By Jayaram V
Literally speaking, "rati" means pleasure, desire, delight in
something. In Indian traditions, the word is usually associated
with sexual pleasure and is used to connote sexual union and the
art and science of love making (rati-jnana).
In the Hindu pantheon, Rati is the goddess of love. She is
exceedingly beautiful and feminine, yet rides upon a horse like
a queen, denoting her Kshatriya origin as the daugher of
Prajapati. She is famous in the legends associated with her as
the wife of Manmatha, the god of love, who rides upon a chariot drawn
by parrots and uses his love arrows to incite passion in people
and gods. Hence, he is also known as Cupid or Kamadeva. Both Rati and Manmadha
represent a couple in perfect love, harmony and conjugal bliss. They symbolize
the ideal of perfection in love and conjugal relationship.
We do not find any reference to Rati and Manmatha in the Vedas.
However, they appear in the Puranas, usually as side characters
in the legends associated with Shiva and Parvathi, as the couple
playing a dutiful role in bringing them together and making possible
In the Puranas we find many conflicting stories associated with
the goddess. In some versions she is described as the daughter of
Daksha Prajapati, created by him out of his own sweat. In other
versions she was the daughter of Brahma Prajapati, who self-immolated
herself when Brahma, her own father, felt lust towards her because
of her beauty and killed himself out of shame. According to the
legends, Vishnu revived both of them and gave her in marriage to
Rati also figures in the Puranas, in different versions of a
legend associated with the marriage between Shiva and Parvati and
the death of her husband. According to the most popular version,
Parvathi wanted to win over Shiva and marry him, but Shiva was in
deep meditation and would not pay her any attention. Manmatha tried
to help Parvathi by inciting passions in Shiva and disturbing his
meditation. Annoyed by his audacity, Shiva opened his third eye
and burnt him to ashes. Aghast at his sudden demise, Rati beseeched
Shiva to revive him. Shiva obliged and revived him, but made him
invisible and without a body.
In some versions, Rati managed to revive her husband by performing
severe penances. In the third version, upon her husband's death,
she tried to self-immolate herself. Then, a heavenly voice urged
her to wait until the marriage of Shiva and Parvathi, when he would
be revived as destined.
The Bhagavata Purana states that Kama was reborn as Pradyumna,
son of Krishna, while Rati was reborn as his wife, Mayavati. In
a slightly different version mentioned in the Skanda Purana, Rati
was held in hostage by a demon named Sambara due to a curse inflicted
upon her by Narada. In accordance with the curse, she stayed in
his house as Mayavati, acting as his maid, protected by the divine
power of Shiva from all possible harm from the demon, until Pradyumna
arrived on the scene and slew Sambara to rejoin his wife.
Because of her exceptional status, Rati appears in Hindu art,
dance, literature and iconography, symbolizing both love and sexual
passion. Her plight upon the death of her husband is described in
a poetic detail by Kalidasa in his monumental work, Kumara Sambhava,
associated with the birth and legend of Skanda, the elder son of
Shiva. He images also appear in the temple sculpture and in tantric
imagery as the goddess of love and sex. Symbolically, Rati represents,
sexual passion, love, beauty, and a woman in perfect harmony and
bliss with her lover or husband. Spiritually, she represents the
impurities of rajas and tamas. In the Tantric imagery, the goddess
Chinnamasta is depicted as standing upon copulating Rati and Manmadha,
while she holds her own severed head in her left hand. In popular
tradition, when people find a beautiful couple in harmony, they
compare them to Rati and Manmadha.
Suggested Further Reading
Attribution: The images used in this essay are either in
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