God of Love, Desire and Pleasure
A gouache painting of Kamadeva, circa 1820
Other namesManmatha, Madana, Ananga
Sanskrit transliterationKāmadeva
Mantraकाम (kāma)[1]
WeaponSugarcane bow and floral arrows
TextsAtharvaveda, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Harivamsha, Puranas
Personal information
ParentsBrahma (father)[a]
ChildrenHarsha and Yasha (sons)
Greek equivalentEros[6]
Roman equivalentCupid[5]

Kama (Sanskrit: कामदेव, IAST: Kāmadeva), also known as Kamadeva and Manmatha, is the Hindu god of erotic love, desire, and pleasure, often portrayed alongside his consort and female counterpart, Rati. He is depicted as a handsome young man decked with ornaments and flowers, armed with a bow of sugarcane and shooting arrows of flowers.[7]

The Atharva Veda regards Kamadeva as the wielder of the creative power of the universe, also describing him to have been "born at first, him neither the gods nor the fathers ever equaled".[8] Mentioned as a manasaputra (mind-born son) of the creator god Brahma in the Puranas, Kamadeva's most popular legend is his story of incineration by Shiva's third eye while the latter was meditating, later embodied on earth as the eldest son of Krishna and his chief consort Rukmini, Pradyumna.[9]

Etymology and other names

The name Kama-deva (IAST: kāma-deva) can be translated as 'god of love'. Deva means heavenly or divine and refers to a deity in Hinduism. Kama (IAST: kāma) means "desire" or "longing", especially as in sensual or sexual love. The name is used in the Rigveda (RV 9, 113. 11).[10] Kamadeva is a name of Vishnu in the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana (SB 5.18.15). It is also a name of the deities Krishna and Shiva. Kama is also a name used for Agni (Atharva Veda 6.36.3).[11]

Other names prominently used about Kamadeva are:


Kāmadeva is represented as a young, handsome man who wields a bow and arrows. His bow is made of sugarcane, and his arrows are decorated with five kinds of fragrant flowers.[15][16] The five flowers are white lotus, Ashoka tree flowers, Mango tree flowers, Jasmine flowers, and blue lotus flowers. The names of these flowers in Sanskrit in order are Aravinda, Ashoka, Choota, Navamallika, and Neelotpala. A terracotta murti of Kamadeva of great antiquity is housed in the Mathura Museum, UP, India.[17]

Some of the attributes of Kamadeva are: his companions are a cuckoo, a parrot, humming bees, the season of spring, and the gentle breeze.[5] All these are symbols of the spring season when his festival is celebrated as Holi, Holika, or Vasanta.[citation needed]

Textual sources

Images and stories about the Hindu god Kamadeva are traced to the verses of the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, although he is better known from the stories of the Puranas.[15]

Kamadeva is also mentioned in the 12th-century Javanese poem Smaradahana, a rendering of the myth of Kamadeva's burning by Shiva and fall from heaven to earth. Kama and his consort Rati are referenced as Kamajaya and Kamarati in Kakawin poetry and later Wayang narratives.[citation needed]



A Thai depiction of Kamadeva riding a parrot, 1959

The story of the birth of Kamadeva has several variants in different Hindu scriptures.[18]

In the Taittiriya Brahmana and the epic Mahabharata, he is mentioned as a son of Dharma, the god of righteousness, and a prajapati (agent of creation).[19][2] His mother is mentioned to be Dharma's wife Shraddha in Taittiriya Brahmana,[20] while the appendix of the Mahabharata, Harivamsa, states his mother to be Lakshmi, another wife of Dharma.[c][20][3][21]

According to Puranic scriptures including the Shiva Purana, the Kalika Purana, the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, and the Matsya Purana, Kama is one of the mind-born sons of the creator god Brahma.[22][23][13][4][24] In the most common narrative, after Brahma creates all the prajapatis (agents of creation) and a maiden named Sandhya, an extremely handsome and youthful man emerges from his mind and enquires Brahma about the purpose of his birth. Brahma names him Kama and orders him to spread love in the world by shooting his flower arrows. Kama decides to first use his arrows against Brahma and shoots him with his floral arrows.[d] He becomes attracted to Sandhya and desires for her. The prajapati Dharma becomes worried by this and calls the god Shiva, who watches them and laughs at both Brahma and Kama.[e] Brahma regains consciousness and curses Kama to be burnt to ashes by Shiva in the future. However, on Kama's pleading, Brahma assures him that he will be reborn.[24][2][25][13][f] A later version of the myth is found in the Skanda Purana, according to which, Brahma creates Kama from his mind to ignite passion in the prajapatis (agents of creation) after they refused to procreate.[13][g]

In some traditions, Kama is considered a son of the goddess of wealth Lakshmi, and the preserver god Vishnu due to his birth as Pradyumna to Rukmini and Krishna, the incarnations of Lakshmi and Vishnu respectively.[5][26][4] According to Matsya Purana, Visnu-Krishna and Kamadeva have a historical relationship.[16]

Family and assistants

Both the epics and the Puranas attest to the goddess Rati as the consort and chief assistant of Kamadeva. She is his female counterpart representing sensual pleasure. According to Kalika Purana and Shiva Purana, she emerged from a sweat drop of prajapati Daksha who was assigned by Brahma to present Kamadeva as a wife. The Shiva Purana also mentions that Kama himself was pierced by his love arrows when he saw Rati. The Brahmavaivarta Purana gives Rati another origin, according to which Sandhya died after Brahma desired her but was revived as Rati by Vishnu who presented her to Kama.[27][28] Priti ("affection") is mentioned as Kamadeva's second spouse in the Skanda Purana, while in other texts, 'Priti' is just an epithet of Rati.[4]

In most scriptures, Kama and Rati have two children, Harsha ("Joy") and Yashas ("Grace"). However, the Vishnu Purana mentions that they only have one son – Harsha.[3]

Besides Rati, Kama's main assistant is Vasanta, the god of spring season, who was created by Brahma. Kama is served by a group of violent ganas known as the Maras.[29][4]Kama also leads the celestial nymphs, the apsaras, and they are often sent by Indra—the king of heaven—to disturb the penance of sages to prevent them from achieving divine powers.[30]

Incineration by Shiva

Painting of the Madana-bhasma (Shiva turns Kamadeva to ashes)

One of the principal myths regarding Kama is the legend of his incineration by Shiva, called the Madana-bhasma, also rendered the Kama dahana. It occurs in its most developed form in the Matsya Purana (verses 227–255), [31] but is also repeated with variants in the Shiva Purana and other Puranas.[32]

In the narrative, Indra and the devas suffer at the hands of the asura Tarakasura, who had received a boon from Brahma that he could not be defeated by any god except the child of Shiva, who was yet unborn. The deities scheme to make Shiva, who was performing penance, sire a son with Parvati. Indra assigns Kamadeva to break Shiva's meditation. To create a congenial atmosphere, Kamadeva creates an untimely spring (akāla-vasanta). He evades Shiva's guard, Nandi, by taking the form of the fragrant southern breeze, and enters Shiva's abode.

After he awakens Shiva with a flower arrow, Shiva, furious, opens his third eye, which incinerates Kamadeva instantaneously, turning him into ash. Shiva observes Parvati before him. Impressed by her ascetic practice, he allows her to choose a boon of her choice. She enjoins him to restore Kamadeva to life. Shiva agrees to let Kamadeva live, but in a disembodied form, travelling like the wind with his bow and arrow with his consort, Rati. Shiva and Parvati's marriage results in the birth of a son, Kartikeya, who goes on to defeat Taraka.[33]


According to Garuda Purana, Pradyumna and Samba - the sons of Krishna, Sanat Kumara - the son of Brahma, Skanda - the son of Shiva, Sudarshana (the presiding deity of Sudarshana Chakra), and Bharata are all incarnations of Kama.[34] The myth of Kamadeva's incineration is referenced in the Matsya Purana and Bhagavata Purana to reveal a relationship between Krishna and Kamadeva.[16] In the narrative, Kama is reincarnated in the womb of Krishna's wife Rukmini as Pradyumna, after being burned to ashes by Shiva.

Beliefs and worship

The deity of Kamadeva along with his consort Rati is included in the pantheon of Vedic-Brahmanical deities such as Shiva and Parvati.[35] In Hindu traditions for the marriage ceremony itself, the bride's feet are often painted with pictures of Suka, the parrot vahana of Kamadeva.[36]

The religious rituals addressed to him offer a means of purification and re-entry into the community. Devotion to Kamadeva keeps desire within the framework of the religious tradition.[37] Kamadeva appears in many stories and becomes the object of devotional rituals for those seeking health, and physical beauty, husbands, wives, and sons. In one story[where?] Kamadeva himself succumbs to desire, and must then worship his lover to be released from this passion and its curse.

Rituals and festivals

Kama (left) with Rati on a temple wall of Chennakesava Temple, Belur

Holi is a Hindu festival, celebrated in the Indian subcontinent. It is sometimes called Madana-Mahotsava[38] or Kama-Mahotsava.[39][40] This festival is mentioned by Jaimini, in his early writings such as Purvamimamsa-sutra, dated c. 400 BC.[39]

The Ashoka tree is often planted near temples. The tree is said to be a symbol of love and is dedicated to Kamadeva.[41]

In Gaudiya Vaishnavism

In the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, Krishna is identified as the original Kamadeva in Vrindavana. Kamadeva also incarnates as Krishna's son Shamba after being burned down by Shiva. Since he was begotten by Krishna himself, his qualities were similar to those of Krishna, such as his colour, appearance, and attributes.[42] This Shamba is not considered identical to Vishnu's vyuha-manifestation called Shamba, but is an individual soul (jiva-tattva) who, owing to his celestial powers, becomes an emanation of Vishnu's prowess.

The Kamadeva that was incinerated is believed to be a celestial demigod capable of inducing love and lusty desires. He is distinguished from the spiritual Kamadeva.[43] Here Krishna is the source of Kamadeva's inciting power, the ever-fresh transcendental god of love of Vrindavana, the origin of all forms of Kamadeva, yet above mundane love, who is worshiped with the Kama-Gayatri and Kama-Bija mantras.[43][44][45]

When Kamadeva is referenced as smara in Bhāgavata Purāṇa (book 10) in the context of the supramundane love between Krishna and the gopis (cowherd maidens), he is not the Deva who incites lusty feelings.[43] The word smara rather refers to Krishna himself, who through the medium of his flute increases his influence on the devoted gopis. The symptoms of this smarodayam (lit. "arousal of desire") experienced by the gopis have been described in a commentary (by Vishvanatha Cakravarti) as follows:[46] "First comes attraction expressed through the eyes, then intense attachment in the mind, then determination, loss of sleep, becoming emaciated, uninterested in external things, shamelessness, madness, becoming stunned, and death. These are the ten stages of Cupid’s effects."[43] The beauty of Krishna's consort, Radha, is without equality in the universe, and her power constantly defeats the god of love, Kamadeva.[47]


While it is believed that there are no temples to Kamadeva, and no murtis (statues) of Kamadeva are sold for worship on the market,[48] yet there is an ancient temple of Madan Kamdev in Baihata Chariali, Kamrup district in Assam. Madan is the brother of Kamadeva. The ruins of Madan Kamdev are scattered widely in a secluded place, covering 500 meters.

Some other temples dedicated or related to this deva:

In English literature

Letitia Elizabeth Landon's descriptive poem Manmadin, the Indian Cupid, floating down the Ganges appeared in The Literary Gazette, 1822 (Fragment in Rhyme VII.)


  1. ^ Kama is mentioned as one of Brahma's mind born sons in the Puranas.[2] In the Harivamsha, he is the son of the prajapati Dharma and his wife Lakshmi.[3] Some traditions consider Kama (as Pradyumna) as the son of the god Vishnu (as Krishna) and his wife Lakshmi (as Rukmini).[4][5]
  2. ^ In some scriptures, Kama has a second consort named Priti.[4]
  3. ^ Distinct from the consort of Vishnu who has the same name.
  4. ^ In the Kalika Purana, Kama also shoots at the prajapatis, and later from the sweat of Daksha, Rati emerges.[2]
  5. ^ In some versions, the role of Dharma is absent. Instead, Shiva sees them while traveling there.[24]
  6. ^ In some texts like the Matsya Purana and Brahmanda Purana, a different name is used for Sandhya.[24][13][2]
  7. ^ In this version, Kama is cursed by Brahma as he initially ignores his orders.[24]


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