Kama is one of the four Purusharthas – or the pursuits of a human being as given in Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma. Literally it means the pursuit of enjoyment, pleasure and joy. It is the desire, wish and longing for the source of pleasure. Kama is predominantly seen as sensual pleasure but it is more than that. It includes art, beauty, music, love and intimacy. Kama goes beyond pleasure of the senses and includes the longing for name, fame and wealth. As per Hinduism, Kama is an important aspect of a fulfilled life.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the oldest Upanishads of Hinduism, uses the term kama, also in a broader sense, to refer to any desire:
Man consists of desire (kama),
As his desire is, so is his determination,
As his determination is, so is his deed,
Whatever his deed is, that he attains.
— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 7th Century BC
Kama Deva and Rati
This pursuit of pleasure, when it is aligned with our life’s purpose, leads one on the path of Dharma. In Hinduism, Kama is depicted as the God of Love, holding a bow and arrow. The famous book Kama Sutra, although widely seen as sex manual, is a guide to a viruous and gracious living which describes the nature of love, family life and other pleasure oriented pursuits of human life. Kama goes in harmony with the other goals of human life, Dharma, Artha and Moksha.
At Kama’s appearance, pregnant storm clouds emerge from the horizon, flowers unfold their petals, and lightning splits the sky. Intoxicating fragrances envelop the land, and humans perform the oldest of rituals, the dance of fertility. – Yoga Journal
Kama is an experience that includes the discovery of an object, learning about the object, emotional connection, the process of enjoyment and the resulting feeling of well-being before, during, and after the experience. From the Yogic perspective it means to be fully present to whatever we are experiencing through our senses. The goal is to satisfy our desires and be freed from them, rather than to become increasingly snarled up in indulgence.
A man practicing Dharma, Artha and Kama enjoys happiness now and in future. Any action which conduces to the practice of Dharma, Artha and Kama together, or of any two, or even one of them should be performed. But an action which conduces to the practice of one of them at the expense of the remaining two should not be performed. — Vatsyayana, The Kama sutra, Chapter 2
Read more on the 4 Purusharthas, Dharma and Artha.