It often amazes me the striking similarities between many cultures when it comes to their beliefs in gods or goddesses. Case in point, Rati, India’s version of the Roman goddess of love – – Venus.
Unlike Venus; however, Rati is not pictured as the perfectly shaped woman with ripening breasts, a tiny waist and slim hips. She is usually shown as we might view a pregnant woman in the last trimester of her pregnancy.
While the western world views a pregnant woman in many different ways, the condition is often displayed as a woman’s most glorious moment in other cultures. Some see it as the time when a woman is her most sensual.
Rati is often associated with the water goddesses known as the Apsaras. They were a very unique and powerful group of goddesses known for their ability to bewitch and beguile the opposite sex. It is believed that they possessed the powers to shape shift into almost anything their heart, or that of their companions, desired.
As the Hindu love goddess, Rati is pictured much in the same way as the other Apsaras. She is usually shown with creamy pale skin and long dark hair. However, with their shape shifting abilities, she could be pictured in many other ways as well. The one thing that remains common, no matter how she is painted, is her undeniable beauty and unquestionable sensuality.
Some believed the Apsaras, in general, and Rati, in particular, had the ability to enchant males with nothing more than a mere look. That may be because these goddesses were always pictured as highly sexual beings with large, heaving breasts and full lips that clearly demanded male attention.
Either way, it is reported that no male could resist them once their sites were set in his direction. Once under their spell, no man escaped without first doing their bidding. The Apsaras sometimes worked in pairs or groups, but that was hardly required. Rati usually worked alone and was well known for beguiling multiple men at one time.
Perhaps this close attachment to sex has more to do with the Hindu faith than anything else. They have always considered sex as more than mere pleasure, although that is certainly a part of the equation. It is also considered a spiritual experience. One only need to take one look at the “Kama Sutra” to understand that sex holds an important place within this belief system.
While Rati herself is not pictured in the famed book, she did inspire one all about her in “Ratirahasya.” The name of the book literally translates into “Secrets of Love.” It is believed that the goddess invented or inspired the many erotic positions depicted therein.
Since it is all about how to make love in the most pleasurable way possible, it would make sense that the Hindu Goddess of Love would endorse its publication in spirit, if not in actuality. But love and lust can often be two separate things and some see Rati more as the goddess of carnal pleasure than that of real love, family or pregnancy. Still others believe the duality of her nature cannot be separated.
Either way, there is no denying Rati’s attachment to the love myth. She is often pictured along with Kama, the Hindu God of love in Hindu texts and temple structures. She considered to be his female counterpart.
Her name, in Sanskrit, means “to delight in.” While that could be open for interpretation, the most obvious one, and the one most widely accepted, is to delight in sexual pleasures.
There are different theories about how Rati came into being. One is that she was created from the sweat of her father, Daksha, to become the wife of Kama. Another is that the god Vishnu reincarnated Sandyha as Rati after she committed suicide over Kama’s advances toward her. In still other cases, the goddess is pictured as born form the sweat of love’s passionate embrace.
However she came to be, or whatever ultimate purpose she holds, Rati remains an ever-important part of Hindu culture.
The Book of Goddesses: A Celebration of the Divine Feminine by Kris Waldherr, 2006