PARIS, France – In the West, India’s Kama Sutra most often evokes an exotic bible of sexual positions regularly consulted for blush-inducing tips in glossy magazines.
However a new exhibition in Paris hopes to flip these misconceptions on their head.
For the first time, the Hindu text dating to roughly the fourth century is examined in an exhibition of some 350 sculptures, paintings and everyday items.
The aim, says Indian curator Alka Pande, is to show “it is not a dirty little book and that it is not (just) a book on sexual positions.”
“I want them to see it as a book of life, as a book of pleasure, as a book of celebrating the finer nuances of a great style of living and aesthetics,” she told Agence France-Presse.
In reality, the better-known erotic side of the Kama Sutra is only one of seven tomes in a compilation by Vatsyayana, a member of the highest priestly class of Hindu society.
The Kama Sutra looks at the third of four pillars of Hinduism which correspond to the different stages of life. Having learned morals and ethics, and attained professional success, one can focus on Kama, or desire, not just sexually, but in drawing pleasure from the arts, music and the enjoyment of life.
Bathed in warm colors of saffron, green and purple, the exhibit takes viewers on a journey through the 36 chapters of the work, which looks at society and social concepts, how to find and woo a wife, even how to arrange household furniture.
Pande explains that in traditional India, sexuality was a way to view the world, and the Western guilt around eroticism made a work like the Kama-Sutra hard to understand.
“It has no concept of sin, it has no concept that you have sex only for procreation, it is really about celebrating the good life,” she said.
This is also seen in the mythology surrounding Hindu’s pantheon of gods, each of whom has a consort.
“If in Christianity God is love, in India god makes love. The better lover a god is, the better god he is,” said Pinacotheque director Marc Restellini.