Kāma Deva and Madana-Bhasma

hindu aesthetic
6 min readApr 11, 2021


Kāma, the God of love, shooting a bow of flowers at a young girl. Opaque watercolour on paper; probably Orchha, with Golconda influence, ca. 1680

Kāma has a bow made of sugarcane, its string is made up of beetles, and the tips of his arrows are flowers. His vehicle is the parrot and the sign on his banner is fish. The five flowers of his arrows (Puṣpabāṇa) are: Aravinda (lotus), Aśoka (aśoka flower), Cūta (mango flower), Navamālikā (jasmine), Nīlotpala (the blue lotus). Besides these, he is said to have five more arrows for his bow which are — Unmādana (intoxicating/maddening or being inflamed with love), Tāpana (anguish), Śoṣaṇa (शोषण, “withering”), Stambhana (stopping/immobilising) and Sammohana (deluding, infatuating, leading astray).

“His five arrows are respectively Harṣana (delighting), Rocana (appealing), Mohana (deluding), Śoṣaṇa (withering), Maraṇa (killing). Even sages could be deluded and tormented by them.”
Śiva Purāṇa

Other names for Kāma Deva include;
* Manmatha, churner of hearts, (Sanskrit: मन्मथ)
* Ragavrinta (stalk of passion)
* Anaṅga (incorporeal)
* Kandarpa (inflamer even of a god)
* Madana , मदन (intoxicating)
* Manasija (he who is born of mind — desire)
* Ratikānta (Lord of Rati)
* Pushpavān
* Pushpadhanva
* Kusumashara कुसुमशर (one with arrow of flowers)
* or just Kāma (longing)

Description of Kāma Deva, from the Śiva Purāņa Vol I by J.L. Śāstri:

“He had a golden complexion. His chest was stout and firm. His nose was fine. His thigh, hips and calves were round and plump. He had blue wavelets of hair. His eyebrows were thickset and tremulous. His face shone like the full moon. His hairy chest was broad like a door. He was as huge as the celestial elephant Airāvata. He was wearing a blue cloth. His hands, eyes, face, legs and fingers were red in color. He had a slender waist. His teeth were fine. He smelt like an elephant in its rut. His eyes were like the petals of a full-bown lotus. He was fragrant like the filaments. His neck was like the conch. He had the emblem of a fish. He was tall. He had the Makara fish for his vehicle. He was armed with a bow and five flowers for his arrows. His loving glance was very attractive as he rolled his eyes here and there. O dear one, his very breath was a fragrant wind. He was accompanied by the sentiment of love.”

According to the text Śiva Purāṇa, Kāma deva is a son or a creation of Brahma, while according to other sources including the Skanda Purāṇa, Kāma deva is a brother of Prasuti; they are both the children of Shatarupa, a creation of Brahma. Later interpolations consider him the son of Vishnu. Kāma deva is wed to Ratī, the beautiful daughter of Daksha, created from his sweat.

Brahma assigns Kāma the task of facilitating creation:

“In this form and with your five flower-arrows you can enamour and captivate men and women and carry on the eternal task of creation.

In this mobile and immobile beings, none of the living beings including the Devas will be competent to defy you.

O best of beings, not to speak of ordinary living beings even I, Brahmā, Vāsudeva and Siva will be in your control.

Invisibly you enter the hearts of living beings, excite thrilling feelings of pleasure and carry on the activities of creation that is to last for ever.

The minds of all living beings will become an easy target of your five-flower arrows. You will be the cause of their elation.”

Śiva turns Kāma to ash:

Madana-bhasma, lithograph c. 1890 Kolkata

An asura named Tāraka was wreaking havoc on the world, but he was invincible, having acquired a boon that only the son of Śiva could kill him. The Gods thus made attempts to facilitate the wedding of Śrī Parameśvara and Pārvatī. This was the time when Pārvatī, the daughter of Himavān, was performing a penance praying that Parameśvara should become her husband. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Indra sent Kāmadeva to break the meditation of Śiva and to rouse the passion of love in Śiva’s mind. The incident is beautifully recounted in the Kumārasambhava by Kāḷidāsa:

सदेवदारुद्रुमवेदिकायां शार्दूलचर्मव्यवधानवत्याम् ।
आसीनमासन्नशरीरपातस्त्रियम्बकं संयमिनं ददर्श ।। 3.44 (Kumārasambhava, Kāḷidāsa)

“Śiva was seated under the Devadāru tree, clad in the skin of a tiger. Manmatha, whose body was soon to be gone, saw the three-eyed Śiva, lord of his own self, seated in deep meditation.”

Śiva meditating under a tree, with the deity Kama to his right. Kama is aiming his flowery arrow at Śiva. Company School, c. 1820 Andhra Pradesh

तं देशमारोपितपुष्पचापे रतिद्वितीये मदने प्रपन्ने।
कष्ठागतस्नेहरसानुविद्धं द्वन्द्वानि भावं क्रियया विवव्रुः | 3.35

“Manmatha arrives at the spot with his beloved Rati. He is well equipped — with his floral ‘weapons’. His coming, as though the presence of Vasanta (spring) wasn’t sufficient, made love penetrate all beings nearby — they all got together as couples and got into ‘action’.”

Kāma reached Śiva’s seat and tried to stir up his passions while Śiva was deep in a meditative penance.

दृष्टिप्रपातं परिहृत्य तस्य कामः पुरः शुक्रमिव प्रयाणे ।
प्रान्तेषु संसक्तनमेरुशाखं ध्यानास्पदं भूतपतेर्विवेश ।। 3.43

“Just as the ‘evil’ planet, Śukra needs to be avoided by a person aiming to achieve his purpose, Manmatha avoided Śiva ’s glance falling upon him! The place of Śiva’s penance is covered on all sides by the outgrowth of Nameru trees — obstruting his view.”

लतागृहद्वारगतोऽथ नन्दी वामप्रकोष्ठार्पितहेमवेत्रः।
मुखार्पितैकाङ्गुलिसंज्ञ्यैव मा चापलायेति गणान्व्यनैषीत् || 3. 41

“Nandīśvara, who stood at the entrance of the latā-gṛha — the bower covered by creepers (āhārya) and with his left hand holding a golden staff (धारितहेमदण्डः notes Mallinātha, āhārya + āṅgika), placed his finger on his lips — commanding the gaṇas to stop the ‘mischief’.”

Śiva who was enraged at this, opened his third eye blazing with fire. Kāma was. burnt to ashes in that fire. The place where Kāma’s body (Aṅga) fell, came to be called “Aṅgarājya”. Since he lost his body, Kāmadeva got another name “Anaṅga” or “formless”.

स्मरस्तथाभूतमयुग्मनेत्रं पश्यन्नदूरान्मनसाप्यधृष्यम् ।
नालक्षयत्साध्वससन्नहस्तः स्त्रस्तं शरं चापमपि स्वहस्तात् ।। 3.51

“As Smara, the one born out of the mind, looked at Śiva — the odd-eyed one — who was in such deep samādhi, he did not even realise that his hand drooped in fear and his bow and arrow dropped off from his hand — he was so lost in the sight of Śiva that he lost consciousness of his own body (āṅgika).”

An Illustration to a Shiva Purana Series — Śiva kills Kāma; Kangra or Mandi, circa 1810–1820;
Kāma deva with a bow, approaching Śiva, who kneels on the side of a river. To the left of Kāmadeva are three maidens, two of whom two bear water vessels. Marwar, 18th century

When Śiva burn Kāma to ash, the latter’s wife Rati prayed to Śiva to restore her husband to life. Śiva was pleased and said that Rati would be born in the world and Kāma would take birth as her son.

Śiva Incinerates Kāma, the God of Desire (Madana-Bhasma) Devgarh, Rajasthan (Mewar); c. 1820 Philadelphia Museum of Art
Kalighat paintings from 1885–1890 depicting Madana-Bhasma


1. Śiva Purāṇa by JL Sastri

2. Caturvidhābhinaya in the Kumārasambhava by Arjun Bharadwaj (series published in Preksha) https://www.prekshaa.in/caturvidhaabhinaya-in-kumaarasambhava-part1


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