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A Sacred Exploration into The Kama Sutra

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Sir Richard F Burton

Sir Richard F Burton

Most people recognize Sir Richard F Burton simply as the man who translated The Kama Sutra into English. Yes, he did so but much, much more. He was very well respected in various other fields of endeavor including, but not limited to: fencing & diplomacy; linguistics, writing & translating; cartography, geography, Egyptology and ethnology; soldiering, pilgriming, exploring & worldwide traveling.

Sir Richard F Burton was born on March 19, 1821 and died on October 20, 1890. In his 69 years of life (the universe can be silly in that regard), he experienced and accomplished more than most others ever have or will. Here’s a partial list of his most notable feats: Burton was a Captain in the East Indian Company. He served in India as well as a later stint in the Crimean War. He was also commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society to lead an expedition of Africa’s east coast. He traveled with John Hanning Speke and they became the first Europeans to search Africa’s Great Lakes, looking for the Nile’s source. He became a Fellow of the RGS and was dubbed a Knight (KCMG) at age 65, four years before he died of a heart attack.

When Burton was 32, he planned and accomplished an authentic pilgrimage to Mecca, disguised as a native. At the time, most Europeans weren’t even aware of the pilgrimages. He was one of the first Europeans to ever accomplish this, and his writings of the experience have been famous ever since. The work is called Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah (1855-56).

Burton was fascinated with Egypt, and with sex. He delivered a brutally uncensored translation of Antoine Galland’s The Arabian Nights. This type of literature was looked upon by many in his conservative British society as pornography. In fact, there was the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 that promised hefty jail sentences to publishers of “filthy” literature. Burton, undeterred, proceeded to join forces with Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot and form a society of their own: The Kama Shastra Society. This society allowed its members to share access to books and publications that would be considered illegal in mainstream society.

And of course, Sir Richard F Burton did in fact translate The Kama Sutra into English; perhaps his best known (and most appreciated) accomplishment. He did this, too, with the assistance of Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot. The Kama Shastra Society first published their co-translation of the Kama Sutra in 1883. Sir Richard Francis Burton was a man on a mission to explore. He dedicated equal enthusiasm to his explorations of Africa’s east coast as he did to his explorations of writing. He was fascinated with sexual practices, leading many to question his own sexual identity and preferences. Regardless of his tastes, he was an astonishingly capable man who lived life to the fullest. He learned, explored, traveled, wrote and thought extensively – and always with obvious defiance toward censorship.