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Investigations
Touchy text


Leave it to a Brit to bungle the world's most famous sex manual. Explorer and scholar Sir Richard Burton's 1883 translation of the Kamasutra, says Wendy Doniger, contains "lots of little errors that really start to add up." Burton mistranslated passages on the G-spot, downgraded women's role in sex, and diminished the importance of their pleasure, argues Doniger-who sets the record straight this spring with a new translation from Oxford University Press, co-translated with Harvard University's Sudhir Kakar.

"Burton's text is padded out and makes a lot of assumptions," the Mircea Eliade distinguished service professor of the history of religions told the London Independent. "He often fudges elements of the original. Things were added to make it easier to understand, but sometimes they were wrong." Part of the problem, she argues, was that Burton depended too much on a 13th-century commentary by a scholar named Yashodhara and not enough on Vatsyayana Mallanaga's original third-century Sanskrit text.

"The text knows all about the G-spot," she says. "It was always there in the Sanskrit, but a combination of misunderstanding from Yashodhara..., and [from] Burton himself, means that his translation gets further and further away from it." Burton's text instructs men to "always make a point of pressing those parts of her body on which she turns her eyes." That's not the way to find the G-spot, responds Doniger. "What the text says is that when a man is inside a woman and touches her and when her eyes roll around, he should touch her more in that place."

The original text also gives women all sorts of "privileges," she says, "that have been eroded from the Burton translation. Burton muted the importance of women's pleasure, he blurred it, chipped away at it."
-S.A.S.



  FEBRUARY 2002

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