Once difficult to access because of rough terrain, the temples of Khajuraho are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Among the many intricately carved statues, a few panels with erotic themes have attracted worldwide attention. These reliefs enshrine the spirit of love and have been called the KamSutra in stone.
Although the word kama originally referred to the sensuous pleasure derived from the aesthetic enjoyment of life, it has taken on an unmistakable connotation of sexual desire, which Hindus believe is the work of Kamadeva, or simply Kama, the god of love.
Kamdev - Most Handsome Devta
What Eros is to Greeks or Cupid is to Romans, Kama is to Hindus. Among the gods of the Hindu pantheon, he is the most handsome. Often depicted as an ever-youthful man, he wields a bow and arrow and rides a parrot. The bow is made of sugarcane and strung with a line of humming bees, and the arrows are tipped with fragrant flowers to excite every sense. He is ably assisted by his wife, Rati, and his friend Vasanta, who strings the bow and picks the floral arrow for the chosen victim. As lord of the apsaras, Kama is surrounded by these beautiful nymphs, one of whom carries the red banner that bears the emblem of the monster fish Makara, Varuna's mode of transportation.
For Buddha desire was the root of miseries, but for Kama it was the key to the delights of life. Kama loves to roam around and amuse himself by instilling passion in everyone, especially innocent young girls, married women, and ascetic sages.Spring is the season of his revelry when trees bloom and sweet-scented flowers of all colors blossom. He is frivolous in the use of his powers. Wounded by his shafts of desire, wives become adulterous, young women yield to passion, and men commit mistakes. Even rishis (Hindu sages) on a stringent regimen of austerities are known to give up asceticism at times and enjoy the warmth of women.
Kamdev in Vedas
Kama is an ancient god who is discussed in the Vedas, where he manifested as the creative spirit that filled Purusha at the beginning of time. There are two versions of Kama's birth. According to the Mahabharata, Kama was the son of Dharma. The Puranas have a different account of his birth: Brahma first created ten Prajapatis (progenitors), followed by a woman of exceptional beauty called Shatarupa. While Brahma and the Prajapatis were attracted by her beauty, a handsome young man holding a bow and flower-tipped arrows in his quiver sprang from Brahma's mind and looked at him for instructions.Brahma told him to romantically charge all creatures with de sire. Without any hesitation, Kama let loose a shaft at Brahma himself which charged him fully, giving an extra boost to his creative prowess.
The shaft of desire, however, led to unintended consequences.After he was struck by Kama's arrow, Brahma fell in love with his own mind born daughter, Shatarupa, which caused him to commit incest and subsequently lose one of his heads.For Kama's transgression Brahma put a curse on Kama that he would one day be turned into ashes.
Encounter with Lord Shiva
Brahma's words came true, as Kama became a victim of Shiva's wrath. At the time a demon called Taraka was tormenting the gods after receiving a boon from Brahma. The gods wanted to destroy Taraka, but the boon said only a scion of Shiva could do Taraka in. Meanwhile, Shiva was in deep grief over the death of his wife, Sati, and turned himself into an ascetic.As Shiva became numb to emotions, Indra tried to convince Kama to approach Shiva and plant the seeds of desire in his heart. After much persuasion Kama took the risk of shooting his love-laden arrow at Shiva, who be came furious at having his meditation interrupted. Shiva opened his third eye and the ensuing flames reduced Kama to ashes.
But the shaft of Kama created an indelible mark on Shiva, for he could not bear the passion that the arrow aroused in him. So he headed to the cooler shades of a forest, but far from getting relief, he was distracted by the sight of the wives of hermits who were living in the forest. He then dipped himself in cold water,but the heat of passion started to boil the water. Eventually Shiva found comfort but only after he married Parvati (who would become Ganesha's mother). The death of Kama became a big problem. Devoid of love, the earth became barren and infertile. The gods asked Shiva to bring Kama back to life.
Kama's wife, Rati, was overcome with grief. She prayed to Parvati, who interceded with Shiva to resurrect Kama. A blueprint was created for Kama's reentry to the world. According to this plan, the god of love would be born as Pradyumna, son of Krishna and Rukmini, and Rati would live in the house of the demon Sambara as Mayavati, the cook. This was a fitting rebirth for the god of love, as Krishna was a renowned master of erotic love. As soon as Pradyumna was born, Sambara snatched him from his crib and threw him into the sea. The demon had been warned that the child would one day murder him. The baby was swallowed by a fish that was then caught by a fisherman. Sambara unknowingly bought the fish at the market. That night, when Mayavati gutted the fish while preparing dinner, she found the child. As she stood in the kitchen stunned, she had a vision of the sage Narada, who told her that the baby was her husband, Kama. Narada then gave her special powers that allowed her to make the boy invisible so that she could raise him in secret.
When Pradyumna came of age, Mayavati tried to seduce him, but he protested. Mayavati then revealed to Pradyumna their true antecedents. They became lovers, and subsequently Mayavati became pregnant. It was about time for the couple to return to heaven. When Sambara mistreated Mayavati, Pradyumna flew into a rage and killed Sambara with a single blow. With their respective missions accomplished, the couple then headed to heaven to the abode of Krishna and Rukmini, where Narada told them that they were none other than Kama and Rati, united again.