Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 63–100 | Cite as

The Incense Trees of the Land of Emeralds: The Exotic Material Culture of Kāmaśāstra

  • James McHugh


One of the many topics discussed in texts of kāmaśāstra is the ideal material environment for the pursuit of sensory pleasures. Later medieval texts describing the pursuit of pleasure and the typical lifestyle of the cultivated urban man focus in increasing detail on the informed consumption of certain luxury commodities, such as perfumes and gemstones. This pleasure-expertise was increasingly valued, such that by the twelfth century one encyclopedia of royal life, the Mānasollāsa, was effectively a vast textual monument to the masterful king’s capacity to enjoy the world. Not only were luxury raw materials subject to a discourse of connoisseurship, but in many cases the exotic nature of these materials was equally celebrated. This preoccupation with the exotic nature of luxury materials displays wide-ranging power at the center of consumption, whilst betraying a truly cosmopolitan fascination with remote, possibly unconquered lands of plenty, whose foreign and beautiful products were essential to the pursuit of erudite pleasures in temple and court alike.


Kāmaśāstra Nāgaraka Vidagdha Exotic Luxury Spices Aromatics 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of ReligionUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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