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

Did you ever wonder about the types of love described in different cultures? You’ve probably heard different words for love in Hinduism and Ancient Greece.

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

Words for Love in Hinduism and Ancient Greece

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.

Words for Love in Hinduism and Ancient Greece


Hinduism addresses six different types of love. It doesn’t surprise me that definitions of love tie intricately 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 translate 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 epitomizes 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 differs 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. Don’t confuse this with (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.

Words for love in Hinduism and Ancient Greece help us understand what each culture valued. No matter what type of love you’re celebrating, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

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