People have spent hours poring over them, trying to mimic intricates posts and styles. Others have had a good chuckle at how well the name of a certain act, such as the tripod or the elephant, matched the aesthetic qualities of the pictorial evidence. Many more just stared in disbelief and said “How did they do that?”
While the illustrations may be thought provoking or titillating, they are not part of the original manuscripts that Vatsyayana penned. The illustrations were added at a later date by translators as a way of making the sometimes difficult words of the Kama Sutra more readily understood by the average reader and were never intended to be part of the original manuscript, as common myth would implly.
How did the Kama Sutra illustrations get there?
Centuries after Vatsyayana first put the words to the Kama Sutra into the path of history, readers were still interested in his subject matter, perhaps even more so than his contemporaries. Unfortunately for the average reader without a knowledge of the Hindu background from which Vatsyayana had written the masterpiece, some of the language and word was exceedingly difficult to decipher even though Richard Burton had translated the text into the popular language of the Victorian era of which he lived. People were really interested in the subject matter but, as with many difficult to understand subjects, people shied away from reading long, detailed passes that were hard to comprehend in favor of books which were easier to digest.
This trend continued on for quite some time before someone recognized a need for a change. Proponents of the work and publishers could no longer stand to see the masterpiece shunned because it was too difficult to comprehend so an effort to make the text more readable began. The effort led the way to illustrated copies of the Kama Sutra which we find today.
Where did the Kama Sutra illustrations come from?
The changes of the Kama Sutra had begun. Authors were hired to rewrite the book in the modern vernacular and as publishers decided to add illustrations to the Kama Sutra, they needed to find a source for their illustrations. One such author was Madelyn Carol Dervos who began her rewriting work in 1988 and made repeated trips to India over a period of ten years to collect artwork for her reproduction of Vatsyayana’s masterpiece. Traveling all over India and looking at many amazing pieces of art, she bought out paintings that would cause her readers to see themselves in the illustrations and was very successful in this cause. These paintings, as well as others, have since been translated into the illustrations we see in today’s illustrated Kama Sutra versions.
A few final thoughts
In conclusion, though the so called original Kama Sutra illustrations may not be as original as some would lead us to believe, they do not detract from the work but do tend to enhance the readers understanding of the word. Illustrated or not, the Kama Sutra by Vatsyanya will remain a master text on the ways of Love.
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