolizing the transfer of spiritual knowledge. This rite of passage, or samskara, as it is known in Hinduism, is one of about forty rites that are to be completed by individual Hindus. Samskaras began around the Vedic period and there are various motives to fulfill them, including popularity or cultural motives (Pandey 25). In Hinduism, the total number of rites suggested to be completed is very high, so quite often only the most popular sixteen are accomplished in one’s lifetime (Pandey 23). The upanayana rite is acknowledged as one of the most important rites in Hinduism. The significance of this rite can be observed as mainly a social transformation into adult society (Smith 65). This rite marks a rebirth of those classified as a twice-born, or dvija, in Hindu society (Pandey 112). The ceremony of receiving the sacred thread is a distinguishing act, as it gives entrance to the study of the Vedas, under supervision of a teacher (guru) (Smith 65).

A considerable number of people in the Hindu population are capable of completing samskaras, but distinct portions are denied. The Brahmin, Ksatriya, and Vaisya classes are the three highest ranked classes in Hindu society, and therefore are allowed the privilege of completing the upanayana rite, along with numerous other rites (Smith 65). There is a belief in Hinduism that all people are born in the Sudra class, and remain there until they complete the samskaras that are appropriate based on a person’s gender, age, and other qualifications (Olson 153). The two classes excluded from the initiation are the Sudras and the Untouchables, as they are not considered worthy of such a ceremony by Hindu standards (Orenstein 11). For the upanayana rite, there are also certain ages at which the rite should be performed. For Brahmins, the suggested age is eight, for Ksatriyas the age is eleven, and it is twelve for the Vaisyas (Smith 68). Scholars have also noted that the initiation tends to be performed at various times of the year depending on the seasons. The upanayana rite tends to be performed more often in the spring for the Brahmins, the summer for the Ksatriyas and the autumn for the Vaisyas (Smith 69). Each season is a representation of the nature and professions of the various classes, which hints towards the power they hold to auspiciousness (Pandey 127). Hindus take auspiciousness very seriously, and like any major rite performed, the most auspicious time of the year for each class was taken into consideration before the rite could be fulfilled (Pandey 127). While the class distinctions are necessary for deciding whether or not a person is to be denied completing this samskara, there is also the issue of gender. The Upanayana rite is exclusively for males, and often, the equivalent ceremony for females is the marriage rite, or vivaha (Pandey 158).

Traditionally, the day before the initiation tended to be reserved for trying to appease certain auspicious deities and gods. The young men have their bodies smeared with yellow substance that may be representative or symbolic of the Sudra class that everyone initially is born into in Hindu society (Olson 153). That evening, the individual is also ordered to stay silent for the entire night. The morning of the ceremony, the young man and mother eat a final meal together (Pandey 128). Throughout this meal, the child is fed as he rests on his mother’s lap, and this represents the last meal to be had by the hand of his mother. This symbolizes the entry into the student stage of life, where the mother and son would be separated for a length of time (Pandey 129). The last meal had by the hand of his mother is said to be symbolic of the child’s original birth and embryonic state, as he is entering the world through a second birth (Olson 154). Following the meal, the young men was to have his head shaved, as well as take part in a ceremonious bath; bathing in Hinduism is a spiritually purifying act that is fundamental to samskaras (Pandey 129).

The next important detail for the upanayana rite was ensuring the young men had the proper clothes and accessories for the ceremony. They were offered an “upper garment (uttariya), a lower garment (vasa), a girdle (mekhald), [and] a staff (danda)…” (Smith 70). Based on early literature, it is known that deerskin (a type of ajina) was initially utilized as the piece for the upper garment. Since the textile revolution, it has been more common to use a cotton cloth in the ceremony. Both the upper garment and the girdle were made of different materials for the various classes. The Brahmins quite often wore girdles made of Munja grass, the Ksatriyas wore girdles made of bow string, and the Vaisya of wool. While these materials may be used for the ceremony, soon after it is usually exchanged for a cotton girdle (Pandey 130-131). The girdle is representative of the upper three classes being dvijas, and allowed to participate in the rite (158 upanayana). The girdle is also meant to be a symbol of protection, strength and could be distinguished as symbolic of the student who is “reborn” (Smith 71).

The final and arguably most essential piece to the upanayana ceremony was the sacred thread. This sacred thread (yajnapavita) is often made of different materials depending on which class the young man belonged to. Quite often the yajnapavita was to be cotton for the Brahmins, hemp for the Ksatriyas, and wool for the Vaisyas (Prasad 115). There could also be variation in the colour of the thread worn by each class. Sometimes it was seen that the Brahmins wore white, Ksatriyas wore red and the Vaisyas wore yellow (Pandey 132). The young man wears the sacred thread over his right shoulder when presented it during the ceremony (Prasad 115).

During the ceremony the guru recites the Savitri mantra, which is in Gayatri verse to the new student (Olson 154). Following the learning of the Gayatri mantra, the individual has his first kindling of the sacred fire. This worship of the sacred fire begins at the upanayana and continues throughout the individual’s lifetime (Pandey 138). The fire lit at the rite was not to be put out at the end of the ceremony, but maintained through the marriage ceremony and further becoming the householder fire for the remainder of the young man’s life (Smith 81). Finally, when the young man is ready to begin his life in the student stage, he dawns his new ascetic clothing, staff and accessories (Olson 159). In doing so, he is informing everyone that he is ready to live the full adult life, and ready to be taught from the wisdom of the Vedas. Initially, the key rationale for undertaking the upanayana rite was for educational purposes. Sources concur that many young men completed the rite when they wanted to approach a guru for higher education. In more recent times, the rite has evolved to become more of a religious achievement rather than an educational one (Pandey 116).

Not participating in this rite entails the probable excommunication from the group, as well as exclusion from the opportunities and advantages that are offered upon completion of the upanayana rite (Pandey 112). Without the fulfillment of the rite, one is also denied the privilege of marrying an Aryan girl after reaching that stage of life. Not only are those who do not complete the upanayana rite excluded from society, there are also other negative implications, such as being detested by fellow Aryans (Olson 157).

The upanayana rite marks the end of one era, and the beginning of another. Gone is the childhood of a boy and replacing it is the future of a man, as well as preparation for a time as a student. The union between the teacher (guru) and the student upon entrance into this stage of life is marked by prayer, as well as the touching of the heart. This emphasizes the sacred relationship between student and teacher, and also the harmony required for the relationship (Pandey 136). While the upanayana rite can be considered symbolic in many ways, in Hinduism, the belief is that the boy is truly awakened into a man upon completion of the ceremony (Olson 162). Symbolism is a major part of Hindu beliefs and there is no shortage in the upanayana rite. During the initiation, the girdle represents chastity and obedience, as the young man is about to embark on a journey of education (Olson 158).

As one of the sixteen most commonly performed samskaras, the upanayana is one of a sequence of initiations ensuring the student is eligible to receive Vedic education (Smith 77). The upanayana rite is an important ceremony for Hindu tradition as it initiates study of the Vedas, participation in adult society, as well as the daily fire kindling sacrifice. In the past, this sacrament has been highly influential and significant in Hindu religion, and remains so to this day.



Olson, Carl (1977) “The Existence, Social, and Cosmic Significance of the Upanayana Rite.” Numen, XXIV (August), 152-160. Brill Publishing.

Orenstein, Henry (1965) “The Structure of Hindu Caste Values: A Preliminary Study of Hierarchy and Ritual Defilement.” Numen, IV (January), 1-15. Brill Publishing.

Pandey, Rajbali (1969) Hindu Samskaras: Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Delhi: Molital Banarsidass Publishers.

 Prasad, Ramacandra C. (1997) “Upanayana.” The Upanayana: The Hindu Ceremonies of the Sacred Thread. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Smith, Brian K. (1986) “Ritual, Knowledge, and Being: Initiation and Veda Study in Ancient India.” Numen, XXXIII (June), 65-89. Brill Publishing.


Related Topics for Further Investigation:






Rite of Passage



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:


Article written by: Michelle Osborne (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Artha Sastra



The Artha Sastra means sastra (science) of Artha (earth/wealth/polity) (Prakash 5).The Artha Sastra is one of few written documents that represent ancient India’s political views. The authorship of the Artha Sastra is credited to Kautilya (also known as Chanakya) and it is believed to have been written around 300 B.C. (Boesche 10). According to R. Shamasastry (3), “This Arthasastra is made as a compendium of almost all the Arthasastras, which, in view of acquisition and maintenance of the earth, have been composed by ancient teachers”. Kautilya’s Artha Sastra is comprised of 15 books (Samasastry 2).

Chandragupta Maurya (c. 317-293 B.C.E), who is known for being the first emperor of India, united India by defeating the Nanda kings and by stopping the invasion of Alexander’s successors (Boesche 10). Kautliya was the chief minister of Chandragupta’s court (Prakash 4). In order to govern efficiently and expand the vast Mauryan Empire that was even larger than the Mughal Empire or the British Empire in India, a constitution was needed (Boesche 12). In this situation, Arthasastra was written and came into play.

 Arthasastra deals with all aspects of an empire. Kautliya gave utmost importance to the four sciences. These are:

  1. Anvikshaki (philosophy)
  2. Trayi (the triple Vedas- Sama, Rig, and Yajur, deals with four classes (Varnas) and four orders (ashrams))
  3. Varta (agriculture, cattle breeding and trade)
  4. Danda-Niti (science of government). (Samasastry 9; Ghoshal 128)

Reason for this, according to Samasastry’s word,

“Righteous and unrighteous acts (Dharmadharmau) are learnt from the triple Vedas; wealth and non-wealth from Varta; the expedient and the inexpedient (Nayanayau), as well as potency and impotency (Balabale) from the science of government.” (10).

Kautliya believed that these four sciences should be taught only by specialist teachers (Samasastry 15).

Then he explained the efficiency of learning (vidhyasamarthyam) and enforced that the disciples including the prince(s) should strictly follow it (Samasastry 16).

Unlike today’s government, ancient empires were ruled by kings; but like today’s government, ministers played an important role in ancient times too. So Kautilya wrote about duties and responsibilities of a king as well as the importance of skilled and knowledgeable ministers. According to Samasastry, words that Kautilya used to warn a king are:

“If a king is energetic, his subjects will be equally energetic. If he is reckless, they will not only be reckless likewise, but also eat into his works. Besides, a reckless king will easily fall into the hands of his enemies. Hence the king shall ever be wakeful.” (51)

In his point of view, a king’s day and night should be divided into eight nalikas (1.5 hours) or according to the length of the shadow and each division should be passed fulfilling certain duties (Samasastry 51). Besides this, a king should attend the court on a regular basis and should listen to the petitioners and take appropriate action to avoid public disaffection (Samasastry 51). He also alerted the king about six enemies: kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), mana (vanity), mada (haughtiness), and harsha (over joy) (Samasastry 16).

Obviously, Kautliya wanted to represent the king as an ideal figure to the nation to win the support and loyalty. Since in ancient India, high priest and other priests were important figures, he advised they should be chosen with caution and only the most qualified one should be appointed as high priest (Samasastry 21). While talking about ministries, Kautilya wrote about a conversation between few people and advised that a king should take all of these opinions into consideration while forming the council of ministers (Samasastry 19-20) and encouraged the king to discuss each and every matter with a mantri parisad (council of ministers) that were divided in two levels. The inner cabinet were made of a chief minister, chief priest, military commander and crowned prince, while the outer cabinet were represented by prominent members of the society (Prakash 10). Even after someone is selected as a councillor or a priest, he should be kept under close observation and examined from time to time to check his loyalty to the king (Samasastry 23). According to Prakash (9), Artha Sastra also introduced the concept of saptaganga (state having seven elements) (Kautilya: Book 6, Ch. 1; Sarkar, 1922:167-9; Verma, [1954] 74:80; Rao 1958:82). These are:

  1. Swami (Monarch)
  2. Amatya (Officials)
  3. Janapada (Population and Territory)
  4. Durga (Fort)
  5. Kosa (Treasury)
  6. Bala (Military)
  7. Surhit (Ally)

Only a combination of these seven elements would help a king establish a prosperous state. Kautliya also discussed the importance of choosing a rightful heir to the throne, since the future of the empire is dependent on it. So he set up a guideline to train a prince or steps that a king might take in absence of a rightful heir (Samasastry 45-50). He also legalized the use of spies as a necessary precaution to test government figures’ loyalty to king and to avoid enemy invasion. But he enforced that only those free of any family bonds and members of sudra caste should be used as spies (Samastry 28-31).


Since the Mauryan Empire was a rapidly expanding empire, as a chief minister Kautliya tried his best to perfectionize the science of warfare. Expansion of the kingdom was his foremost priority. His plan was to build a skilled and superior army. In order to achieve this goal, his suggestion was that the commander and even the king should be trained in all kinds of warfare and weapons (Boesche 22). He advised that the king should not trust other people when it comes to war and military matters, and he should supervise everything himself (Boesche 22). In Kautilya`s point of view, there are three kinds of war: open war, concealed war and silent war (Boesche 22). Open war is predetermined and happens face to face, while concealed war is mostly about guerrilla warfare (Boesche 22). On the contrary, silent war is all about secrecy. According to Boesche (23), Kautilya originated the concept of secret war (Mojumdar 63). Kuatilya documented different approaches to infiltrate enemies and weaken their power in the Artha Sastra (Boesche 23-24). He favoured all necessary means including use of spies, prostitutes, and even the elders of the army when it comes to war (Boesche 22). He believed in the expansion of a kingdom (Boesche 28). That is why he suggested that any state showing sign(s) of weakness should be attacked and invaded in a favourable condition considering loss of men, wealth and profit (Boesche 28). He also gave utmost importance to defense. That`s why he described a blue print of a well protected fort in the Artha Sastra (Samasastry 66-70). With the intention of giving his army the best chance of victory, he described briefly about marching against an enemy, marching in hostile territory, unifying forces with allies, calculating the favourable time of an invasion, and other warfare techniques in several books of the Artha Sastra.


In order to govern the vast Mauryan Empire, Kautilya developed a complicated and organized network of bureaucracy. He divided responsibilities into thirty categories and employed thirty adhyaksas (chiefs) to look after each category (Prakash 13). Adhyaksas were provided with a house and a handsome salary. To encourage the bureaucrats, he also developed a reward system by which each bureaucrat would get a part of the taxes as an incentive (Prakash 13). Besides, Kautilya realized that the continuity of a successful state depends on an interactive system between tax payers and state government as well as on trade and commerce. So, bureaucrats in the Mauryan Empire were responsible for providing three kinds of goods – the quality control machinery, the system of currency and system of weights and measures (Prakash 13). He also promoted imports as a way of enriching the state with goods that either they did not have or the production was really expensive (Prakash 13). His taxation system was equally sophisticated. According to Prakash (11), “Kautilya visualized a ‘dharmic social contract’ between the King and the citizens”. The superintendant of tolls was responsible for taking taxes from merchants, while adyaksas were responsible for taking taxes from other tax payers (Prakash 13, Samasastry 155). He also documented specific instructions to the superintendant of tolls on how, where and when merchants should pay their taxes (Samasastry 155). Counterfeiting was a punishable crime in the Mauryan Empire. On the other hand, citizens of the Mauryan Empire also enjoyed specific tax free trade and the janapads (districts) had the right to ask for tax remission under special circumstances (Samasastry 156, Prakash 11).


According to Prakash (12), “Kautilya did not view law to be an expression of the free will of the people”. In Kautilya`s point of view, law should be based on dharma (scared law), vyavhara (evidence), charita (history and custom), and rajasasana (edicts of the king) (Prakash 12). He visualized a royal court having 6 members – 3 with the knowledge of dharmasastras (sacred law) and 3 ministers of the king. He also described brief penalty system in accordance with the offence committed in the Artha Sastra.


Female figures did not possess a high status in ancient India`s male-dominated society. The same was true for Kautilya. He was in favour of using women as spies. He also legalized prostitution and brought it under taxation system. Although, aniskasini (women from upper caste who did not leave their work) were allowed to earn their livelihood by spinning, they had to do all their transactions in dim light to avoid being seen by men (Jaiswal 51). Women who were involved in service of the king were considered a treasure of the state and enjoyed a handsome salary and protection (Jaiswal 54). Besides, intercourse with a girl against her will or intercourse with a minor girl was a punishable crime (Jaiswal 53).

The Artha Sastra deals with all aspects of a well-constructed government as well as a monarchical empire. Kautilya succeeded in constructing a constitution that shaped a vast successful empire. Some of these rules are still in play.



Boesche, Roger (2003) “Kautilya’s “Arthaśāstra” on War and Diplomacy in Ancient India” Journal of military history, Vol. 67, No. 1.

Ghoshal, Upendra (1923) A History of Hindu Political Theories. London: Oxford University Press.

Jaiswal, Suvira (2001) “Female images in Artha Sastra of Kautilya” Social Scientists, Vol 29 No.3 /4.

Mojumdar, Bimal (1995) The military system in ancient India. Calcutta: World Press Ltd.

Prakash, Aseem (1993) “State and Statecraft in Kautilya’s Arthasastra” Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington

Shamasastry, Rudrapatnam ([1915] 1967) Kautilya’s Arthashastra ([1915] 1967), eighth ed. Mysore, Mysore Printing and Publishing House.

Related topics for further investigation:

  • Chandragupta Maurya
  • Bindusara Amitraghata
  • Chayanakya
  • Mauryan Empire
  • Nanda Empire
  • Jain tradition
  • Dharma


Noteworthy websites related to the topic:


Article written by Fazla Chowdhury (April, 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.