The Apsaras are celestial nymphs of exceptional beauty, outstanding dancers; they often use their talents as seducers to prevent the wise from reaching enlightenment.
They feature prominently in the sculpture, dance, literature, and painting of many cultures in South and Southeast Asia 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 the Indra court.
They dance to music made by the Gandharvas, usually in the palaces of the gods, entertain and sometimes seduce the gods and men.
Close and in the service of the Gods, they are sometimes compared to angels.
It is said that the Apsaras can change their form at will, and rule over the fortunes.
Each of the 26 Apsaras of the Indra court represents a distinct aspect of the performing arts.
They are also associated with fertility rites.
The Apsaras in Rigveda
The only apsara specifically named in Rigveda is Urvashi.
Subsequent Hindu Scriptures take into account the existence of many apsaras, who act as Indra’s servants or as dancers at her heavenly court.
The history of Urvashi apsara
The king of the gods, Indra, did not want the sages Narayana and Nara to acquire divine powers through meditation; thus, he sent two apsaras to distract them.
One of the wise men then struck his thigh, creating a woman so beautiful that Indra’s apsaras could not match her.
This beautiful woman was Urvashi, hence her name, Uru, thigh.
The meditation of the wise man could then reach its apogee.
Once this was completed, the wise man offered his creation to Indra.
Urvashi then took the place of honor in Indra’s courtyard.
Urvasi also became the wife of a human king, Pururavas
They united with the only condition that he would not discover his nakedness.
The story goes that Urvashi returned to heaven just before dawn with other apsaras, returning from Kubera Palace 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 kidnapped Urvashi (or, depending on the version, Urvashi and Chitralekha), heading northeast with his captives.
According to the stories, the group of remaining Apsaras asked for help, and King Pururavas heard them.
He pursued the demon on his chariot and freed the apsara (or both apsaras) from his claws.
Urvashi and Pururavas fell in love at first sight, but the nymphs were immediately called 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 unshared love.
Urvashi, who had gone to see Pururavas in an invisible form because she could not manage not to think of him, then wrote a message on a birch leaf, confirming her love.
Unfortunately, the leaf was carried away by the wind, stopping only at the feet of Queen Aushinari, the Princess of Kashi, and Pururavas’ wife.
The queen was initially furious but later declared that she would not interfere between the two lovers.
Unfortunately, just before Urvashi and Pururavas could talk 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 signal and incorrectly pronounced the name of her lover’s character during the performance, saying Pururavas instead of Purushottama.
As punishment, Urvasi was banished from the sky, a sentence modified by Indra as “until her human lover laid eyes on the child she would bear him.”
After a series of incidents, including the temporary transformation of Urvashi 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 Mahabharata
The epic contains several lists of the main Apsaras, the lists of which 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 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 practicing rigid austerities.
With a slim waist and wide blond hips, they began to make various evolutions, shaking their deep breasts, casting their eyes, and displaying other attractive attitudes capable of stealing the hearts, resolutions, and minds of the audience.
A little like in the story of, when Mara’s beautiful daughters tried to get him out of his meditation by dancing in front of him.
The Nymph and the Wise One
A story embodying this theme is told by the epic heroine Shakuntala to explain her filiation.
The wise Viswamitra had generated such intense energy through his asceticism that Indra himself had become fearful.
Deciding that the wise man 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 order of the god.
As she approached Viswamitra, the god of the wind Vayu ripped off her clothes.
Seeing her undressed in this way, the wise man abandoned himself to desire.
The nymph and the wise man had sexual intercourse for a time, during which Viswamitra’s asceticism was put on hold.
As a result, Menaka gave birth to a girl, whom she abandoned on the banks of a river.
This girl was Shakuntala herself, the narrator of the story.
Video: Apsara dancers
If you too want to see an apsara, nothing could be easier, all you have to do is practice meditation and reach a level of wisdom high enough to make Indra tremble;) :
Source: wiki Urvashi; Photos: they come from a facebook page, but I didn’t notice the author, link to come…