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The Politics of Sexuality in Ancient India: The Indebtedness of the Kamasutra to the Arthasastra

Shivdasani Lecture
OCHS Library
Prof. Wendy Doniger
Tuesday, 12 November 2013 - 5:00pm

The depth and extent of the influence of the textbook of politics (the Arthasastra) on the textbook of sexuality (the Kamasutra) is surprising, most evident in the high incidence of distrust, betrayal and force in sexual relationships.    And the subsequent influence of the Kamasutra upon not only the erotic literary traditions of India but the eroticism of the bhakti tradition, particularly in Bengal, accounts in part for the darkness of that tradition, its emphasis on divine abandonment, betrayal, and even violence.

Wendy Doniger (M.A., Ph.D. (Harvard University)
D.Phil. (Oxford University) is Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, University of Chicago; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought. Wendy Doniger's research and teaching focus on translating, interpreting, and comparing elements of Hinduism through modern contexts of gender, sexuality, and identity. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses, such as death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and zoology. Among over thirty books published under the name Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and Wendy Doniger are sixteen interpretative works, including Siva: The Erotic Ascetic; The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology; Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts; Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities; Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana; Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes; Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India; The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade; The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth; The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was; and The Hindus: An Alternative History. Among her nine translations are three Penguin Classics—Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, Translated from the Sanskrit; The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit; and The Laws of Manu (with Brian K. Smith)—and a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). In progress are Hinduism, for the Norton Anthology of World Religions (2013); Faking It: Narratives of Circular Jewelry and Clever Women; and a novel, Horses for Lovers, Dogs for Husbands.