Every February 14th when couples around the world celebrate their love with candy, flowers, greeting cards and gifts of various kinds, the one constant symbol is that of Cupid. We ask him to shoot his arrow at the heart of the object of our desire and hope they will love us back. But many in the West are unaware of the ancient roots of this lovable winged cherub.
In the Rig-Veda, the most ancient of all Hindu scriptures (some say the oldest religious text in the world) a manifestation of God called Kamadeva makes His first appearance. The name Kamadeva translates into English as “God of Desire.” The Hindu deity Lord Vishnu is referred to ask Kama (desire) in various of the Hindu Puranas, as is Lord Shiva the Destroyer and Krishna, an Avatar of Vishnu in various scriptures.
Some say that Kamadeva as Krishna then re-incarnated as his son or more esoterically as one of the powers of Vishnu. Since Vishnu is the sustaining aspect of God, this paints a romantic picture of love being one of the qualities of life that sustains us.
In many traditions Kamadeva is referred to as the son of the Creator, Brahma, which would indicate that love and desire have been in the world from the beginning, or very shortly thereafter.
In the Hindu iconography, Kamadeva is a green deity who rides on the back of a large colorful bird (ergo, wings). Kamadeva holds a bow with which he shoots arrows which are intended to penetrate a spiritual aspirant’s heart and awaken desire for objects outside himself, hence Valentine’s Day being the celebration of love for another. The Season of Spring is said to accompany Kamadeva wherever he roams, hence Cupid’s appearance on Valentine’s Day, just before spring.