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Kama – The God of Love

“Kaman kanaigal tooviran” Kama showers his floral arrows, sings the maiden in love. Here he come all set to steal your heart, Kama, the god of love.

Oh! To be in love. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when short by Kama, the God of Love, are most welcome. Indeed, whether mere desire on montage or cerebral surrender, the concept is just as pleasing. Love! Add to it a precocious God with the charm and appearance of the perfect and the idea grows even more alluring.

The Eros of the Greek, the Cupid of the Latins is Kama in Hindu mythology. He churns the mind as he enters it and so, as the one who distracts, he is also known as Manmatha. Catching you unawares unseen, he is the same one who showers floral arrows and so is called Kushumesu. For the pain he causes he is reffered to as Mara or the one who wounds. But there is sweetness in that pain. No wonder then that Mara is also called Madana or the one who intoxicates.

One of the most beautiful descriptions of this God of love is of him being the first movement that arose in the one after it had come into life through the power of fervour or abstraction. In the older texts like the Atharva Veda Kamadeva is revered as the most superior of Gods representing not only amorous desire but all that is good.

Kama is worshipped for victory over one’s enemies. In later texts like the Puranas he appears in the form of the God of love like Eros and Cupid.

As is true for most deities of the Hindu pantheon, there are many stories of his birth. He is generally regarded as the son of Vishnu and Lakshmi in the incarnations of Krishna and Rukmini but in some places he is also described as the son of Brahma. Whichever way the story is told, there is no doubt that Kama was born very early in the story of creation.

If in the above version Kama was the cause for all creation as he stirred the primeval movement in nothingness, there is another version which believes that Brahma in the process of creation gave form to ten lesser deities desired her. The attention of all the lesser gods were transfixed on Sandhya. As personification of such desire, a handsome youth emerged from Brahma’s mind. He carried with him a floral bow.

He was desire. He was Kama. He shot five arrows: one that gladdened the heart, one that caused attraction, one that led to infatuation, one that weakened and one that was killing but in that pleasant kind of way.

Kama has been portrayed as a charmer. Not only was he physically handsome, he was also always ready to spread the message of love and joy. Story goes that soon after Kama came into being he went to Brahma and asked, Kam darpayani? (who should I please?). Then he acquired the name of Kandarpan. What answer did Kandarpan get? Brahma told him, “You move about everywhere in 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.”

That Kama has been more than doing his job is evident in India’s burgeoning population!

Not always do people appreciate Kama’s handiwork. Here is a story that is particularly evocative of the feeling. Brahma was meditating upon creation when a wispy feeling arose in him and a young girl emerged from his mind. This girl was Saraswati. Brahma married Saraswati and she is revered even today as the Goddess of Learning. When all this was over and Brahma was ready to meditate all over again, he realized that it was because of Kama that he had felt the surge of desire.

Instead of feeling responsible for his actions, he blamed it all on Kama. He cursed Kama, “you will be burnt to ashes by Shiva, “ he declared in anger.

So Kama became victim of Shiva’s anger. What Cupid has to go through all for the sake of love! When Shiva was grieving over the death of his wife Sati, the Gods persuaded Kama to try and work his magic on this fiery God. They wanted him to put an end to Shiva’s grieving and make him come alive to the realization that Sati had been born again in the form of Parvati who was waiting for him.

The devotees and other gods also said that the world had to be saved form a demon named Taraka, a task only Shiva’s son would be able to accomplish.

So Kama set to work. When his arrows pierced Shiva, he cast a loving glance at Parvati. But within a second realized this was somebody’s mischief. Shiva was enraged. How dare anyone have the presumption to disturb his meditation! He opened his third eye and the flame that shot out reduced Kama to ashes. He did try to put out the fire. But when he jumped into a river, the river bed dried up!

Rati, Kama’s wife, was having a hard time throughtout all this. Her grief led her to Parvati. Parvati was by now basking in Shiva’s attention. She too felt bad for the handsome lord but for whom she would not have been able to realize her love.

She assured Rati that her husband would be reborn and told her to wait for him at the house of the demon who he was destined to destroy in this new birth.

Time came for Kama to be reborn and this time he was born as Pradyumana. Rati found him again.

Kama’s craft became documented as an art in the treatise on love and love-making, the Kamasutra. In Hindu marriage rituals a part of the hymns refer to him. The hymn is taken from the Atharva veda.

Kama is usually represented as a beautiful youth holding in his hand a bow and arrow of flowers. Five kinds of flowers are strung together in his bow. He is believed to be forever travelling the three worlds accompanied by his wife Rati. Rati is the perfect match for Kama. In beauty she is unparalleled. Kama and Rati bring with them the cuckoo, the humming bee, spring and a gentle breeze. So when you go out into the garden and heart the cuckoo calling out to you, you know it is Kama visiting.