(Last Updated on : 09/04/2014)
Apsaras have been referred in ancient stories and legends as well as in the fairy tales. They are variously described as fairies, angels, nymphs and sirens. Actually they are celestial maidens of exquisite beauty and alluring charm and artistically blessed with power of dancing and singing. They have will power so that they can change their body to any forms as and when desired.
The Apsaras are the court dancers of the king of gods, Indra. It is Indra, under whose instructions the Apsaras seduce mortals, kings and sages, who became powerful enough to threaten the mighty Indra. The male counterparts of the Apsaras are the Gandharvas, who are also very expert in music. The Apsaras dance in Indra's court while the Gandharvas sings and plays music.
Sage Kashyapa, who has many wives, is considered as father of many celestial races. The demi-gods are born from his wife Adity and demons come from his other wife Dity. While the Bhagabata Purana states that Apsaras were born from Kashyapa and Muni, it is in the Mahabharata, Pradha is mentioned as Apsaras' mother. In other ancient legends it is said that the Apsaras came out during the churning of the sea.
There are many Apsaras related to Puranas, epics and legends. In Mahabharata forty-five Apsaras are referred namely Adrika, Alamvusha, Ambika, Anavadya, Anuchana, Aruna, Asita, Budbuda, Devi, Ghritachi, Gunamukhya, Gunuvara, Kamya, Karnika, Kesini, Kshema, Lata, Laxmana, Manorama, Marichi, Menaka, Misrasthala, Purvachitti, Rakshita,
Rambha, Ritushala, Sahajanya, Samichi, Saurbhedi, Sharadvati, Shuchika, Soma, Suvahu, Sugandha, Supria, Suraja, Surasa, Surata, Tilottama, Umlocha, Urvashi, Vapu, Varga, Vidyutparna & Vishvachi . Among all the Apsaras Rambha, Menaka, Urvashi and Tilottama are most famous.
The story of Urvashi is referred to Rig Veda, the earliest Hindu text. Urvashi had love affair with king Pururava, whose wife was barren. The affair did not waited for Indra's grant and Urvashi gave birth to Pururava's son. The dynasty then continued with that son and after many descendants, Arjuna was born in that family. When Arjuna went to take Indra's invitation in the heaven, Urvashi encountered him. She was besotted by Arjun's masculine charm. She wanted to seduce Arjuna but Arjuna refused Urvashi saying she was like his mother as she was her ancestor. Urvashi cursed him in wild rage that he would be eunuch for a year.
The other famous Apsara was Tilottama who saved the world from the rampaging Asura brothers Sunda and Upasunda.
Menaka was another famous Apsara, whose story is well known. Once upon a time sage Vishwamitra gathered power by strong ascetism so that Indra himself was afraid. He sent Menaka to distract him from his penance. Menaka was so frightened that she trembled in the thought of provoking the rage of such a powerful ascetic. However she obeyed Lord Indra's order. As she approached Vishwamitra, wind god Marut took away her clothes. The sage was captivated by her charm. He got distracted and sported with the Apsara. After that Menaka became pregnant. She gave birth to a beautiful daughter, named Shakuntala but abandoned her in the bank of river.