Kamaswami, the name of Siddhartha’s mentor in the novel, is made up of two Sanskrit words kama and swami. Swami means "owner" or "master" and is an Indian title of respect for a religious teacher or member of an ascetic order.
Kama or the fulfillment of sensory pleasures and the acquiring of material wealth is seen as one of the primary obstacle on the spiritual path towards enlightenment. In Siddhartha's spiritual quest, Kamaswami, the merchant, is a distraction. Working with Kamaswami, in order to acquire wealth and distinction to be able to court Kamala, Siddhartha also begins to appreciate material possessions. Kamaswami teaches him the way of the merchant; the business and economics of it. While Siddhartha embarks on the way of the merchant, with humility and compassion, his ascetic temperament cannot protect him from the pitfalls of leading a materialistic life.
Read about the maritime history of India.