Urvashi – An Apsara – Indian Mythology


Urvashi is an Apsara in the court of Indra. Once, the primordial twin sages Nara and Naryana were performing a particularly severe penance. As was his wont, Indra feared for his crown and sent his divine dancers, the Apsaras, to disrupt this penance. Much angered, the sages struck their thighs, and from thence was born Urvashi, who was more beautiful than the other Apsaras. (In Sanskrit, Uru means ‘thigh’). Seeing her divine beauty, the other dancers ran away in shame. Indra apologized for his effrontery and the sages pardoned him. They also sent Urvashi to be a dancer in his court. This story is told in more detail in ‘Birth of Urvashi’.
Once there was a very handsome and righteous king in the Chandra dynasty named Puroorava. He was in the habbit of visiting Indra’s court frequently. Urvashi met him there, and they fell in love. After a while, she got bored with a mortal existence and went back to her place in the heavens. Puroorava was disraught. Besotted with her, he searched all over the world for her, finally confronting her at Kurukshetra. She refuses to return to him and ridicules his devotion to her. This colloquy is in [R.V.10.95]. [see ‘Urvashi and Puroorava’].
[ The poet Kalidasa wrote a lyrical play in the 4th Century A.D., called Vikramorvashi (Urvashi Conquered by Valor), which gives a much more romantic version of the story. Here, the King Puroorava and the Apsara Urvashi are star crossed lovers. After a series of mishaps, mostly due to the Curses from the gods, all ends happily, with the lovers united on earth.]
In the Mahabharata, Arjuna visits his father Indra in heaven. There Urvashi is attracted to him and declares her love for him. He is horrified, because he is a descendant of Puroorava and a relationship with Urvashi would be incest. She argues that since the Apsaras are timeless, immortal, the laws of mortal men do not apply to them. However, she fails to persuade Arjuna. In anger, she curses him to turn into an eunuch. Indra consoles his son and assures him that he would be an eunuch for just one year, that too of his own chosing. (See ‘Urvashi’s Curse’). Arjuna makes good use of this curse when he has to go into a yearlong exile.
She is also said to be the mother of Agastya, whom she bore to a sage named MitraVaruna.

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