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svairini – an independent or “liberated” woman. The term svairini appears throughout the 4th century AD Kama Sutra, referring to a woman who refuses marriage, earns her own livelihood, and takes what is delicately referred to as “the virile (i.e. dominant) role” in sexual activity with men, or with other women.

Yashodhara’s commentary on the Kama Sutra states:

A woman known for her independence, with no sexual bars, and acting as she wishes, is called svairini. She makes love with her own kind.

Alain Danielou, in his translation of the Kama Sutra translates svairini directly as ‘lesbian’. Some older Sanskrit dictionaries render svairini as ‘prostitute’ or ‘unchaste woman’, however the suggestion remains that a svairini is a woman who follows her own course.