To learn Indian traditions concerning past sexual norms, it is best to consult the old Hindu love manuals. Such a study will prove interesting and rewarding in its way, especially for students who set out to read about, to re-imagine and or to re-discover the wealth of Indian erotic literature.
The Kama Sutra is still one of the most famous love manuals from the region. Well known among collector’s of erotica, the compiled illustrations of the Kama Sutra is still regarded as one of the most complete, adventurous and yes, creative collections to be in existence. With over a hundred illustrations, the book strongly encouraged lessons in pleasure between married couples and teaches over a hundred of sex positions, many of which were variations on a couple of basic positions.
However popular the Kama Sutra was, it was not the only Hindu love manual that garnered considerable attention. Although not as well-known, the Ananga-Ranga is another outstanding example of Indian erotic literature. The book is filled up with tips, advices and suggestions on how to solve a number of problems, many of which are marital problems. When the book comes to the section on sexual congress, a great deal of emphasis is put on variety and how it is the solution to most problems in the bedroom.
After all, monotony is the enemy that sets in after the possession has taken place. And if one has already taken possession, one or both parties may no longer be excited or thrilled to engage in carnal pursuits. Satisfaction is a great enemy. And variety is one of the most effective ways to keep satisfaction from completely settling in and turning an exciting marriage into a ho-hum one.
This is why the Ananga-Ranga teaches a number of variations on common sex positions. Though some are similar to Vatsyayana’s work in the Kama Sutra, the Ananga-Ranga differs from its predecessor in the sense that its sole purpose is to keep married couples together. Kalyana Malla, the author of Ananga-Ranga which appeared a thousand years after Kama Sutra, wrote down common beliefs at the time.
One of these beliefs discussed the ten states or conditions that indicated if an individual was already consumed by her desire and thus, must already engage in sexual contact. If one found herself in any of these states, she must already engage in coitus or risk harming her health. It was an accepted truth to people of the time.
And yes, under certain circumstances-when someone was deemed completely helpless and under control of her own desires that she must feel she is on the brink of death- that individual is free to engage in sexual relations with any man, even if she is married or if the man she fancies is married to someone else, with the full blessing of the family and sometimes, even of the entire community.
Based on the text, people of those times seemed to view sex without shame. There were few taboos. What was plenty was the instructions, suggestions on how to please one’s self and one’s partner in sexual congress, an indication of their openness to the subject. Sex was a shared experience, a public one, a way to purify one’s mortal body. And while the quality of their openness did not survive to today, it is still interesting to note the contrast, how that free-spirited perspective on sex transformed to the rigid, conservative sexual norms observed now in most of Asia.
One hopes that most new students bent on studying just to learn Indian sexual norms, upon re-reading these Hindu texts re-imagine that freedom and realize that sexual pleasure can never be complete or achieved without it.