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

Redeeming the Demon’s Daughter Live on Amazon!

It’s so very exciting to announce the release of “Redeeming the Demon’s Daughter.” It’s out today on Amazon!

This is a short story from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

Redeeming the Demon's Daughter

Redeeming the Demon’s Daughter

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the Ramayana follows the story of the god-king Rama.

The second of his father’s three wives wished her son to be king, so she requested her husband fulfill a promise to banish Rama. Rama’s wife, Sita, and another brother, Laxman, accompanied him on his 14-year exile.

During his exile, the ten-headed demon Ravana kidnapped Sita and held her in his kingdom. An army, led by the god Hanuman, aided Rama in his battle against Ravana.

Hanuman’s army attempted to build a bridge to Ravana’s kingdom by throwing large rocks into the ocean. Unbeknownst to Hanuman or his army, the rocks were carried away by mermaids.

This is where my knowledge of the story diverges with other cultures’ versions: the leader of these mermaids is the daughter of the demon king. And in this version, Hanuman goes to investigate the reason his bridge project is being delayed, meets the mermaid, and they have a son.

Hindu mythology is full of these holy conceptions, like the celibate sage that “met” a queen five times and blessed her with a child upon each meeting when she was barren. To fully appreciate the naivety, you have to see the serial television program, where the sage sends her a small flame.

In the Hanuman stories I’ve heard, he too was celibate, and his sweat fell into the ocean and turned into his child. It seems slightly more believable that his half-fish child would be born of a mermaid.

Anyway, in the Ramayana, we find out what happens to Rama, Sita, Laxman, Hanuman, Ravana, and even Hanuman’s son, but we never find out anything more about the mermaid. And when I learned about the story, it haunted me.

There had to be more to the story of Suvarnamatsya (blame the Ramayana and the Sanskrit language for an entirely unpronounceable name). Suvi’s voice kept whispering in the background as I went about my business, telling me that she loved the son she lost.

(And that’s not a spoiler, since I posted a Saturday Snippet about it quite recently.)

Because in the Ramayana we find that her uncle fostered her son and trained him to be a warrior. He also seemed to be on some accelerated growth pattern, since he was actually fighting in part of the war detailed in the Ramayana.

So I took the information I found in the Ramayana and fit the pieces around a story that resolved Suvi’s story. I just couldn’t reconcile a love interest of Hanuman’s abandoning her child. So I made the sympathetic choices to figure out what might have happened in her life to result in that particular decision. And then all the rest of the pieces of “Redeeming the Demon’s Daughter” just fell into place.

I hope you enjoy Suvi’s story—it really holds a piece of my soul. Like a Horcrux, but not evil.