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God of Love and Desire
Painting of Kamadeva upon his parrot mount
Other namesManmatha
Sanskrit transliterationKāma
Mantraकाम (kāma)[1]
WeaponSugarcane, floral bow and arrow
Personal information
ParentsBrahma (creator)[2]
Vishnu (father) and Lakshmi (mother)[3]
ConsortRati[lower-alpha 1][4]
ChildrenHarsha and Yasha

Kama (Sanskrit: काम, IAST: Kāma), also known as Kamadeva and Manmatha,[5] is the Hindu god of love[6] and desire, often portrayed alongside his consort, Rati.

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 equalled".[7] He is described to be attended by the celestial nymphs of Hindu mythology, the apsaras, depicted as a youthful deity of blue or red skin, decked with ornaments and flowers, armed with a bow of sugarcane and shooting arrows of flowers.[8]

His 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[edit]

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 Rig Veda (RV 9, 113. 11).[10] Kamadeva is a name of Vishnu in Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana (SB 5.18.15), and also Krishna as well as Shiva. Kama is also a name used for Agni (Atharva Veda 6.36.3).[11]

Other names used in reference to Kamadeva are

  1. Manmatha(मन्मथ)/Manmathudu (one who agitates or churner of heart ),
  2. Atanu (अतनु) (one without a body),
  3. Ragavrinta (stalk of passion),
  4. Ananga (अनंग) (incorporeal),
  5. Kandarpa (कन्दर्प) (inflamer even of a god),
  6. Madana (मदन) (intoxicating),[10][12]
  7. Manasija (he who is born of mind, a contraction of the Sanskrit phrase Sah Manasah jāta),
  8. Ratikānta (रतिकांत) (lord of Rati),
  9. Pushpavān (पुष्पवान),
  10. Pushpadhanva,
  11. Kusumashara कुसुमशर (one with arrow of flowers),
  12. Abhipura (also a name for both Brahma and Vishnu[13]), and simply
  13. Kāma (काम) (desire; longing).


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.[14][15] 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.[16]

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

Textual sources[edit]

Kamadeva shooting his love-arrow at Shiva

Images and stories about 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.[14]

According to Shiva Purana, Kamadeva is a son or a creation of Brahma. In other sources such as the Skanda Purana, Kamadeva is a brother of Prasuti; they are both the children of Shatarupa created by Brahma.He is also considered as son of Lakshmi and Vishnu .Later interpretations also consider him the son of Vishnu.[17] According to Matsya Purana, Visnu-Krishna and Kamadeva have a historical relationship.[15] In the Harivamsa, his mother is the goddess Lakshmi.[18]

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]


Kamadeva was married to Ratī, the daughter of Daksha, created from his sweat. Rati is a minor character in many traditional dramas involving Kamadeva, and in some ways represents an attribute.[19] The goddess Vasanta (spring), who also accompanies Kamadeva, emerges from a sigh of frustration.[20] Kama often takes part in Puranic battles with his troops of soldiers.[21]


The story of the birth of Kamadeva has several variants in different Puranas.[22] In the version of Mahabharata,[23][24]Brahma[25]:[26] he is son of Devi Lakshmi and Vishnu. He is reborn as Pradyumna to Rukmini and Krishna, the incarnation of Lakshmi and Narayana. Kamadeva's consort Rati, whose very essence is desire, carries a discus and a lotus, and her arms are compared with lotus-stalks.[27]

Incineration by Shiva[edit]

Madan-Bhasma (Shiva Turns Kama to Ashes)

One of the principal myths regarding Kama is that of his incineration by Shiva, the Madana-bhasma (Kama Dahana). It occurs in its most developed form in the Matsya Purana (verses 227-255)[28] but is also repeated with variants in the Shaiva Purana and other Puranas.[29]

In the narrative, Indra and the gods are suffering at the hands of the demon Tarakasura who cannot be defeated except by Shiva's son. Brahma advises that Parvati should do sacred pooja with lord Shiva, since their offspring would be able to defeat Taraka. Indra assigns Kamadeva to break Shiva's meditation. To create a congenial atmosphere, Kamadeva (Madana) creates an untimely spring (akāla-vasanta). He evades Shiva's guard, Nandin, 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 Madana instantaneously and he is turned into ash. However, Shiva observes Parvati and asks her how he can help her. She enjoins him to resuscitate Madana, and Shiva agrees to let Madana live but in a disembodied form; hence Kamadeva is also called Ananga (an- = without; anga = body, "bodiless"), or Atanu (a- = without; tanu = body). The spirit of love embodied by Kama is now disseminated across the cosmos: afflicting humanity with the creation of a different atmosphere. Lord Shiva agrees with Mother Parvati's proposal and their pooja results the birth of Lord Karthikeya. Their son Kartikeya goes on to defeat Taraka.[30]


According to Garuda Purana, Pradyumna and Samba - the son's 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.[31] The myth of Kamadeva's incineration is referenced in the Matsya Purana and Bhagavata Purana to reveal a relationship between Krishna and Kamadeva.[15] 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[edit]

The deity of Kamadeva along with his consort Rati is included in the pantheon of Vedic-Brahmanical deities such as Shiva and Parvati.[32] In Hindu traditions for the marriage ceremony itself, the bride's feet are often painted with pictures of Suka, the parrot vahana of Kamadeva.[33]

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.[34] Kamadeva appears in many stories and becomes the object of devotional rituals for those seeking health, physical beauty, husbands, wives, and sons. In one story[where?] Kamadeva himself succumbs to desire, and must then worship his lover in order to be released from this passion and its curse.

Rituals and festivals[edit]

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[35] or Kama-Mahotsava.[36][37] This festival is mentioned by Jaimini, in his early writings such as Purvamimamsa-sutra, dated c.400 BC.[36]

The Ashoka tree is often planted near temples. The tree is said to be a symbol of love and is dedicated to Kamadeva.[38]

In Gaudiya Vaishnavism[edit]

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.[39] This Shamba is not considered identical with 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.[40] 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.[40][41][42]

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.[40] 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:[43] "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."[40] The beauty of Krishna's consort, Radha, is without equal in the universe, and her power constantly defeats the god of love, Kamadeva.[44]


While it is believed that there are no temples to Kamadeva, and no murtis (statues) of Kamadeva are sold for worship on the market,[45] 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[edit]

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. In some scriptures, Kama has a second consort named Priti


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  13. Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam (ed.). India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 61.
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  19. Benton 2006, p. 32
  20. Benton 2006, p. 33
  21. Benton 2006, p. 34
  22. Benton 2006, p. 23
  23. Adi Parva, Chapter 66, Verses 31-33
  24. Vettam Mani (1975). Puranic Encyclopaedia. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-8120805972.
  25. Benton 2006, p. 36
  26. Benton 2006, p. 44
  27. Benton 2006, p. 31
  28. Daniel Ingalls (1968). Sanskrit poetry, from Vidyākara's "Treasury". Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-78865-7., p.58
  29. Klaus Klostermaier, (2000) Hinduism: A Short History. Oxford: One World Publications.
  30. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, (1975) Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit. London: Penguin Books, p.157-159 [1]
  31. J.L. Shastri; G.P. Bhatt (1 January 2004). Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology Volume 14: The Garuda Purana Part 3. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 1115. ISBN 9788120838819. Kama, the presiding deity of the disc was born as Sudarsana. Sâmba the son of lord Krsna was also the incarnation of Kāma. Skanda, the son of Rudra (Shiva) was also Kåma. Since he overcame the enemies he is called Skanda. Since he overcame enemies he is called Skanda. Sudarsana, Pradyumna, Bharata, Samba, Sanatkumara, and Skanda these six are the incarnations of Kama.
  32. Hooja, R. (2004). "Icons, artefacts and interpretations of the past: early Hinduism in Rajasthan" (PDF). World Archaeology. 36 (3): 360–377. doi:10.1080/0043824042000282795. S2CID 162304052. Retrieved 2008-07-06.
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  34. Benton 2006, p. 84
  35. GANGRADE, DR PRAKASH CHANDRA (2015-01-06). HINDUO KE VRAT-PARV EVAM TEEJ TYOHAR (in हिन्दी). V&S Publishers. p. 161. ISBN 9789350573587.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Roy, Christian (2005). Traditional Festivals: A Multicultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 193. ISBN 9781576070895.
  37. Varadpande, Manohar Laxman (1987). History of Indian Theatre. Abhinav Publications. p. 220. ISBN 9788170172215. Madana Mahotsava or Kama Mahotsava, Vasant Mahotsava are sophisticated forms of some ancient festivals. The 8th century poet ... The colourful festival of Holi has its origin in these festivals, known for their gay abandon. It is an ancient ...
  38. Ray, N.; Datta, P.C. (1981). "Pharmacognostic Study of the Bark of Saraca indica" (PDF). Pharmaceutical Biology. 19 (2): 97–102. doi:10.3109/13880208109070585. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
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  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 Swami Sivarama (1998). Venu-gita. Budapest, Bhaktivedanta Kulturális és Tudo. p. Ch. 2: "The gopis assemble together". ISBN 978-963-03-7649-5.
  41. vṛndāvane aprākṛta navīna madana, kāma-gāyatrī kāma-bīje yāṅra upāsana (Caitanya Caritamrita, 2.8.138)
  42. Miller, B.S.; Siegel, Lee (1980). "Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva". Journal of Asian Studies. 39 (3): 622–623. doi:10.2307/2054724. JSTOR 2054724. S2CID 161486286.
  43. Bhagavata Purana 10.21.3 Tika, “caksu-ragah prathamam cittasangas tata ‘tha sankalpah nidra-cchedas tanuta visaya-nivrittis trapanasah / unmado muriccha mrtir ity etah smara-dasa dasaiva syuh.”
  44. Beck, Guy L. (Ed.) (2005). Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a Hindu Deity. SUNY Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-7914-6415-1. Radha is without equal in the universe for beauty, and her power constantly defeats the god of love, Kamadeva.
  45. Benton, C. (2005). {{cite book}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  46. "Braj Mandala Parikrama in Mathura". www.agraindia.org.uk. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  47. "Temple for Cupid, Thadikombu, Dindigul". Archived from the original on 2015-04-05.
  48. Atherton, C.P. (1995). "The Harsat-Mata Temple at Abaneri: Levels of Meaning". Artibus Asiae. 55 (3/4): 201–236. doi:10.2307/3249750. JSTOR 3249750. K. Deva suggests it is Kamadeva in the EITA
  • Benton, Catherine (2006). God of desire: tales of Kamadeva in Sanskrit story literature. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-7914-6565-3.
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