The Kama Sutra gives a list of sixty-four love making skills that men and women must master if they are to excel in the arts of seduction. It sets them out in great and diligent detail. Anyone who can master these skills will become a brilliant lover desired by everyone.
A quick glance at the skills, however, can leave you feeling confused. One can understand the purpose behind music or dance but how did knowing how to be skilled at quail or cock fights make you a more desirable lover? Or cutting shapes out of leaves – what does that have to do with anything at all?
The sixty-four skills were meant to develop you as a more rounded person – they included mental, physical and verbal accomplishments because the more interesting and accomplished you were and the more varied your interests, the more attractive that made you. In particular, an enormous amount of attention was paid to ‘brain games’ – the art of repartee, expertise at riddles, conundrums etc. because intelligence is the sexiest thing of all.
Each of the sixty-four skills had a purpose of its own – some have outlived their relevance, others are essential even today. But even the skills that seem obvious are not quite as basic as we think.
1-3 – Singing, Playing Musical Instruments and Dancing
Skills one, two and three are singing, playing musical instruments and dancing respectively. We start with these as a tribute to the Gandharvas (celestial musicians) and the Apsaras (celestial nymphs) who are the heavenly patrons of the arts of seduction. According to myth, when Kamadeva was incinerated by Shiva, all of his jobs were allocated to other celestials in order to keep ‘love’ alive. The Gandharvas and the Apsaras took on the responsibilities of music and dance. They perform in the court of Indra (the king of the heavens) and Indra has decreed that nothing shall exceed the Shringhar Rasa (erotic emotions) that this generates. We as human beings dance and play music to imitate the celestial seducers and their arts.
4 – Drawing
Drawing was a very important tool of seduction. Men were taught to draw portraits of the beloved as a technique of foreplay. ‘Keep paper and chalk handy and draw her’ – it focuses your attention on her, maintains eye contact and makes her feel very desirable.
Men and women painted the walls of the house to enhance and ornament it, particularly the rooms that were used for sex where scenes were painted to create the right mood. The Kama Sutra says that different types of women need different environments to really bring their passions to full arousal. For some women, sex was best at the water’s edge, for others it was a forest clearing. The water’s edge and the forest clearing were brought indoors through painted murals. In the story of Kadambari, when her lover Prince Chandrapala enters the apartment, he thinks he has wandered into the heavenly court of Indra which is hidden amongst the clouds – such realistic murals covered the walls of her bedroom that he became lost in wonder.
Another very popular method of mentally overpowering a recalcitrant lover was to cover the walls with portraits of yourself. When the potential lover entered, even if he or she wanted to keep a strict control over themselves they could not – because everywhere they turned they found themselves looking into the eyes of their seducer.
5 – Cutouts made from Leaf, Paper or Peels
Shapes were cut out from leaves, paper or peels to be used as forehead ornaments, as part of the Solah Shringhar. The most commonly used material was leaves. They were also used as shadow puppets. Two birds (or other animals) would be cut out and using their shadows on the wall the lover would tell his beloved love stories, ending with the animals (and lovers) coming together in a kiss. This was part of the entertainment and games that the lover was supposed to provide before sex.
6 and 7 – Adorning an Idol with Rice Powder and Flowers
Flower arrangements were used to beautify meeting places and personal apartments to make them more conducive to love games. The idols and temples of the God of Love were decorated with flowers and rangoli to invite blessings.
8 – Dyes and Colourants for the Body and Teeth
The body was rubbed with different coloured pastes for different occasions. To go out for a walk or to attend a performance where the lover would be present, the breasts were rubbed with a mixture of saffron and oil to give them a glow – particularly the cleavage. During lovemaking, the breast (or chest) would be rubbed with sandalwood paste which left a slightly whitish mark on the chest of the lover – the ancient Indian equivalent of ‘you’re mine and don’t you forget it’. The soles and sides of the feet were painted with red lac. As mentioned earlier, in the time of the Kama Sutra, colouring the teeth – red from red lac or black from black aloe paste or tobacco – was an ornamental art (shringhar) which all lovers would have practiced. Good quality teeth, the kind that you could give love bites with, would have a smooth shiny surface that could easily absorb colour.
9 and 10 – Decorating Floors and Bed Arrangements
The floor was decorated with mosaics of emeralds, chips or other stones. Low ‘beds’ would be placed in the middle of the room and covered with arrangements and people would sit on these for eating their meals. So it was more like the modern-day equivalent of laying a beautiful dining table where you entertained your lover.
11 and 12 – Playing Musical Bowls filled with Water and Water Squirting Games
Water-filled glasses have the ability to produce notes at 4,000 hertz, which is often beyond the range of the human ear, but one feels the vibrations resonating and so one can feel the impact of the music (rasa). Because of this, it was believed to have magical properties to arouse passions and so was extremely important as a seduction aid.
Water squirting games are associated with the Hindu festival of Holi and other festivals of the love god, Kamadeva. These games signified the onset of the rains which in India have always been associated with a romantic mood. In ancient and medieval literature, young men and women squirting coloured and scented water at each other brimmed with erotic overtones. The mixing of the coloured water with the right amount of fragrance was a special skill and was done in dedication to Kamadeva.
13 – Manicures
Knowledge of nail care was a must for both men and women. Scratching with the nails was one of the most important arts of foreplay (see chapter Scratching in the Art of Lovemaking). Nails had to be shaped and cared for in very specific ways. The nails of the left hand were used for scratching during sex and they were shaped to indicate your capabilities as a lover. As we have seen, for people of high sexual energy, the tip of the nails was filed into points like a saw; for medium sexual energy, it was a point like the beak of a parrot; and for those of dull energy, it was a semicircle like a crescent moon. Ornamented nails were a mark of beauty for both sexes.
14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 – Preparing Perfumes, Making Dresses, Garlands, Head Ornaments, Ear Ornaments and Other Jewelry
The arts of perfuming, dressing and the wearing of certain types of jewelry were skills of seduction and had very specific connotations. Every part of the body had to be fragranced with a different perfume because each perfume created its own impact on the senses.
Garlands of different flowers were worn for different purposes and occasions and were a very important part of men. To make love on a monsoon night, you wore a garland of kadamba flowers (it blossoms in the rain and therefore has erotic associations). But a garland of amaranth flowers also signified erotic desire (its petals are tougher and do not shed during embraces and lovemaking).
Each piece of jewelry, too, had its own significance. Certain pieces of jewellery were worn to indicate auspicious days, some were worn for specific sexual positions and some indicated age, availability and marital status. ‘Other Jewellery’ meant girdles and necklaces. Jingling girdles were worn by women and denoted a very superior sexual expertise. A nine-stringed necklace was worn for the ‘sitting’ position.
20, 21 and 22 – Magic, Charms, Mantras and Conjuring Tricks
Conjuring tricks were one of the suggested games of foreplay and also a prescribed form of entertainment at dinner parties – as a lover or a successful host, you would have to be very good at this.
The last chapter of the Kama Sutra is dedicated to magic and sorcery of all sorts. Any lover worth their salt would have had a very detailed knowledge of lotions and potions to ensnare the beloved, destroy a rival, enhance one’s beauty, and so on.
The arrows of Kamadeva are supposed to be strung on mantras or sound vibrations and you could use these mantras to enhance your seduction techniques. After the erogenous zones were stimulated, mantras were chanted to energize the arousal.
23 and 24 – Cooking and Preparing Drinks
The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? Not just a man’s heart. Cooking and the preparation of special drinks was an essential skill for men and women. It was about being a good host, which made you a desirable person to hang out with – a good party attracted the right kind of people which in turn made you a very desirable lover.
25, 26 and 27 – Needlework, Lacemaking and Plaiting Cane Baskets
Being skilled at needlework refers to making garments that made you look bigger or smaller – garments like bras to enhance breast size or corsets to nip the waist. Men wore layered clothes to make their muscles and the groin area look bigger.
Lacemaking was to make designs with crochet or net for ornamentation or bed hangings. Cane was plaited to make seats for lovemaking.
28 – Art of Playing the Veena and Drums
Music was essential during foreplay. Bedrooms had a whole assortment of musical instruments. Of these, the stringed instrument veena was the most important – it produced the right notes for the right mood.
29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38 – Conundrums, Completing Quotations, Riddles, Developing the Memory, Alternate Reciting of Texts, Puns, Knowledge of the Dictionary, Bookbinding, Storytelling, Quoting the Classics in Answering Questions
Intellect was sexy and brain games were a fashionable pastime at court as well as at parties with friends. Lovers were all the more desirable for their proficiency in these ‘brain games’. Incidentally, storytelling was the most important of all these skills. Stories were a very important tool of seduction and an essential part of the foreplay and the after-play. The Kama Sutra is very specific on the kind of stories to be told before and after sex. No toolbox of seduction was complete without a large collection of stories.
39 and 40 – Woodwork and Metallurgy
These skills were used in making artificial aids for sexual pleasure. The most desirable ones were made of wood or metal. The ability to make them meant you could customize them to your own personal specifications.
41, 42, 43, 44 and 45 – Vastu, Knowledge of Stones and Gems, Astrology, Mixing Metals, Interpreting Omens
All these can influence the constellations (grah) and the flow of cosmic energy and through that your vitality, health and your fortunes. For instance, Vastu can guide you on the best way to arrange your room as the season changes in order to increase your sexual energy. Gems, precious stones, minerals and metals are dug out of the womb of the earth or from the deep oceans and so carry the energies of the earth and water. Astrology helps to define your actions according to prevailing and future energies. Reading and understanding omens told you about auspicious and inauspicious days. No lover could afford to be without these skills.
46 – Breeding Trees and Plants
Trees and plants were supposed to have magical properties – they could give you everlasting youth, fulfil wishes, help you to remember your previous life, put your lover under your spell etc. They were also used for medicinal and ornamental uses.
47 – Quail and Cockfighting
This is probably one of the strangest skills listed in the Kama Sutra. Quail and cockfighting were part of the entertainment offered to friends after a convivial gathering. To throw a successful party – the sort of party everyone wanted to attend – marked you out as a cultured man, a man of class and money. This pushed you way up the ladder of desirable lovers.
48 – Teaching Mynahs and Parrots to Talk
Aside from being the companions of Kamadeva, parrots and mynahs were considered beautiful and intelligent creatures and were used to carry messages to the beloved or even in times of war. Men of the upper classes bred these birds and it was a part of the gentleman’s daily routine to spend at least an hour training mynahs and parrots to talk and sing.
49 – Massage
A massage included different types of touching. Massaging the beloved’s foot with your own was done in order to stimulate the erotic nerve in the big toe – playing footsie, in a manner of speaking. Massaging the head or hair was called hairdressing and included shampooing, plaiting and coifing the hair – very important for ornamentation and seduction. Massaging the body had its own language.
50, 51 and 52 – Sign Language, Foreign Languages, Regional Languages
These skills were useful to seduce new partners during your travels.
53 – Decorating Chariots
Similar to having a good car – it made you a desirable lover.
54 – Fabricating Machines
These were machines used to raise water – an important concern for any householder. A man or a woman who did not understand how to run a good house would not be a good lover.
55 and 56 – Poems & Verses
Poems were written in order to pay compliments in verse with creative use of metaphors and similes. Paying the proper compliment was an art.
57, 58 and 59 – Arts of Cheating, Disguise and Gaming
All lovers cheat, all love is a gamble – your proficiency is on how well you do it.
Disguise was an interesting concept in the Kama Sutra. To meet the lover you wore dark clothes on a moonless night or white clothes on a full moon night. It was not to hide yourself from other people, but rather from the eyes of Kamadeva, in case he struck you with more arrows and made you even more lovesick.
60 and 61 – Games of Chess, Children’s Games
To amuse the beloved with different games.
62 – Good Manners
Bad manners and shrewish behaviour were frowned upon. Refinement in your lovemaking and a deep understanding of the traditions of the time were indispensable.
63 – Arthashastra
A poor lover was to no one’s taste.
64 – Physical Exercise
Physical fitness was paramount. Wheezing, panting or coughing is not what one wants in a lover.
Vatsyayan finishes by saying such were the sixty-four skills that if a woman was left stranded without a husband in a foreign land, she could make a lucrative living out of teaching them. Or if a man lost his fortune he could teach the sixty-four skills to the members of society. Such was the demand for them that not only would he recoup his fortune, but would gain the respect of society as well.