By Swami Harshananda
Kāma literally means ‘desire’. Kāma is one of the most widely used words in the religio-philosophical and mythoogical literature. It has three meanings:
- Desire in general
- Cupid, the god of lust
Iconographical works depict him as a handsome young man with a bow of sugarcane and five arrows tipped with flowers. He is accompanied by his two wives, Rati and Tṛṣā. He rides a parrot. His banner is makara or crocodile.
Kāma, Son of Brahmā
Kāma was also known as Manmatha, Madana, Kandarpa and Anaṅga. He was the son of Brahmā. When Brahmā gave him the boon of the power to delude the whole world with lust, he dared to use it against Brahmā himself. Hence Brahmā cursed him to be reduced to ashes by the third eye of Lord Śiva. At the earnest entreaties of his wife Rati, Śiva revived him.
Kāma, as a Desire
Kāma as a desire can be good or bad. A good desire like the desire for mokṣa or liberation elevates a human being whereas bad desires prove to be formidable obstacles in the path of spiritual evolution.
Kāma, as Lust
Kāma as lust has been considered as one of the four puruṣārthas or ends to be striven for in life. Since procreation was considered as one of the sacred duties of duly married couples, kāma has been given that status. However, it should be within the limits set by dharma or righteousness as described in the scriptures. Transgressions have been severely condemned and punishments have also been prescribed for that.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore