Kamadeva: The Divine Archetype of Love

Kamadeva: The Divine Archetype of Love

Kama, also known as Kamadeva and Manmatha, is a significant deity in Hinduism, representing erotic love, desire, pleasure, and beauty. He’s often depicted alongside his partner, Rati. Kama appears as a charming young man adorned with ornaments and flowers, wielding a bow made of sugarcane and shooting flower-tipped arrows. In the Atharva Veda, he’s revered as the wielder of the universe’s creative power, unmatched by gods or ancestors. According to Puranic literature, Kama is considered the mind-born son of the creator god Brahma. One of his most famous stories is his demise when Shiva, while meditating, incinerated him with his third eye. Later, he was reborn on earth as Pradyumna, the eldest son of Krishna and Rukmini.


Kama-deva, a significant figure in Hindu mythology, embodies the essence of love and desire. The name itself reflects his role as the god of love, where “Deva” signifies divine or heavenly, and “Kama” represents desire, especially in the context of sensual or sexual love. This concept finds mention in ancient Hindu scriptures like the Rigveda.

Beyond being known as Kama-deva, he is referred to by various other names, each highlighting different aspects of his character and influence:

Kama: Symbolizing desire and longing.
Manmatha: Describing his ability to stir or agitate the mind.
Madana: Indicating his power to intoxicate with love.
Mara: Reflecting his capacity to inflict wounds, possibly of love.
Ananga: Suggesting his formlessness or lack of a physical body.
Kushumeshara: Noting his arrows, which are likened to flowers.
Pradyumna: Denoting his ability to conquer all, also associated with his reincarnation.
Kandarpa or Darpaka: Given by Brahma, emphasizing his role as the inflamer of desires.
Manasija, Manoja, and Bhavaja: Signifying his birth from the mind.
Ratikanta or Ratipati: Highlighting his relationship as the husband of Rati, the goddess of love.
Abhirupa: Acknowledging his beauty, shared with deities like Vishnu and Shiva.
These names collectively depict Kamadeva’s multifaceted nature and his central position in Hindu mythology as the divine embodiment of love and desire.

Visual Representation


Kamadeva is depicted as a youthful and attractive man who carries a bow and arrows. His bow is crafted from sugarcane, while his arrows are adorned with five types of sweet-smelling flowers. These flowers include the white lotus, Ashoka tree blossoms, Mango tree blooms, Jasmine blossoms, and blue lotus flowers. In Sanskrit, they are known as Aravinda, Ashoka, Choota, Navamallika, and Neelotpala respectively. A very old terracotta statue of Kamadeva can be found in the Mathura Museum in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Kamadeva is associated with various symbols of springtime, including a cuckoo, a parrot, buzzing bees, the arrival of spring, and gentle breezes. These symbols reflect the celebration of his festival known as Holi, Holika, or Vasanta.

Sacred Texts

The tales of the Hindu god Kamadeva can be found in ancient scriptures like the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, but they’re most commonly known through the stories in the Puranas.

Kamadeva’s legend extends to various cultural texts, including the 12th-century Javanese poem Smaradahana. This poem recounts the myth of Kamadeva being burnt by Shiva and subsequently falling from heaven to earth. In Javanese literature, Kamadeva and his consort Rati are referred to as Kamajaya and Kamarati.

Additionally, Kamadeva’s exploits are depicted in Kakawin poetry and later in Wayang narratives, further enriching his lore across different cultural traditions.


The story of Kamadeva’s birth varies across different Hindu scriptures. According to the Taittiriya Brahmana and the Mahabharata, he’s described as the son of Dharma, the god of righteousness, and his wife Shraddha or Lakshmi. In another version from Puranic scriptures like the Shiva Purana and others, Kamadeva is one of the mind-born sons of Brahma, the creator god. In this narrative, Brahma creates him to spread love in the world, but Kamadeva’s first act is to shoot Brahma with his love arrows. This leads to Brahma cursing Kamadeva to be burnt to ashes by Shiva in the future, though Brahma promises him rebirth. Another version in the Skanda Purana depicts Kamadeva created by Brahma to ignite passion in the prajapatis after they refused to procreate.

In some traditions, Kamadeva is considered the son of the goddess Lakshmi and the god Vishnu, due to his later birth as Pradyumna to Rukmini and Krishna, incarnations of Lakshmi and Vishnu respectively. According to the Matsya Purana, Kamadeva has a historical relationship with Vishnu-Krishna.

Divine Companions

In ancient stories called epics and Puranas, they talk about a goddess named Rati. She’s known as the partner and main helper of Kamadeva, who represents love and desire. Rati is like his female counterpart, symbolizing pleasure and attraction.

According to different Puranas like the Kalika Purana and Shiva Purana, Rati has a couple of origin stories. One says she came from a tiny drop of sweat from Prajapati Daksha, who Brahma asked to find a wife for Kamadeva. Another story says Vishnu brought her back to life as Rati after she died as Sandhya because Brahma desired her.

In some versions, Kama, the god of love, gets hit by his own love arrows when he sees Rati. They’re said to have two kids named Harsha and Yashas, but in the Vishnu Purana, they only have one son named Harsha.

Apart from Rati, Kamadeva also has a helper named Vasanta, who’s the god of the spring season. Brahma created Vasanta. Kamadeva is also followed by a group of fierce beings called the Maras.

He leads a bunch of celestial nymphs called apsaras, who Indra, the king of heaven, often sends to disrupt sages’ meditation so they won’t gain divine powers.

Shiva’s Act

In an ancient tale, there’s a myth about Kama, the god of love, getting burned by Shiva, known as the Madana-bhasma or Kama dahana. It’s told vividly in the Matsya Purana and has variations in other Puranas too.

Here’s the story: Indra and the gods faced trouble from an asura named Tarakasura. He got a boon that only Shiva’s unborn child could defeat him. So, the gods planned for Shiva to have a son with Parvati. Indra sent Kamadeva to interrupt Shiva’s meditation. Kamadeva, using his powers, brought an untimely spring to set the mood. He turned into a breeze to slip past Shiva’s guard, Nandi, and entered Shiva’s place.

Kamadeva shot a flower arrow at Shiva to awaken him. But Shiva got furious and opened his third eye, burning Kamadeva instantly to ash. Shiva then saw Parvati, impressed by her devotion. She asked Shiva to bring Kamadeva back to life. Shiva agreed but as a disembodied spirit, roaming with his wife, Rati. Later, Shiva and Parvati had a son named Kartikeya, who eventually defeated Taraka.

Divine Manifestation

According to the Garuda Purana, several notable figures are considered incarnations of Kama, the god of love. These include Pradyumna and Samba, who are Krishna’s sons, Sanat Kumara, the son of Brahma, Skanda, the son of Shiva, Sudarshana (the deity of the Sudarshana Chakra), and Bharata. The story of Kamadeva’s incineration is mentioned in the Matsya Purana and Bhagavata Purana, indicating a connection between Krishna and Kamadeva. In this tale, Kama is reborn as Pradyumna in the womb of Krishna’s wife, Rukmini, after being burnt to ashes by Shiva.

Faith and Worship

In Hindu belief, Kamadeva, the god of love, and his partner Rati, are part of the Vedic-Brahmanical deities like Shiva and Parvati. During wedding ceremonies, it’s common to paint pictures of Suka, Kamadeva’s parrot vehicle, on the bride’s feet. Rituals dedicated to Kamadeva are seen as a way to cleanse oneself and reintegrate into the community. Worshipping Kamadeva is believed to help keep desires aligned with religious teachings. Kamadeva is featured in various tales and worshipped by those seeking health, beauty, spouses, or children. In one legend, Kamadeva himself falls prey to desire and has to worship his beloved to break free from its grip and the associated curse.

Ceremonies and Festivities

Holi is a vibrant Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian subcontinent, known for its colorful festivities and joyous atmosphere. It’s also referred to as Madana-Mahotsava or Kama-Mahotsava. Its origins trace back to ancient times, mentioned in writings like the Purvamimamsa-sutra by Jaimini around 400 BC.

The Ashoka tree holds significance in Hindu culture and is often planted near temples. It symbolizes love and is dedicated to Kamadeva, the god of love and desire. This tree’s presence adds to the spiritual ambiance around temples, connecting worshippers with the essence of love and devotion.

Gaudiya Tradition

In the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, Krishna is seen as the original Kamadeva in Vrindavana. Kamadeva later reincarnates as Krishna’s son Shamba after being burnt by Shiva. Shamba, begotten by Krishna, shares similar qualities with Krishna, like his appearance and attributes. However, he’s not the same as Vishnu’s manifestation called Shamba but an individual soul with celestial powers, an emanation of Vishnu’s prowess.

The Kamadeva burned by Shiva is believed to be a celestial demigod who incites love and lust. He’s different from the spiritual Kamadeva. Krishna, as the ever-fresh transcendental god of love of Vrindavana, is the source of Kamadeva’s power, above mundane love. He’s worshipped with Kama-Gayatri and Kama-Bija mantras.

In Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam) (book 10), when Kamadeva is referred to as smara in the context of Krishna’s love with the gopis (cowherd maidens), he’s not the Deva inciting lusty feelings. “Smara” refers to Krishna himself, who through his flute increases his influence on the gopis. The stages of desire experienced by the gopis include attraction, intense attachment, determination, loss of sleep, becoming emaciated, uninterested in external things, shamelessness, madness, becoming stunned, and even death. Radha‘s beauty surpasses all in the universe, constantly defeating Kamadeva.

Sacred Places

Although there aren’t many temples dedicated to Kamadeva, there is an ancient temple called Madan Kamdev in Baihata Chariali, Assam. Madan is Kamadeva’s brother. The Madan Kamdev temple is located in the Kamrup district and covers a wide area of about 500 meters, with its ruins scattered around in a secluded spot.

Apart from the Madan Kamdev temple, there are other temples associated with or dedicated to Kamadeva:

Kameshwara Temple in Aragalur, where it’s believed that Kamadeva awakened Shiva.
Kameshvara Temple in Kamyavan, one of the twelve forests of Vrindavana.
Soundaraja Perumal Temple near Dindigul, Tamil Nadu.
Harsat-Mata Temple in Abhaneri, which features a representation of Kamadeva.

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