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An Illustration from the Kama Sutra of Kumari and King in Coitus
Erect Man with Blue Hat
Illustration from the Kama Sutra

Artist/maker unknown, Nepalese

Made in Nepal, Asia
Probably made in Bhaktapur, Nepal, Asia

Late 18th century

Colors on paper

Image: 13 1/4 × 11 inches (33.7 × 27.9 cm) Sheet: 14 5/8 × 12 inches (37.1 × 30.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of John Hafenrichter, 2000

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This image is probably an illustration of a Nepalese version of the Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian text. According to one strain of Hindu philosophy, seeking love or pleasure (kama in Sanskrit) is one of life's three great objectives, the other two being the pursuit of religion and morality (dharma) and material prosperity (artha). Contrary to popular understanding, only a third of the Kama Sutra discusses erotica (although this is the most frequently illustrated part of the text). The other two-thirds of the book counsels readers on a number of social graces, such as courting a wife and the arts of physical enhancement like makeup and jewelry. In Nepal, for example, the distinctive red forehead makeup worn by each woman in these paintings relates to mother-goddess worship, and the gold, banana-shaped tayo necklace one woman wears is traditionally placed on brides and deities.

The sexual lives of these royal or divine couples may be related to Nepalese beliefs regarding the prosperity of their kingdoms. The magnificent architecture seems to refer to actual buildings in the royal square of Kathmandu, including the palace of the living goddess Kumari and towers dedicated to Hanuman, the protective monkey-god. In Nepal, where wealth is based on agriculture, the fertility of a deified king and queen is equated with the fortune of the kingdom.