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The Kama Sutra is a raunchy sex manual - right? Well, yes, but it's also a fascinating philosophical work.

The Kama Sutra is an ancient Sanskrit text written some 1500 years ago that has gained the reputation of being a raunchy sex manual - which to some degree it is. But the chapter "On sexual union" is only one of seven that also deal with many other aspects of love and life. When viewed in context, it's a fascinating, practical guide not just to relationships between the sexes but to living an accomplished and fulfilled existence. And we can learn a lot from it, even now.

Originally written (or perhaps more properly, assembled) by the philosopher Vatsyayana, the Kama Sutra came to the attention of the English-speaking world following the publication of Sir Richard Burton's translation in 1883, which is the version we've adapted for this audio. An irascible and what one might call a "colourful" type, Burton took a keen interest in the sexual mores of the countries he explored in Africa and the Middle and Far East, and he wasn't squeamish about trying some of them out. "Sir," he was once reported as telling a priest, "I have committed every sin in the Decalogue." And he probably had.

On his death, he was engaged in translating another well-known erotic work; The Perfumed Garden. Of course, the Society for the Suppression of Vice was quickly onto him (this was after all the Victorian era, when a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking), but Burton got round the strict laws governing pornography by having the Kama Sutra privately published for the Kama Shastra Society, which he formed especially for the purpose. And so the text has come down to us.

Being originally written in a male-dominated society, the female partner is regarded as very much the second-class citizen - but not quite as much as one might expect.

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