cats, sanskrit, and 9 kinds of love – or was it 96?

admiring a catfirst thing this morning, i opened the kitchen door and let rum in, our cat. i bent down, stroked her thick gray fur, and told her how beautiful she was. i love rum. this love is tinged with admiration. we call her our zen cat; she is one of the most even-tempered creatures (humans or animals) i have ever met. it is a love, too, nurtured by the gifts she gives us – the healing sounds of her purring, just to name one.  many ingredients go into this love for our cat.

there is a claim that sanskrit has 96 words for love. i am hoping for some experts to confirm whether that is correct. suffice it to say – and the word “suffice” is a bit ironic in this context – that when i entered the word “love” into a sanskrit dictionary, i received close to 1,200 entries that are related in one way or another to the concept of love. (concept? feeling? experience?) 93 of them start with “A”. not all of them are words for either the verb or noun “love” – but below are some interesting ones. before i give them to you – 16 in all, 16 words of love – i thought i’d categorize for you the concepts associated with “love” (only as found in the letter “A”, mind you!). now we’re down to 9 kinds of love. quite fascinating:

  1. desire, passion and consuming love – “to melt with love”
  2. affection – “love of one’s own children”
  3. love as suffering – “to be ruined” (by love, i presume)
  4. comforting love – “to coax, soothe”
  5. brotherly love, compassion and kindness – “showing tender love towards the followers of jainism and settling them firmly in their religion”
  6. love as expansion – “to swell, increase”
  7. romantic / sexual love – “love, as a mental experience of lovers”
  8. lonely love – “suppressed (lit. inward) love”
  9. devotion

haven’t found anything on love of pets yet.

here are the actual words:

abhihary to wish anything to be near, call it near; to like , love

aintiNai 1. love between man and woman as manifested in five situations pertaining to the five tracts of land; 2. the five tracts of land

akagkaram self-love, egotism

akappuRapperuntiNai love between unequals

akattiNai love, as a mental experience of lovers

aLi 1. love; 2. clemency, grace; 3. desire; 4. coolness; 5. gift, present; 6. civility politeness; 7. poverty, wretchedness; 8. unripe fruit

ANam 1. love, friendship, affection; 2. support; 3. vessel

antarmanmatha suppressed (lit. inward) love

anurakti affection , love , devotion

anurudh to bar (as a way); to surround , confine , overcome, to adhere to , be fond of , love ; to coax , soothe, entreat

apahnava concealment , denial of or turning off of the truth ; dissimulation , appeasing , satisfying; affection , love

apatyasneha love of one’s own children

arAkam 1. melody-type; 2. a secondary melody-type of the pa1lai class; 3. a melody-type à takkarAkam ; 4. passion, love, vehement desire; 5. redness

aRattuvaccaLam showing tender love towards the followers of jainism and settling them firmly in their religion

Ataram 1. regard, love, affection, kindness, respect; 2. desire; 3. honour, hospitality

azi-tal 1. to perish, to be ruined; 2. to decay, to be mutilated; 3. to fail, to be frustrated; 4. to become unsettled, to lose standing; 5. to be defeated; 6. to melt with love; 7. to suffer, to be troubled; 8. to be disheartened; 9. to swell, increase; 10. to sympathise with; 11. to be spent, used up, sold out, exhausted

(refer to the dictionary for the meaning of mid-word capitalization and other information on pronunciation).

the image, in a big public gallery (“alte pinakothek”) in my home town, munich, comes from miscpix


  1. Interesting post. I feel that we need as a society to start using less general terms than just love. When someone says I love something or someone they really could mean way to many things.

  2. thanks for all the comments, guys!

    evan, i have NO idea what the five tracts of land refer to. i just found it interesting (and amusing) that what looks like real estate played into romantic love (well, i guess that hasn’t changed much since sanskrit times)

    job, i agree with you. indeed, i am one of those people who likes to throw the word “love” around. (“i LOVE thai curry!”)

    thanks for doing the research, raj! i’ll look into it.

    the upshot is that we need to create more words of love … hm. material for yet another blog post …

    will, shannon and lynn, thanks for dropping by!

  3. Very interesting post. I often try to explain the love I have for my ex husband, who I still live with very harmoniously with my 2 children. I love him dearly, respect him, care for him but the physical love no longer remains. He is not ‘family’ in the sense that we are not connected by blood, manner or character….so it is not that type of love .

    Suggestions as for an appropriate term.

    Looking forward to following some of these links.

  4. the sanskrit words seem like definitions for varieties of love not synonyms for love. In which case I guess English also has various words for love:
    akagkaram means egotism which would be narcissim in English. The other words we have for love might be: infatuation, desire, adoration, passion.
    I think it is the idea that love is meant to define something pure and unconditonal that makes
    us think the only word that fits that definition is “love” .

    So you could say “I adore Thai curry!” or like my generation has made popular, “I heart Thai curry!” lol

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