Kama, or Kamadeva, is the god of Love in Hinduism. He has many similarities with the Greek god Eros and Roman god Cupid. Surprising, isn’t it? Or maybe not… perhaps love and desire are just the same, no matter where in the world they are found.
Kama, however, represents a much more abstract and subtle power than just erotic desire. The earliest mention of Kama, or desire, is in the sacred Rig Veda as the very first wave of creation:
“In the beginning, darkness was hidden by darkness with no distinguishing sign; all of this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness arose through the power of heat. Desire (kama) arose in It in the beginning; that was the first seed of the mind. Wise Sages seeking in their hearts, with wisdom, found it to be the bond that connects existence with non-existence.” (Rig Veda 10. 129).
Thus Kama, or desire, in its essence is the very first pulse of the mind’s movement that reveals the life force and leads to the creation of the world, and it is that pulse that wise people recognize as a bridge from existence to non-existence, or the beyond. However, in less subtle forms, Kama is described as a deity who is responsible for romantic love and sexual desire, which is symbolized by his wife, Rati (sexual passion).
Kama is a personification of Lord Vishnu. He is described as a beautifully winged youth with greenish skin, holding a bow while a quiver with arrows hangs on his back. His bow is made of sugar cane and its string is made of a line of honey bees. His arrows are made of 5 types of flowers, his vehicle is a green parrot and he is accompanied by his wife Rati (sexual desire) , Vasant (spring personified) and a gentle breeze.
His story is mentioned in various Puranas with a few versions. We will describe the main stories here:
According to the Shiva Purana, Kamadeva was born from the mind of Brahma. According to another story, he was the son of Shri (Lakshmi).
The Shiva Purana explains that right after he was born from Brahma’s mind, Kama stood in front of his creator and asked ”Kam darpayani?”, or “whom shall I please?” By this famous question he acquired the name Kandarpa, and this was his father’s answer:
“You should move around this world engaged in the eternal work of creation with the five arrows of flowers in your hands and thus multiply the population. Not even the gods will be able to obstruct your arrows.”
After creating Kama from his mind, Brahma went into a deep meditation as he contemplated on creation, which was still in a chaotic form, not knowing how to proceed further. At that time Saraswati, his female energy, emerged from his mouth (some Puranas describe that she came from his forehead) , wearing white sari and holding a Vina. Although Saraswati came into being and sat on his side, Brahma was still engaged in deep meditation.
It was Kamadeva who then shot his flower arrows into Brahma’s heart. Brahma’s meditation was disturbed and he opened his eyes and saw Saraswati on his side, and a strong desire for her arose in him. Although she was his daughter, the arrows of Kama made him forget the rational thinking and he wanted to engage in love with her. Saraswati was angered because her opulence should not be used for satisfying the senses but to elevate the spirit, and she cursed Brahma that no temples will be built on his name.
Brahma’s lust and Saraswati’s anger disturbed the serenity of the world and destracted Lord Shiva from his meditation. He immediately sensed Saraswati’s agitation and expressed his anger towards Brahma. Shiva’s anger brought Brahma back to his rational mind, causing him to repent. Recognizing that it all happened due to the influence of Kama’s arrow, he cursed Kama to be burned into ashes by Shiva. Kama pledged and his father assured him that, although he will be burnt, he will reborn again.
At around the same time, Kama was presented with his wife, Rati who was born from the passionate Prajapatis’ sweat, and together they had a child, Harsha (Joy).
Kama disturbs Lord Shiva’s Meditation
After some time, the Gods were bewildered by a demon named Taraka, who could be defeated only by a son of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was childless and was still bemoaning the death of his beloved wife Sati. Brahma advised that if Parvati, who was in fact Sati born in a new body, would woo Lord Shiva, their offspring would be able to defeat Taraka. Kamadeva was assigned with the task to interrupt Shiva’s meditation and make him fall in love with Parvati. To make sure that all went well, he for his help his wife Rati and Vasant, the Lord of Spring. Vasant created a romantic spring environment and then Kama tricked Shiva’s guard by taking the form of a gentle breeze and thus entered the ashram where he shot his love arrows into Shiva’s heart, disturbing Lord Shiva’s meditation. With great anger he opened his third eye and burned Kama to ashes. However, while Shiva was opening his eyes he saw Parvati in front of him and fell in love with her. They married and their child, Kartikeya was beautiful and powerful, and when he was less than a week old, he killed the demon Taraka.
Watch the beautiful Kathak dance describing how Kama and Rati disturbed Shiva’s meditation:
Rati, Kama’s wife, was terribly distraught by his death. She begged Parvati to plead to Lord Shiva to restore her husband’s life. Out of his affection for Parvati Shiva agreed, but with one stipulation: Kama would not be able to assume a physical body and he would roam in the world to spread love and desire in his spirit form only. For this reason Kama is also known by the name Ananga or “one without body”.
Kama incarnates as Pradyumna
Parvati also told Rati, that her husband Kama will take a body again later on as a son of Krishna and Rukmini, and will be named Pradyumna. “At that time you will be able to rejoin your husband if you will take the position of a maid servant at the house of the demon Sambara,” Parvati said.
Rati was glad to hear the news, and after her death she incarnated as Mayavati, the maidservant of Sambara. The demon Sambara learned from Narada that Pradyumna, the baby boy of Krishna and Rukmini, will kill him. The demon kidnapped the baby and threw him into the ocean where a big fish swallowed him. Fishermen caught the fish and sold it to the cooks of Sambara. When the belly of the fish was cut open, a beautiful baby was discovered and he placed in the care of Mayavati. Mayavati raised the boy and as he grew, she expressed great sexual attraction to him rather than motherly affection. The boy asked his mother in wonder: “My dear mother, how is it that you express feelings that are not befitting a mother?” Mayavati explained to Pradyumna that he was not her son but the god Kama who was born as Pradyumna, the son of Krishna and Rukmini, and was kidnapped by Sambara. In fact, she is his wife, Rati, who came to join him in this incarnation. She also described to him how his parents were probably still grieving his loss. Hearing this, Pradyumna, filled with anger and challenged Sambara to fight. He killed the demon and, along with Mayavati, went back to Dwaraka. When he arrived in Dwaraka, all were impressed by his beauty and his resemblance to Krishna, but they did not recognize him as he was mere a baby when he was kidnapped. It was his mother Rukmini who recognized him because of the strong motherly feelings that she started to sense for him.
Listen here to the narration of Pradyumna’s story from the Bhagavata Purana:
Listen here to the Kamadeva Gayatri Mantra. This mantra is prayed in praise of Kamadeva and to invoke his blessings.