“Devotional Love” in Hinduism

 Hinduism emphasizes four ends of life: Kama (love or pleasure), Artha (material possessions), Dharma (moral law or duties), and Moksa (final liberation). Kama, as one of them, is fundamental term in Hinduism. Like Cupid, Kama, also as a personalized god of love with flower-bow and five flower arrows, sends desire quivering into the heart. In Rig-Veda, Kama is likened to “the desire of the thirsty steer for water.” In Brahmanas and Upanisads, He is given an erotic role. For example, when Shiva (one of three basic gods) was engaged in meditation, Kama discharged an arrow at him, to divert his attention to his wife Parvati, but Shiva reduced him to ashes with a glance from his third eye. In response to the plea of Kama’s window Rati (the goddess of affection and the embodiment of wifely love), Shiva restored Parvati’s husband, representing true love. Kama and Rati, attended by Vasanta (spring), denote love’s season. Kama who is linked with Visnu and hence figuratively with love and union embodies the attitude of the sexes, and also, as “bodiless” (Ananga), hovers between lovers intangibly through the mystery of sex. Mystically, Kama is the essence of magic love known and preserved in esoteric doctrines, profoundly inspired by the holy mystery of life.

Bhakti Yoga (one of the four Yogas) is a religious practice to attain Divine Being through devotional love. Feeling devotional love would be a transcendent experience, as The Bhagavad Gita says: “I love you well, I will tell you what’s in your best interest. Keep me in your mind, love me, worship me. Sacrifice to me and prostrate yourself before me. I promise you this, in all sincerity, for you are dear to me. Give up thinking in terms of laws. Turn to me and make me your only refuge. I will deliver you from all evil, so have no fear of all evil, have no worries” (Gita, XVIII. 64). Kama, as a Sanskrit noun, denotes the mystical experience within the sphere of love and sex on a divine basis. In The Atharva-Veda, love-life means family and married life. The principle and original aim of this doctrine is to make this love-life a success, and to produce a happy and harmonious family—an ideal relationship between a husband, his wife, and their children denoted by phrases as “a love spell with a sweet herb”; “to secure a woman’s love”; “to command a woman’s love”; “the incantation of the lover entering the girl’s home by night”; “two charms to win a woman’s love”; and “to win and fix a man’s love with a plan.” For instance, in the Hindu wedding ceremony, bride and groom are clad in festive garb and sit before a sacred fire, emblem of the love and holiness into which they are entering. Gita describes godly love: “He who hates no living creature; who is loving and compassionate, without selfishness and self-seeking, who holds pain and pleasure equally; who is patient, contented, always loyal, full of self-control and steady determination; who fixes his mind and his reason on me and loves me; he is dear to me” (Gita, Xii. B, 14). There is a basic virtue for the Hindu monk—to abide pervading the entire world by love, with great immeasurable freedom from hatred.

In general, love in Hinduism is for a divine purpose. The final end of life is relief from samsara (rebirth), or transfer from the ordinary to the holy life. This liberation or transition combines Atman (the self) with Brahman (the final supernatural being). Devotional love plays a determinative role in the whole religious practice; family love, married love and all secular forms of love are subordinate to the divine love or emotional love of God. Some Hindu romantic ideas are of unadulterated enjoyment. But to be in love with Diving Being or a human being is to expose oneself to many rejections. To an extent, the distinctive nature of Hinduism resides in the caste system, and “love” is also defined in a hierarchical order, and is restricted by this social structure.

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