Kama was the second son of Dharma, one of the Prajapatis born from the right breast of Brahma. His other two brothers were Shama and Harsha. All three brothers were extremely handsome but Kama excelled all and became the god of love, beauty and passion. He was married to Rati, the goddess of beauty. As to how Kama became prey of Shiva's wrath there are two stories in prevalence. In the process of creation Brahma created a girl who was extremely beautiful, sweet tongued and wise. She was named Saraswati. Brahma placed her on the tip of each one's tongue but himself fell in her love. After he realised that his act was immoral, he cursed Kama for kindling in him the related passion. He cursed that he would turn to ashes by Shiva's wrath.
Brahma's curse takes effect later. After the death of his wife Sati Shiva retired to Himalaya and engaged himself into deep penance. Those days a demon Taraka had grown quite powerful after he was blessed with the boon that save the son of Shiva none else would be able to kill him. Shiva had refused to marry any woman. Thus, Taraka was practically invincible. This made him arrogant and he began harassing even gods and snatching from them the Indraloka. In the mean time Parvati, the daughter of Himavana, fell in Shiva's love and vowed to marry none but him. She engaged in rigorous penance for winning the Parmeeshvara. Indra decided to exploit this situation. He sent Kama to rouse in Shiva's mind the passion of love. Accordingly Kama reached where Shiva was engaged in penance and shot at him his arrows of passion. The enraged Shiva did not open his normal eyes as these were buried in meditation. He opened instead his third eye. There emitted from it a flood of fire and Kama was burnt into it. His wife Rati moaned and prayed Lord Shiva to revive her husband but Shiva said that he would live for ever but only as 'Ananga', the one without a material form.
This excellent Madhubani painting has its canvas divided into upper and lower compartments. The upper one portrays Lord Shiva engaged in deep and rigorous penance inside a tree-grove on a mountain range, obviously the Himalayas. He is seated on lion skin. His third eye has been prominently portrayed on his forehead. On his right he has his trident and drum nailed into ground and on his left he has his 'kamandala'. The 'Neelakantha' or the blue throated Shiva has been portrayed as total blue. Black trees with green leaves are typical of Madhubani art. The lower compartment depicts Rati and Kamadeva. Kamadeva has in his hands his bow and arrow ready to shoot. Two flowering plants, one each on both sides, further symbolise Kamadeva and the season of spring when Kama is stronger than ever else. In front of Kamadeva there emerges a heap of fire and coal like black ashes under it. It depicts the prime theme, that is, Kamadeva reduced to ashes.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
Of Related Interest:
Shiva - The Sensuous Yogi (Article)