What is Love? Words for Love in Hinduism and Ancient Greece

Did you ever wonder about the types of love described in different cultures?

Although Valentine’s Day tends toward commerciality and focuses on romance, this year I am trying to celebrate different types of love at home.

This intention had me thinking about how love is described in Hinduism, as well as how those words line up with the more popularly understood words used by the Ancient Greeks.


Hinduism addresses six different types of love. It doesn’t surprise me that definitions of love are intricately tied to the mythology, belief system, and religious basis of Hinduism.

  • Kama – sexual desire or craving (yup, the Kama Sutra)
  • Shringara – romance and emotional intimacy between lovers, and represented in mythology as the relationship between Radha and Krishna
  • Maitri – which can be translated as “mother’s love” but really encompasses compassion for all living creatures, and which is demonstrated by simple acts of kindness. One source defines maitri as amity, or goodwill despite the differences between us.
  • Bhakti – devotion, to God or to the world or to some higher ideal. In Hindu mythology, Hanuman is considered the epitome of bhakti.
  • Karuna – compassion. This word originates in Sanskrit as “sadness,” which I find interesting, since compassion is rooted in understanding and wanting to help others. However, karuna is different from pity, which Hindus believe to be rooted in selfish motivation.
  • Atma-prema – love for the soul, or love for that part that connects all of us. Interestingly, atma-prema is defined as self-love. In recognizing that the unique thing that makes one’s “self” is shared among all of creation, one can offer unconditional love because everyone is connected at the source.

Ancient Greece

This Super Bowl ad stole my thunder, though it only references four the of the eight different types of love defined by the Ancient Greeks. The words 

  • Eros – sexual passion, most similar to the Hindu kama, and which the Greeks treated as something negative because it represented an irrationality and a loss of control. Obviously, it is also the name of the Greek god and forms the basis of the word erotic.
  • Ludus – playful affection, between children, between those flirting (and falling in love), between teasing friends, (and yes, it is the origin of ludicrous, which means something that is amusing because of its absurdity).
  • Mania – I’m sure this one requires little explanation, but this is obsessive love.
  • Philia – loyal, sacrificing friendship, particularly among those who fought side-by-side on the battlefield (and you know this word as the suffix in words like bibliophile, a lover of books)
  • Pragma – a mature, enduring love based on compromise, patience, and tolerance between couples who have been together a long time or in long-lasting friendships (of course, this is the root of pragmatic, meaning practical)
  • Storge – love between family members, like the love shared by parents and children.
  • Philautia – love of the self. This is not to be confused with the negative narcissism, but rather more positively as healthy self-esteem, which that permits you to show kindness to others because you show kindness to yourself. 
  • Agape – selfless love, or unconditional love, which eventually translated into the Latin word for charity and reflects our empathy. Greeks believed that agape was the purest form of love because it was free of any expectation. Hindus call this type of love karuna.


Literally no one: …

Me: What is love?

You’re welcome.

No matter what type of love you’re celebrating, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Previous Posts

Cupid and Psyche * An inspiring Valentine’s message * The best Valentine’s party * My most popular Valentine’s series

Three Years In

It is hard to believe that three years have gone by since my father’s passing. People say a lot of things about loss and death, that time heals all wounds and that new experiences help us cope with our losses.

I will not pretend to know whether that is wisdom or just banality intended to make us feel better.

However, I can remember my father with some bittersweet joy most of the time…without a lump of hurt settling in my throat and without the sting of tears burning my eyes. Certain memories still ache and writhe. There is a preciousness to those, a feeling that they are still unhealed and raw and unfinished. Other memories haunt me, painfully reminding me of what I can never get back.

The past three years have been busy with the growing of children and the activity of family and jobs and life. I wonder sometimes how things would have been different if my father were around to enjoy these times with us. He would have doted on his grandchildren and given me sound advice—sometimes unasked—on the best decisions to make for the future. There are many times I just wish I could hear his voice again. That longing always makes me cry.

I use his example to remind my friends and loved ones to schedule all their doctors’ appointments early in the year. Sometimes I can tell them why without breaking down. Other times I can’t.

I try to appreciate the time I have with aging relatives more, even if that time is spent on a phone call—they won’t always be around. Honestly, I’ve tried harder with relatives of all ages, and it’s brought me great joy to nourish those ties.

This time of year raises the worst memories. I can remember his birthday and anniversary with joy, but the period between the last times I saw him, the news, and the funeral hit me especially hard.

Looking through my pictures on Google Photos, I discovered that Google’s creeptastic face recognition managed to capture my father’s image across four decades without any trouble, despite hair loss, weight loss, and even the dazed exhaustion of his final days.

Perhaps seeing the evolution of these images spurred my subconscious to the troubled dreams I’ve had, reimagining his illness all over again. Despite his having been gone for three years now, the horror of discovering his diagnosis and watching his health decline still feels like a nightmare. I honestly haven’t slept well in the since I saw the pictures, either because of bad dreams or a resistance to wanting to go to sleep in the first place to experience those dreams.

The gaping hole in my soul, however, remains, and nothing can bridge it.

All my love, Papa. I miss you.