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The Apsara dancers, celestial nymphs

by Pierre To
7 minutes to read
The Apsara dancers, celestial nymphs

The Apsaras are celestial nymphs of great beauty, outstanding dancers, they often use their seductive talents to prevent the sages from attaining enlightenment.



An apsara, also spelled apsaras, is a female cloud and water spirit in Hindu culture.

They feature prominently in the sculpture, dance, literature and painting of many South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, such as in Thailand.

In Indian mythology, apsaras are beautiful supernatural creatures.

They are young, elegant and specialists in the art of dance.

They are often women of the Gandharvas, the musicians of Indra's court.

They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas, usually in the palaces of the gods, entertaining and sometimes seducing the gods and men.

Close to and in the service of the Gods, they are sometimes compared to angels.

Apsaras are said to be able to change their form at will, and to rule over fortunes.

Each of the 26 Apsaras in Indra's court represents a distinct aspect of the performing arts.

They are also associated with fertility rites.

The Apsaras in the Rigveda

AsparaThe Rigveda speaks of an Apsara who is the wife of Gandharva; however, the Rigveda also seems to allow for the existence of more than one Apsara.

The only apsara specifically named in the Rigveda is Urvashi.

Later Hindu scriptures record the existence of many apsaras, who act as Indra's servants or as dancers in his heavenly court.

The story of the Urvashi apsara

There are many legends about the birth of Urvashi, the following being the most common:


The king of the gods, Indra, did not want the sages Narayana and Nara to acquire divine powers through meditation, so he sent two apsaras to distract them.

One of the sages then struck her thigh, creating a woman so beautiful that Indra's apsaras could not match her.

This beautiful woman was Urvashi, hence her name, from uru, the thigh.


The sage's meditation could then reach its peak.

When this was completed, the sage offered his creation to Indra.

Urvashi then took the place of honour in Indra's court.

Urvasi also became the wife of a human king, Pururavas

They got together on the condition that he did not uncover his nakedness.

The story goes that Urvashi returned to heaven just before dawn in the company of other apsaras, returning from the palace of Kubera on Mount Kailasa where she had completed her task of breaking the penance of the sage Vibhandaka, leaving their son with him.

She was with Chitralekha, Rambha and many others when a demon named Keshin abducted Urvashi (or, depending on the version, Urvashi and Chitralekha), going in the northeastern direction with his captives.

Following the stories, the remaining group of Apsaras asked for help and they were heard by King Pururavas.

He pursued the demon on his chariot and freed the apsara (or two apsaras) from its clutches.

Urvashi and Pururavas fell in love at first sight, but the nymphs were immediately called back to heaven.

The king returned home and tried to concentrate on his work, but he was unable to stop thinking about Urvashi.

He wondered aloud if this was a case of unrequited love.

Urvashi, who had gone to see Pururavas in an invisible form, as she could not stop thinking about him, then wrote a message on a birch leaf, confirming her love.

Unfortunately, the leaf was blown away, stopping only at the feet of Queen Aushinari, the princess of Kashi and wife of Pururavas.

The queen was at first furious, but later declared that she would not come between the two lovers.

Unfortunately, just before Urvashi and Pururavas could speak to each other, Urvashi was summoned back to heaven to perform in a play.

She was so distracted during the play that she missed her cue and mispronounced the name of her lover's character during the performance, saying Pururavas instead of Purushottama.

As a punishment, Urvasi was banished from heaven, a punishment modified by Indra to 'until such time as her human lover would set eyes on the child she would bear'.

After a series of incidents, including Urvashi's temporary transformation into a vine, the curse was finally lifted and the lovers were allowed to stay together on Earth as long as Pururavas lived.

The Apsaras in the Mahabharata


In many of the stories told in the Mahabharata, apsaras appear in important roles.

The epic contains several lists of the main Apsaras, whose lists are not always identical.

Here is a list, with a description of how the celestial dancers appeared to residents and guests at the court of the gods:

Ghritachi and Menaka and Rambha and Purvachitti and Swayamprabha and Urvashi and Misrakeshi and Dandagauri and Varuthini and Gopali and Sahajanya and Kumbhayoni and Prajagara and Chitrasena and Chitralekha and Saha and Madhuraswana

These and others by the thousands had eyes like lotus leaves, which were used to attract the hearts of people practising rigid austerities.

Possessing a slim waist and wide blonde hips, they began to perform various evolutions, shaking their deep breasts, glancing around and displaying other attractive attitudes capable of stealing the hearts, minds and spirits of the spectators.

A bit like the story of the life of BuddhaThis was when Mara's beautiful daughters tried to rouse him from his meditation by dancing in front of him.

The Nymph and the Sage

AsparaOne type of story or theme that often appears in the Mahabharata is that of an Apsara sent to distract a sage or spiritual master from his ascetic practices.

A story embodying this theme is told by the epic heroine Shakuntala to explain her own parentage.

The sage Viswamitra had generated such intense energy by means of his asceticism that Indra himself had become fearful.

Deciding that the sage should be distracted from his penances, he sent the apsara Menaka to try to charm him.

Menaka trembled at the thought of angering such a powerful ascetic, but she obeyed the God's command.

As she approached Viswamitra, the wind god Vayu tore off her clothes.

Seeing her undressed in this way, the wise man gave in to desire.

The nymph and the sage had sexual relations for some time, during which Viswamitra's asceticism was put on hold.

As a result, Menaka gave birth to a daughter, whom she abandoned on the banks of a river.

That girl was Shakuntala herself, the narrator of the story.

Photos of asparagus

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Video: Apsara dancers

If you too want to see an apsara, nothing could be easier, you just need to practice meditation and reach a level of wisdom high enough to make Indra tremble 😉 :

Learn to meditate: complete meditation course

See also :

Thai legend

Source: Wikipedia ; wiki Urvashi Photos: faceebook,

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