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Susanne Kurz
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LAḎḎAT AL-NESĀʾ , title of various renderings in prose and verse of an erotological treatise of Indic origin into Persian, the oldest such work being attributed to the Češtī Sufi (see ČESTIYA) Żiāʾ-al-Din Naḵšabi (q.v.; d. ca. 751/1350).

The oldest Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ text in Persian prose has been attributed to the Češtī Sufi Żiāʾ-al-Din Naḵšabi, who had migrated to India from Transoxiana. Naḵšabi lived and died in Badaun (Uttar Pradesh). He possibly practiced as a physician and is known for his Persian writings and translations from Sanskrit works, encompassing religious, literary and medical texts (Moḥaddeṯ Dehlavi, pp. 204-212; Ṣafā, vol. 3/2, pp. 1293-1296; Berthels). The treatise, however, is absent from the lists of Naḵšabi’s works in the biographical literature, although it seems to bear his mark in combining aspects of his otherwise known literary production, not only in terms of content but also, e.g., by the mention of his name in verses interspersed in some of the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ manuscripts. The fact that Naḵšabi is not so prominent a writer that the attribution to his name would enhance the prestige of the work makes it even more likely that the original version of the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ was authored by him. However, the manuscript tradition is too complex to ascertain Naḵšabi’s original contribution with any precision.

Figure 1. Folio with illustration from Wellcome MS Persian 223, Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)Figure 1. Folio with illustration from Wellcome MS Persian 223, Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)View full image in a new tab

There are different groups of manuscripts attributing the Laḏḏat-al-nesāʾ to Naḵšabi, but with varying contents and copied at relatively late dates (17th century onwards), and works by the same title, but adapting completely different sources, as well as anonymous manuscripts and manuscripts with different titles that still belong to the Naḵšabi tradition based on their contents. Therefore, any study of the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ first has to examine the actual contents of any given manuscript. Due to the mostly scarce data given in manuscript catalogues, it is often impossible to tell if, e.g., a manuscript by a generic title such as Bāh-nāme or even bearing the title of a different, yet contentually similar work like Alfiya va šalfiya is, in fact, rather part of the Naḵšabi tradition of the Laḏḏa -al-nesāʾ.

The exact identity and contents  of the source text(s) is also unclear. Commonly, it is assumed that the original work is the Sanskrit treatise Ratirahasya (The secret of the art of love) by the pandit Kokkoka/Kōkā, also known as Koka-śāstra (The teachings of Kōkā), as the Laḏḏat-al-nesā’ is described as a translation of the “book of Kōkā” in most manuscripts. Yet we still lack a reliable critical edition of the Ratirahasya, and its basic data (e.g. regional provenance, time of composition) are controversial. Besides, there are more works that include characteristic elements of the Ratirahasya (Mylius, pp. 13-14; Schmidt, pp. 29, 52, 76), most prominently the Anaṅgaraṅga (The stage of the god of love), also titled Koka-śāstra (Schmidt, p. 44). In addition, translations of the Ratirahasya into vernacular languages did exist (Schmidt, pp. 64-65) and could have been the actual sources of the Persian adaptations.

This wider Koka-śāstra tradition and the Naḵšabi tradition of the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ share several characteristic topics: the four types of women (padmini, čitrini, sankhini, hastini), the erogenous zones (“phases of the moon”), general characteristics of women, foreplay and positions for sexual intercourse, etc. The Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ presents a rearranged and abbreviated version of these contents while at the same time adding new material and sometimes dropping elements crucial to the notion of pleasure and satisfaction in the Indic traditions like the classification of men and women into animal types according to the size of their sexual organs (for the significance of this element in the Kāma Sutra, see Doniger, pp. 67-69).

The first of three manuscript groups analysed by this author integrates the source material into a larger Islamicate discourse on controlling women as a means of preserving male authority (here by inducing pleasure through sexual skills and potency) and widens the geographical scope. The second group incorporates the treatise explicitly into the “knowledge of coitus” (ʿelm-e b āh) genre and introduces Muslim medical material. Here and in the third group, sexual pleasure is also merged with a more aesthetic vein, showing in (not always explicitly erotic) illustrations and verse quotations, and linked with entertainment (Kurz, 2018a, 2018b). Despite the usually inferior quality of the illustrations, the aesthetic aspect clearly relates to the notion of sexual pleasure as part of a refined lifestyle and an “art” pertaining to self-mastery (cf. Ramos, pp. 419-20).

The introductory story with its notion of a sexually (almost) insatiable woman as an embodiment of male fantasy and anxiety, challenging male identity and supremacy by linking it to a man’s ability to provide her with sexual satisfaction, taken over from the Koka-śāstra tradition, may also have placed the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ in the wider context of the “wiles of women” sub-genre (cf., e.g., Najmabadi 1999) in the minds of readers well-versed in Islamicate adab literature. This reading is suggested by the insertion of related adab stories in some versions of the treatise. Yet in the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ, male supremacy prevails with a complete subjugation of the unruly woman – if only by living up to the challenge and, thereby, implicitly confirming the standards set by it (cf. Doniger about similar notions in the Kāma Sutra).

The enrichment of the most voluminous versions of the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ by material from medical, ethical, adab, and erotic literature connects them to most of the notable genres that provide solutions for the perceived problem of controlling women. A link between virility and power displayed in sexual imagery is well-documented elsewhere (e.g., Ramos, pp. 424-25), suggesting a similar subtext for the main body of the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ based on the courtly setting and themes of the introductory story that frames the treatise. However, the varying eclectic blends of contents in the various versions of the Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ call for further scrutiny of their exact interplay.

Although the title Laḏḏat al-nesāʾ has already been mentioned in an erotological treatise from 1516 that includes similar material (Kurz, 2018c), there are also later traditions, partly in verse, ascribed to Moḥammad Šāh Jāmi and Faqir-Allāh b. Moḥammad ʿAziz, both active in the 17th century.


  • Manuscripts of La ḏḏat al-nesāʾ.
  • Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, MS Sprenger 1657.
  • Copenhagen, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, MS XXXVII/1.
  • Islamabad, Ganj Baḫš, MS 3949.
  • London, British Library, MS IO Islamic 908/4.
  • Illustrated manuscripts.
  • Bethesda, National Library of Medicine, MS P 24/1.
  • Islamabad, Ganj Baḫš, MS 791.
  • Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, MS Or. 14.588.
  • Leiden, Bibliotheek Universiteit Leiden, MS Or. 14.587.
  • London, Wellcome Library, MS Persian 223.
  • Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS supp. persan 1804.
  • Manuscript Illustrations Available Online.
  • Library of Kufa Collection MS, available at Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran Digital Archive, Middle Eastern Division, Widener Library, Harvard Library, (last accessed 7 February 2022).
  • London, Wellcome Library, MS Persian 223, (available at, last accessed 7 February 2022).
  • Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS supp. Persan 1804, (available at, last accessed 7 February 2022.
  • Selection of Relevant Manuscript Catalogues.
  • E. Blochet, Catalogue des manuscrits persans de la Bibliothèque nationale, 2 vols., Paris 1905-34.
  • F. Keshavarz, A Descriptive and Analytical Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London, 1986.
  • A. F. Mehren, Codices Persici, Turcici, Hindustanici Variique Alii Bibliothecae Regiae Hafniensis, Hafniae (Copenhagen), 1857.
  • Arif Naushahi, comp., and Moḥammad Bāher, ed.,  Fehrest-e nos ḵahā-ye ḵaṭṭi-e fārsi-e Āršiv-e melli-e Pākestān, Eslāmābād: ganjina-ye Mofti Fażl ʿAẓim Bihravi/Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the National Archives of Pakistan , Islamabad: Muftī Fal ‘Aẓīm Bihravī Collection), Tehran, 2012.
  • C. Rieu, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum II, London, 1881 (online edition, Halle, 2011).
  • C. A. Storey, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey II/part 2, E: Medicine, London, 1971.
  • J. J. Witkam, Inventory of the Oriental Manuscripts of the Library of the University of Leiden XV: Manuscripts Or. 14.001-Or. 15.000, Registered in Leiden University Library in the Period between August 1973 and June 1980, Leiden, 2007.
  • Studies.
  • E. Berthels, “Nak̲h̲s̲h̲abī,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 2012 [1992/3], s.v. (available at; accessed 21 February 2020).
  • W. Doniger, “Reading the ‘Kamasutra’: The Strange and the Familiar,” Daedalus, 2007, 66-78.
  • Susanne Kurz, “Żiyāʾ al-Din Naḫšabī, Laḏḏat al-nisā” in Fabrizio Speziale, C. W. Ernst, and Eva Orthmann, chief eds., “Perso-Indica: An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions,”, 2018a (available at; accessed 21 February 2020).
  • S. Kurz, “Wie man mit Frauen fertig wird: Ein indo-persischer Ratgeber,” Online-Publikationsservice der Universität Tübingen, August 2018b, available at (accessed on 21 February 2020).
  • S. Kurz, “Maḥmud or Muḥammad(-i) Ayāz, Miftāḥ al-surūr-i ʿ Ā dil-Šāhī,” in Fabrizio Speziale, C. W. Ernst, and Eva Orthmann, chief eds., “Perso-Indica: An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions,”, 2018c (available at; accessed 21 February 2020).
  • ʿA. Moḥaddeṯ Dehlavi, Aḵbār al-aḵyār fi asrār al-abrār, ed. ʿAlim Ašraf Ḵān, Tehran, 1383 Š./2004.
  • A. Najmabadi, “Reading And Enjoying ‘Wiles of Women’ Stories as a Feminist,” in The Uses of Guile: Literary and Historical Moments, Iranian Studies 32/2, Spring 1999, pp. 203-22.
  • K. Mylius, ed., Das Ratirahasya des Kokkoka und der Anaṅgaraṅga des Kalyāṇamalla: zwei indische Lehrbücher der Liebeskunst, Wiesbaden 2009.
  • I. Ramos, “‘Private Pleasures’ of the Mughal Empire,” Art History 37/3, June 2014, pp. 408-27.
  • Ḏ. Ṣafā, Tāri -e adabiyāt dar Irān: Az awāʾel-e qarn-i haftom tā pāyānei qarn-e haštom-i hejrī, III/2, 3rd ed., Tehran, 1363 Š./1984.
  • R. Schmidt, Beiträge zur indischen Erotik: das Liebesleben des Sanskritvolkes, 3rd ed., Halle, 1911.
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