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Excerpt: The Arts of Seduction by Seema Anand

In The Arts of Seduction, author Seema Anand writes that she wants to introduce the contemporary reader to the Kama Sutra primarily for its language steeped in refinement, beauty and nuanced pleasure. An excerpt

books Updated: Jun 08, 2018 18:40 IST
Seema Anand
Seema Anand
Hindustan Times
sex,Kama Sutra,Vatsyayan
Stimulating conversation: Prince Soudjakoulikan with a Lady, 1760, Indian Art, Lucknow School.(UIG via Getty Images)
188pp, Rs 499; Aleph

This book is a guide to having great sex in the twenty-first century. It seeks to transform what has largely been reduced to instant gratification into a rather more sensuous experience.

My motivation in writing this book is best summed up by this response by Dr Alex Comfort (translator of the Ananga Ranga) to a reader in the New Statesman: ‘Mr. Simon Raven finds sex an “overrated sensation which lasts a bare ten seconds” — and then wonders why anyone should bother to translate the erotic textbooks of medieval India. One good reason for doing so is that there are still people in our culture who find sex an overrated sensation lasting a bare ten seconds...’

‘Mr. Simon Raven’ wasn’t alone in his way of thinking. Someone recently said to me, ‘All this seduction stuff is crap. Sex is hot and fast. When a lion has sex the female knows it…’ Except, we are not animals. Yes, it is possible to throw yourself on top of your partner and hammer your way to an ejaculation in a matter of seconds but, as journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai Brown says, ‘there is a difference between a fu*k and [an] experience’.

In order to elevate our animal instincts to a more refined form of pleasure, I turned to the Kama Sutra, which remains a groundbreaking work thousands of years after it was written. The Kama Sutra, compiled by Vatsayayan some time in the third century, is the oldest and most notable of a group of texts on erotic love from ancient India known generically as the Kama Shastras. The Kama Sutra goes deep into the art of making love, and shows how it can be sophisticated and hugely enjoyable. It offers every permutation of every act of foreplay and lovemaking. After all, we as humans are the only species on earth capable of consciously creating and enjoying mutual pleasure. And it wasn’t just momentary physical pleasure — ancient Eastern cultures believed that a stable society depended on a stable marriage and the secret to a stable marriage was extremely good sex. Marriage was the path to heaven and sex was the vehicle to get you there, and therefore the Kama Sutra — and its fellow manuals — were considered works of divine instruction.*

What makes the Kama Sutra stand out from other similar texts is that in compiling the book, Vatsyayan did what no one had ever done before — he broke the ultimate gender myth. For centuries religious belief had held that a woman did not have an independent source of pleasure, that her pleasure depended on that of the man — in other words, a woman’s orgasm was the result of a man’s orgasm. The Kama Sutra stated that not only do women have an independent source of pleasure but that a man is not even necessary to the process. This belief was so controversial at the time that it created a huge stir; more importantly, it put the book on the map for all time.

However, as the centuries passed, the Kama Sutra got lost in the fog of prevailing attitudes and the mire of mistranslations. In the twentieth century, Freud reiterated the antediluvian idea that a woman can only achieve orgasm through regular sex with a man (an idea that the Kama Sutra had discarded almost 2,000 years ago) — any other kind of orgasm was of no real significance; in his words it was ‘immature’. So a woman’s sexuality — that spans an incredible spectrum of pleasure, fulfilment and potential — was reduced to an undifferentiated entity that revolved around the instant gratification of the male. Everything else was dysfunctional. The result was a whole century of sexual angst. And even though we now know better, attitudes are hard to shift.

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Perhaps the real deciding factor, if I had to pick one, as to why I would like to introduce the Kama Sutra to people in the twenty-first century is its language. Far from the crudely misogynistic and downright abusive vocabulary that has come to be associated with sexual practices, the language of the Kama Sutra (as well as all the literature it inspired over the following 1,500 years) is characterized by a degree of refinement, beauty and nuanced pleasure, which even extendsto the words used to describe women’s genitalia — the clitoris is referred to as the ‘madan-chhatri’ or the ‘love umbrella’, the vulva is the ‘chandan-mahal’ or the ‘fragrant palace’. If the words that we use define our actions, then this is certainly a book that is very deliberately leading us away from the gratuitous violence of imagined passions or the ennui of stale sex towards a world of pleasure where arousal happens one little nerve ending at a time. As feminist Naomi Wolf has said, ‘Just imagine how differently a young girl today might feel about her developing womanhood if every routine slang description she heard of female genitalia used metaphors of preciousness and beauty, and every account of sex was centred on her pleasure — pleasure on which the general harmony depended.’ *

Alongside India, ancient China also had a prominent culture of erotic treatises. A few thousand years ago, borders were not quite as sharp as they are now and there was a surprising exchange of information and ideologies between the two cultures. Both viewed sex and sensuality as essential to the human condition. Both promoted the experience of sexual ecstasy as the vehicle to heaven. Both disseminated it as a medical science, teaching the healing and therapeutic effects of sex.

Of the differences, however, the most important one according to me was that while the Chinese manuals concentrate on the sexual act (detailing the number of thrusts, levels of bodily fluids, the length of time for penetration, etc.) the Indian treatises focus on foreplay and seduction — how to develop the perfect mood before and after sex. Seduction was considered an art and, when practiced carefully, it benefited the mind, the body and the soul because it gradually stirred up all the senses and activated the latent energy within us. Refinement was paramount — it elevated the human mind and prepared us for better things.

So why did the Indian treatises value the arts of seduction so much more over the actual act of sex?

Let me posit a couple of theories.

Not only did the finer arts of seduction elevate us from the level of the beasts, as I’ve said, they were very effective in harmonizing the sexual energy of lovers so that the sexual act became a mutually enjoyable experience. The ancients understood that men and women were completely different as lovers and if left to discover their own arousal there was almost no point at which their sexual energies would coincide.

Men’s desires are like fire, starting at the genitals and moving up to the brain. They are easy to ignite and equally quick to extinguish. They need very little encouragement to arrive at full arousal and are content with instant gratification. Women’s desires are like water, starting at the head and flowing downwards; and like water they take far longer to come to the boil and equally long to cool down.

The arts of seduction as prescribed by the Kama Sutra — with all its hundreds of rules and rituals — were meant to bridge the gap between the two sexes. They were meant to slow the man down and encourage him to take his time over his arousal and at the same time give the woman enough time and motivation to raise her sexual energies and desires.

The goal of seduction was more than just a meeting of two bodies — it involved every single sense, beginning with the most erogenous zone of all — the mind. That, according to the Kama Sutra, is the start and end of the road to sexual fulfilment. And to stress this point — although the Kama Sutra invokes the blessings of Kamadeva (the god of love and desire) — the patron deity of the work is Saraswati, the goddess of music, literature, learning; because, as everyone knows, a man who is culturally well informed, the one who can stimulate your mind is the most attractive man of all.

Author Seema Anand (Courtesy Aleph)

My other theory is that the Indian arts of erotic love and seduction were created by a woman. Very early on in Hindu mythology, Kamadeva is killed off, incinerated by the great god Shiva in a moment of rage. You may not have consciously considered this, but we are the only culture in which Cupid (or Eros) doesn’t have a physical body — he is ananga.

After Kamadeva’s death the gods convince his wife, Rati, to assume his duties. When she hears of her husband’s death, a heartbroken Rati tries to kill herself but is dissuaded by the gods — the world cannot exist without love and desire. She agrees to carry on his very important work for the time being.

In the Indian context, playing Cupid is not as simple as running around shooting love arrows, it is a far more onerous task and involves teaching the refinements of the arts of love to interested parties so that they can be practised properly.

As you will discover, there is nothing utilitarian about the Kama Sutra. It is not a book about sex, but rather a vade mecum on the arts of seduction; this is a book about finesse and sophistication, about passion and skill, about the nuances of pleasure and depths of satisfaction — where arousal is a combination of physical intimacy and mental fantasy and everything is driven by an exquisite refinement.

Read more: Book review: A re-telling of Kamasutra by Wendy Doniger

In The Arts of Seduction I have made a careful selection of the best techniques of love and sex chosen from the wealth of variations and ideas for seduction that the Kama Sutra has to offer — whether it is the innovative codes for love messages, the effects of applying perfume to different parts of the body, describing the many different types of kissing, where and how to massage your lover’s feet or what kind of jewellery to wear during lovemaking—there’s something for everyone here.

My main aim in writing this book is to make the idea of seduction part of everyday life. As Vatsyayan says, seduction is not an ‘event’ — it is not about ‘doing’ it for your partner, nor is it the exclusive property of people in relationships — seduction is for yourself, it should be a state of mind. Something that puts a spring in your step, a lilt in your voice and the fun into sex.

The Kama Sutra, although a treasure trove of the arts of seduction, is not an easy book to read, with its obscure references, obsolete materials and impossibly archaic language. I have shaped the information I wanted to disseminate into short, self-contained chapters so that readers can dip in and out depending on what interests them at different times. I want the reader to treat this as a handy guidebook for new and exciting experiences. Each chapter ends with a section titled ‘My Advice’ wherein I suggest ways in which to use some of the ideas discussed—to excite the mind, to share a laugh or to spice up your sex life. Whether you decide to begin a flirtation using paan or stimulate your own senses with perfume, my hope is that this book will irrevocably enrich your sex life.

First Published: Jun 08, 2018 18:14 IST