Danielou's French translation of the Kama sutra

Jean Fezas jean.fezas at wanadoo.fr
Fri Apr 4 09:34:50 UTC 1997

At 03:01 04/04/1997 BST, G Thomson wrote:

>Well, it appears that Jean Fezas has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt
>that Danielou was no Sanskritist [D's translation of KS 1.2.23 is
>eye-opening, though I find myself more amused than aghast: D's
>interpretations of "adya" and "zvaH" look almost like bad puns!].

Sure... Adya : "eatable" and svar : "sky"... 

>As for D's gloss [rather than translation?] of puruSAyita, perhaps it is
>driven to some extent by D's "personal preferences", but it appears from
>his English translation of both the Sanskrit and Hindi commentaries that
>these commentators understood this chapter more or less as D did. [Can you
>verify this, JF?]

For the transcription of the KS, I used two editions of the KS :
The first was published in saMvat 1991 (1935), in Bombay, par gaGgAviSNu
zrIkRSNadAsa, owner of the lakSmIveGkatezvara sTIm pres (i.e. steam press),
it was 'for private circulation only' ! and includes in its two volumes : 
The text : zrIvAtsyAyanamaharSipraNItaM kAmasUtram, 
Yazodhara's commentary : zrIyazodharaviracitayA jayamaGgalAkhyavyAkhyayA
And the vernacular gloss (bhASA-TIkA) of a "non specialized (?) independant
research scholar", a certain paNDita mAdhavAcArya :
sarvatantrasvatantra-risarca-skAlar  paNDita mAdhavAcArya-nirmitayA
puruSArtha-prabhAkhyA-bhASA-TIkayA TIppaNIbhiz ca vibhUSitam

The second is the well-known Kashi Sanskrit Series 29, the kAmasUtram of
zrI vatsyAyAna muni... edited with Hindi Commentary by zrI devaduTTa
zAstrI, VaranasI, 1964. (To which refers A. Daniélou's translation : Kâma
sûtra, le bréviaire de l'amour, commentaire Jayamagalâ en sanskrit de
Yashodhara; extraits d'un commentaire en hindi de Devadatta Shâstrî.

I happened to make occasional references to both hindI commentaries in the
French notes of my transcription, more often to Yazodhara's gloss or
remarks, the problem is that none of these commentators undertands the
chapter in question (purUSAyita) like D. 
	It seems clear from the text and the commentaries that, when her lover is
a bit exhausted, a woman can, with his consentmen.t (2.8.1) or not (2.8.2),
or on his demand(2.8.3) come on top of him. 
Let's take a look at the following :
2.8.4 tatra yukta-yantreNaivetareNotthApyamAnA tam adhaH pAtayet. evaM ca
ratam avicchinnarasaM tathA pravRttam eva syAt. ity eko 'yaM mArgaH.
D. "Elle est décidée à l'unir à l'instrument qu'elle lui introduit dans le
cul de façon à ce qu'il prenne goût (Rasa) à un plaisir (Rata) après
l'autre. Cela est une des façons de procéder."
For those who do not read French :
"She is decided to unite him to the tool she is busy introducing into his
ass, so as to make him taste (rasa) one pleasure (rata) after the other.
That is one of the ways to proceed."

	This kind of remedy to impotency  (seasoned with some spices) may be
familiar to the readers of Petronius Arbiter (Satyricon CXXXVIII) but this
classical practice (only used in cases of emergency) has nothing to do with

If we take a look at yazodhara' commentary :
tatreti -- puruSAyite / dvividhaH kramaH / tatrAyaM prathamo
yukta-yantreNaivAparityakta-zalya-saMyogenaiva itareNa nAyakena
tryasra-sthitenAsInena cotthApyamAnA bAhu-pAza-saMdAnitA saty upari
kriyamANA taM nAyakam avapAtayed iti / evaM sati ratam avicchinna-rasaM
tathA pravRttam eva syAt / yantraM vizleSya punaH saMdhAne ratam apUrvam
eva syAt ...
The gloss makes it clear that he woman gets on top of her lover keeping his
penis inside of her (a-parityakta-zalya-saMyogena ... nayakena), and that
in consequence there is no interruption in sensation, which would not be
the case otherwise.
The HindI commentary just gives a (poetical) confirmation: puruSa-kA
sAdhana us-ke madana-maMdira-se alag na hone pAe ([this way], the
instrument of the male has not the possibility of being separated from her
'love-palace'... [KSS29 p.340]

>My sense is that D relied heavily on the Hindi commentary, and was not
>interested or perhaps even prepared to offer a literal translation of
>vAtsyAyana's KS.
D. did not rely heavily on Sk. or Hindi commentaries.  He was not
interested at all in the Kama-sutra. He relied on his own obsessions and
was only interested in promoting them. 

>Of course, I accept the distinction that Jean Fezas makes between fiction
>and translation, and now that I have access to the Sanskrit text [thanks to
>JF!] I know not to trust D's translation.  But I'm inclined to be tolerant,
>since I still believe that D knew more or less what vAtsyAyana was talking
>about [though I do not defend his translation, by any means!].

I believe that erotism and erotical practices, are an important part of any
civilization. That the kAma-sUtra is one of the keys to understand the
relation between men and women in ancient and in modern India. To try to be
an indologist is also to warn against translations which distort the texts
to make them fit to the religious, political, or sexual obsessions of the

>General question: can one be a bad philologist, but still a good Indologist
>in some sense?
My answer : a bad philologist cannot be a good indologist in any sense; but
a good philologist can still not be a good indologist :-)

NB1. For the collectors, another recent french 'translation' of the KS
exists : Les Kâma-sûtra, Vâtsyâyana, Traduit du Sanskrit et présenté par
Jean Papin, Zulma, 1991 "Publié avec le concours du Centre Régional des
Lettres Midi-Pyrénées" [?] Its only relation with the sanskrit original is
a photocopy of the first page of the text in the Kashi Sanskrit Series
edition of the text (Varanasi, 1964), otherwise it owes most of its
substance to Burton / Arbuthnot's translation.

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