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Kama

by Sumanta Sanyal
Kama has found mentioned in texts as early as the Vedas. Initially he was regarded as a creative spirit who welled out of Purusha or Prajapati, the supreme male element, when that god was resting alone on the cosmic waters at the very beginning of time. Some parts of the Vedas go even farther and say that Kama himself was the supreme creative being, self-existent and sprung out of the cosmic waters at the beginning of time. In this context he was the supreme god who created everything else and whose first emanation was desire and whose second was the power to achieve that desire. Thus Kama was equated with the creative power of Agni, the god of fire. The Vedas are texts prepared over long lengths of time by diverse persons and the older versions were modified frequently. Thus Kama is found mentioned in many forms, all of them being some aspect of creativity. In one text he has been identified as the creative being that welled out of the heart of Brahma, where Brahma himself has been mentioned as the supreme creative being. Kama has also been identified as a creative moral force and, thus, a son of Dharma, the ultimate law-giver.

Later, as Hindu Mythology progressed and developed into what it is today, Kama became identified with sexual desire, a more frivolous aspect of his creativity. In this aspect he is the son of Vishnu, the preserver within the Hindu Triad, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and beauty. Kama is blessed with eternal youth and is figured as the most handsome of the gods. He rides a parrot and carries a bow made of sugar-cane stalk strung with a line of humming-bees and he shoots arrows tipped with flowers. These are the shafts of desire and whoever is struck by them falls in love. Thus, Kama has great resemblance to the Greek Cupid. Kama is accompanied everywhere by his wife, Rati (passion), and his friend Vasanta (spring).

Vasanta strings his arrows with the flower considered most suitable for his current victim. He is mostly pictured as sporting with his female attendants, the beautiful Apsaras, of whom he is the lord. One of the Apsaras carries a banner with his emblem, the monster fish Makara. Makara is also the steed of Varuna, the god of rain.

Kama loves to roam about in the forest and woodlands, especially in spring, shooting his arrows quite indiscriminately. He is extremely partial to innocent girls, married women and ascetic sages. In one text, where he is depicted as the son of Brahma, as soon as he is born, he shoots an arrow at his father who is overcome with desire and commits incest with his daughter. Brahma has one of his heads cut off as a result by Shiva. Both gods and mortals fall victim to Kama's arrows.

As with Cupid, there are innumerable stories of Kama and his escapades. In one episode he came upon Shiva deep in meditation in the forest and shot at him with an arrow. The hot-tempered god was rudely shaken out of his trance and, seeing who had dared to shot him, burned Kama to ashes with his incandescent gaze. Nevertheless, Kama's arrow had done its work and Shiva could not rest until he agreed to marry Parvati.

Meanwhile Kama lay dead and love and sexual desire disappeared from everywhere and the entire universe turned into a desert. The gods, fearing extinction, petitioned Shiva and that hot-headed but normally benign god contrived to have Kama reborn as Pradyumna, a son of Krishna, an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, and Rukmini. Thus desire returned to the universe and it flowered again to its former state.


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