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Kama – Purushartha In Hindu Religion

Kama is a Purushartha in Hindu religion and is one of the four desirable values of human existence. In Hinduism, Purusharthas were evolved as ultimate objectives of life on the basis of experience and as a result of psychological tendencies of the individual human being.

Agni Purana expressively mentions that dharma, artha, kama and moksha are the fundamental aspirations of man – Purusharthas.

The four Purusharthas are:
  • Dharma – righteousness, duties, ethics etc
  • Artha – material goods, money, wealth
  • Kama – psycho – physical gratification
  • Moksha – spiritual liberation

Importance of Kama Purushartha

The pursuit of Kama is regulated by Dharma and Moksha.

Kama is one of the most profound notions of the culture which Indians evolved, with a life pattern devoted to enlightened pursuit and continued striving for human perfection.

Vatsyayana And Kama

Vatsyayana in his Kamasutra defines it as a special feeling of happiness occurring within oneself through the functioning of the senses of knowledge. Hence, Kama is the activity of mind to comprehend or possess something on the thought level.

Vatsyayana sub divides kama under two categories
  1. Samanya (general)
  2. Vishesha (particular)
Samanya or general is the pleasurable experience of the five senses and the mind.
Vishesha (particular) is pleasure born of love towards the beloved.

In the field of erotica, it is Vishesha (particular) classification that applies – further divided into pradhana, which consists of the sense of touch of the beloved, and apradhana, which is joy in thinking of the beloved’s beauty, activities etc.

Understanding of Kama in Modern Times

In modern times, it is in the sex-centered connotation, with regard to one’s whole personality coming in union with another personality of the opposite sex, that the word kama is generally understood. On this plane, this feeling is inextricably mixed with physical instincts and the sex-impulse and has necessarily to adjust itself to the many complex and sometimes even irreconcilable elements of human nature and conditions of life and society. 

Real Meaning of Kama Purushartha

In the purer form, the term kama implies keeping apart from the grosser and material aspect of lust and passion.

In this sense it stands for divine love and enjoyment of fine arts like music, dance, poetry, etc.

Kama otherwise, in the general sense of the word, would mean a sankalpa (resolve). In Rig Veda it is stated that kama initiates the process of creation.

Chandogya Upanishad also avers that the one unitary being resolved to be multiple became multiplied.

In the sense of resolve, kama can be described as a manasija (mind-born). It is sankalpatmaka (resolve-oriented).

In other words, Sankalpa is the origin of kama. It is only in this sense that Bharata in his Natyashastra uses the word kama when he says – all the variations of the four ends of life, dharma, artha, kama and moksha are all nothing but different forms of kama only (prayena sarvabhavanam kramat nishpattirisyate).

Gratification is the end towards which all the resolves proceed; therefore the very love of life or emancipation proceeds from the resolve. Hence Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states – atmanastu kamaya sarvam prityam bhavati.

As an offshoot of resolve, kama is regarded as an attribute of mind. Since all the activities of man proceed from his resolve, it is taken to be a mental attribute.

Kama as a purushartha is not merely the gratification of senses, but the benefit of Kama is only to that extent to which it contributes to the sustenance and furtherance of life. 

Further, kama (the chief desire) in the life does not stop with attainment of mental happiness (Swarga) but is the supreme desire to inquire into the truth of the absolute, namely Brahman. Kama at this stage turns into bhakti, amalgamated with jnana.

The enunciation and acceptance of moksha as the supreme goal of life by ancient Hindu thinkers have given a unique direction to the whole philosophy of life towards which the other fundamental aspirations of man are attained.

Kama and moksha are called sadhya purusharthas (end values) and artha and dharma are sadhana purusharthas (means values).

Ancient Hindu thinkers have laid equal emphasis upon the pure joys of life in the pursuit of fine arts and the satisfaction of our legitimate aspirations, ambitions and hopes of physical existence.

To enjoy the sunshine or a landscape, to listen to music, to read a play is both sensual and spiritual. The joys of married life are extolled. The happiness that is derived from the performance of duty and from leading a pure and noble life is commended. Thus kama is not confined to sensual gratification alone.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, while enumerating his vibhuts (manifestations), states that He is the embodiment of kama which is not opposed to or inconsistent with the pursuit and performance of dharma.

Source - 
  • The stream of Indian Culture (1979) Nirmala Kumara - Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Mumbai
  • Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy (2007) Shyam Ranganathan - Motilal Banarsidass New Delhi
  • Classical Hindu Thought - An Introduction (2000) Arvind Sharma - Oxford University Press New Delhi
  • Kamasutra (1984) Vatsayana - Orient Paperbacks Hyderabad.
  • Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume V - page 420 - 421