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Apsaras and Gandharvas Timeline

Apsaras and Gandharvas Timeline

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In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, Gandharva is a class of celestial beings whose males are divine singers and females are divine dancers. It is also a term for skilled singers in Indian classical music.

1 Answer 1

What is the difference between Yakshas & Gandharvas?

The primary difference is their origin. Puranas describes the origin story of Yakshas:

Vishnu Purana - Next from lord Brahma, in a form composed of the quality of rajas, was produced hunger, of whom anger was born: and the god put forth in darkness beings emaciate with hunger, of hideous aspects, and with long beards. Those beings hastened to lord Brahma. Some of them yelled, "Protect us", and were thence called Rákshasas. Others who yelled, "Let us eat!", were called Yakshas.

Another story in the Bhagavata Purana says that Yakshas were created by Brahma before Rakshasas. The Yakshas then wanted to eat Brahma, so Brahma cried out "Protect me!", and from that he created Rakshasas who protected him. The word "rakshasa" has the word "raksha" in it, which means "protect". Yaksha means "eat".

So from this and other verses, we can see that Rakshasas and Yakshas are closely related.

Gandharvas have a different origin as mentioned subsequently in the same Vishnu Purana:

The Gandharvas were next born, imbibing melody: drinking of the goddess of speech, they were born, and thence their appellation.

Gandharva here includes Apsaras too, since Gandharvas and Apsaras are basically the male and female counterpart to each other. Gandharvas and Apsaras are very handsome. Gandharvas are the husbands of Apsaras:

Atharva Veda - The Apsaras, you know, are your wives You, the Gandharvas, are their husbands. Speed away, you immortals, do not go after mortals (humans)!

They are known for their promiscuous lifestyle, and so the "gandharva vivaha (love marriage)" is named after them.

Another description of Yakshas:

Vishnu Purana - Glory to Lord Vishnu, who are the Yakshas, whose nature is charmed with sounds, and whose frivolous hearts perfect knowledge cannot pervade.

I have read that Gandharvas are related to music and Yakshas are related to nature.

Correct. Yakshas like to live in forests.

Are both divine? Semi-divine? Celestial?

They are all celestial beings. Yakshas and Gandharvas are non-belligerent, materialistic, celestial beings:

Manusmriti 12.47 - Gandharvas, Guhyakas, ‘Yakṣas,’ the attendants of the gods, and all the Apsaras, represent the high state among those partaking of ‘Rajas.’

Rakshasas on the other hand, even though they are paired with Yakshas often, are bloodthirsty and very violent.

Manusmriti 12.44 - Cāraṇas, Suparṇas, hypocritical men, Rākṣasas, and Piśācas—represent the highest state among those partaking of the quality of ‘Tamas.’

Glory to Lord Vishnu, who art all Rakshasas, that walk by night, sprung from the quality of tamas, fierce, fraudulent, and cruel.

So, the main difference between Yakshas and Gandharvas is origin and physical appearance. The main similarity is that they are rajasic and partake in material enjoyments and are not belligerent.


Map of "Gandharva Territories mentioned mainly in Mahabharata"

Gandharvas are mentioned as many as 505 times in the epic Mahabharata. The 27 tribes of the Gandharvas and Apsaras were mentioned at (2,11).

Mention of Gandharva territories

Himalaya Region

The Himalayas, is applauded and revered by the Devas and the Gandharvas, and seemed to be covered with Vedic beauty. (13,14). There was a peak named Munjaban on the summits of the Himalaya mountains. Gandharvas live there with other tribes. Marutta's gold mine was there (14,8). The Gandharvas, the Yakshas, and the Siddhas were aboundand in the north (5,111). A small population of "Gandhava" is still found in the mid and western part of Nepal, specially in Kaski district. These people play "SARANGI" and amuse and entertain people in festivals. They sing songs and play "Sarangi" very well.

Along the Saraswati River

The Rishis, the Siddhas, the Charanas, the Gandharvas, the Apsaras, the Yakshas and the Nagas, often repair to Kurukshetra which lieth to the south of the Saraswati River and the north of the Drishadwati river. (3,83)

During Bala Rama’s pilgrimage along Saraswati River he has seen many Gandharva settlements there

Description of a place called Subhumika of Saraswati River : The Devas and the Gandharvas repair there. The Gandharvas and diverse tribes of Apsaras are to be seen there assembled together and passing the time as happily as they like. That spot is the beautiful sporting ground of those Apsaras, therefore is that tirtha on the excellent bank of the Sarasvati called Subhumika. Bala Rama of Madhu's race, bathed in that tirtha. He heard the sound of those Gandhrava songs and musical instruments. He also saw there many abodes of Devas, Gandharvas, and Rakshasas. The son of Rohini then proceeded to the holy-place called Gandharva Teertha. There many Gandharvas headed by Viswavasu and possessed of ascetic merit, pass their time in dance and song of the most charming kind.(9,37)

The Adityas, the Vasus, the Rudras, the Sadhyas, the Maruts, the Gandharvas, and the Apsaras are ever present in Pushkara (Pushkar lake Rajasthan close to Saraswati) (3,82)

A mention of Gandharvas raiding the Sauvira Kingdom (close to Saraswati River) is found at (1,141): Arjuna and the other Pandava princes became so powerful that they slew in battle the great Sauvira king who had performed a sacrifice extending over three years, unaffected by the raids of the Gandharvas. (1,141)

Along the rivers Ganges and Yamuna

Region, near the source of the Ganges is said to be resorted by Gandharvas (3,81) The spot where Ganges rusheth past, cleaving the foremost of mountains which is frequented by Gandharvas and Yakshas and Rakshasas and Apsaras, and inhabited by hunters, and Kinnaras, is called Gangadwara (the hole of the Ganges) (3,90). Angaraparna himself lived in a forest by the name of Angaraparna on the banks of river Ganges.(1,172)During the time of Yayati, Nagas, Yaksas and Gandharvas met at Prayaga (5,120). Arjuna encountered some Gandharva tribes (along with Asuras, Yakshas, Rakshasas and Nagas) in Khandava forest (near Yamuna river) when it was being burnt (1,229). In Khandava Arjuna had baffled Gandharvas and Nagas (3,159)

Southern Regions

The banks of river Narmada is described as the birthplace of Yaksha king Kuvera (Vaisravana), where his father Visravas, who was a sage, lived. It is also a territory of Gandharvas. (3,89). Gokarna (Gokarn, Karnataka) is also mentioned as a place of Yakshas and Pisachas, and Kinnaras and the great Nagas, and Siddhas and Charanas and Gandharvas. (3,85) This probably could be the source of Yakshagana, a dance-form practiced in Karnataka and northern Kerala.

Gandharva mentioned as a kingdom of Ancient India (Bharata Varsha)

. the Kasmiras, the Sindhusauviras, the Gandharvas, and the Darsakas the Abhisaras, the Utulas, the Saivalas, and the Valhikas the Darvis, the Vanavadarvas, the Vatagas, the Amarathas, and the Uragas. at (6,9)

This could mean Gandhara Kingdom also. But the striking similarity makes one to speculate that Gandharvas were originally Gandharas.

People of Gandhara mentioned as Gandharvas

There were many references in Mahabharata where people of Gandhara Kingdom were mentioned as Gandharvas. These were either deliberate, or a confusion of facts or errors creaped into the epic when it was orally transmitted through generations

Sakuni, the chief of Gandharas
  • The ruler of the Gandharvas (Sakuni) with his son were mentioned at (8,79)
  • The ruler of the Gandharvas (Sakuni), cut off the head of Kulinda king (8,85)
  • Covetous of kingdom and relying on the ruler of the Gandharvas (Sakuni), Duryodhana summoned the Pandavas (8,91)
  • The twins (Nakula and Sahadeva) and Satyaki, pursued with great speed the king of the Gandharvas (Sakuni)(8,93)
  • Surrounded by a 1,000 Gandharvas, Shakuni, beholding the son of Adhiratha slain, proceeded quickly towards the encampment. (8,95)
  • There the mighty Shakuni, the chief of Gandharvas, of prowess incapable of being baffled, hath been slain by Sahadeva (11,24)
  • The mighty king of the Gandharvas (Sakuni) is mentioned at (9,23)
Sakuni’s brothers
The people of Gandhara Kingdom
  • The heroic Gandharvas along with Sakuni with a large force surrounded Satyaki and Abhimanyu. (6,58)
  • Many kings, amongst whom Nagnajit was the foremost, while staying in Girivraja, as also the Amvashthas, the Videhas, and the Gandharvas, were all vanquished by Karna (7,4)
  • What duties should be performed by the Yavanas, the Kiratas, the Gandharvas, the Chinas, the Savaras, the Barbaras, the Sakas, the Tusharas, the Kankas, the Pathavas, the Andhras, the Madrakas, the Paundras, the Pulindas, the Ramathas, the Kamvojas ?(12,64)
  • The Gandharvas, the Sindhus, and the Sauviras fight best with their nails and lances. (12,100)

Gandarva kingdom famous for its horses

The countries famous for horses where all situated in the north and north-west regions of ancient India

Gandharva king Angaraparna mentions to Arjuna about a country of Gandhravas which was famous for its horses. They were used by Devas and Gandharvas. They were lean-fleshed, but fast and will not get tired easily. (1,172).

Spread of the epic Mahabharata into Gandharva region

The spread of Mahabharata as an epic-poem is mentioned have reached the regions of Gandharvas too.

The initial composition of Mahabharata by Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, comprising 24000 verses, along with an epitome comprising 150 verses, grew in size later and spread to various regions, including the region of Gandharvas. Vyasa's disciple Vaisampayana and the story teller Ugrasrava Sauti spread it in Aryavarta (Gangatic plain). Vyasa's son Suka published it in the region of Gandharvas, Yakshas, and Rakshasas. (1,1)

Gardens of Chitraratha Gandhrava

These gardens are mentioned at many places (1-70,75,78)

  • King Yayati sported with Apsara Viswachi at gardens of Chitraratha (1,75)
  • Asura priest's daughter Devayani and Asura king's daughter Sarmista sported there (1,78)

Gandharvas in Yaksha Kingdom

Yaksha king Vaisravana (Kubera, Kuvera etc were his other names) had his kingdom in southern Tibet, surrounding the Kailas ranges of the Himalayas.

Kuvera the king of Yakshas, leaving Lanka and followed by Gandharvas, Yakshas, Rakshasas, and Kinnaras, went to live on mount Gandhamadana, due to a dispute with his stepbrother and Rakshasa king Ravana. (3,273)

Cooling breezes flow through forests of tall Mandaras, near river Alaka and Nandana-gardens exist in the Kingdom of the Yakshas. There the Devas with the Gandharvas surrounded by various tribes of Apsaras, sing in chorus notes of celestial sweetness. Misrakesi and Rambha, and Chitrasena, and Suchismita and Charunetra, and Gritachi and Menaka, and Punjikasthala and Viswachi Sahajanya, and Pramlocha and Urvasi and Ira, and Varga and Sauraveyi, and Samichi, and Vududa, and Lata—these and a thousand other Apsaras and Gandharvas, all well-skilled in music and dance, attend upon Kuvera (Vaisrvana) the king of Yakshas. His palace is always filled with the notes of instrumental and vocal music, as also with the sounds of dance of various tribes of Gandharvas, and Apsaras. The Gandharvas called Kinnaras, and others called Naras and many Yaksha chiefs along with Rakshasas, Pisachas and Vidyadharas wait upon Kuvera. Hundreds of Gandharva chiefs, attired in their respective robes like Viswavasu, and Haha and Huhu and Tumvuru and Parvatta, and Sailusha (Sailusha mentioned in Ramayana also. Raghava Rama’s brother Bharata defeated Sailusha Gandharva's Kingdom) and Chitrasena skilled in music and also Chitraratha,—these and innumerable Gandharvas worship the king of Yakshas. (2,10)

The Yakshas, the Guhyakas, the Rakshasas, the Gandharvas and Apsaras and the Deva having the bull for his vehicle, are to be found in the court of Yaksha king. (2,12). Many Gandharvas resided at Alaka, the city of Kuvera. (3,161). Gandhamadana (a mountain in the northern Himalayas in Tibet) was inhabited by Siddhas and Gandharvas (5,64). Yaksha king Kuvera's army consisted of Gandharvas, Devas and Yakshas with reddened eyes, golden lustre and having huge bodies, strong built, equipped with weapons and swords.(3,160). *The Yakshas of Kuvera headed by Manibhadra, and many Gandharvas and Kinnaras mentioned at (13,19). The region, called Mandakini, of king Vaisravana, there the Gandharvas and Yakshas and Apsaras live, also in Uttara Kuru (13,102)

Gandharvas allied with the Devas

The regions of Devas were further north to the Yaksha regions.

Gandharvas are mentioned as allied with Devas along with Sadhyas, Vasus, Rudras and Adityas (1,32). Gandharvas under Deva king Indra along with the Yakshas, the Nagas, the Rakshasas were mentioned many times (5-10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18). As many as 42000 Gandharvas used to dance before Indra (12,222). The Danavas, Rakshasas, Gandharvas and Nagas and man-eaters were subjugated by the Devas (1,65). Agni to Indra: Let this king of the Gandharvas repair thither as thy messenger (14,9). (That Gandharva's name was Dhritarashtra. He was to deliver the message to king Marutta.) (14,10).

Accompanied by the Rudras, the Vasus, the Adityas, the Aswins, the celestial Rishis, the Gandharvas, the Siddhas, and other superior orders of beings, Indra, seated in splendour on his four-tusked elephants, called Airavata, travelled all over the world. (12,226). Varuna, the son of Aditi, had in days of yore performed in the region of Yamuna, a Rajasuya sacrifice. Having in battle subjugated both Aryas and Devas and Gandharvas and Rakshasas, Varuna performed his grand sacrifice. Upon the commencement of that sacrifices, a battle ensued between the Devas and the Danavas. It was a terrible battle amongst the Kshatriyas. (9,49)

Gandharvas also allied with Kartikeya the generallisimo of the army of Devas (9-45,46)

Gandharvas conquered by Asuras and Rakshasas

The Devas, Arya kings, the Gandharvas, the Nagas, and the Rakshasas, were all under Asura king Vali's sway in days gone by. (12,223). The two Asuras viz Sunda and Upasunda defeated the Devas, the Gandharvas, the Yakshas, the Nagas, the Rakshasas, and the kings Aryavarta. (1,214). Rakshasa Ravana conquered the Devas, the Danavas, the Gandharvas, the Yakshas, and the Kimpurushas (3,279)

Arjuna’s conquest of the Gandharva territory

Arjuna in his military campaign for collecting tribute for Pandava king Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya sacrifice, reached the northern regions where he found the kingdoms of Kimpurushas, Guhakas, Yakshas and Gandharvas

Arjuna is mentioned as conquering a Gandharva Kingdom close to the Kailas range in Tibet (2,27)

Crossing the White mountains (some say it is the mountain chains containing the Kailasa peak, thought to be the abode of Siva. This mountain range is now known as the Kailas Range in Tibet), subjugated the country of the Kimpurushas ruled by Durmaputra (also known as Druma, an ally of the Yaksha king Kuvera (2,10)), after a collision involving a great slaughter of Kshatriyas, and brought the region under his complete sway. Having reduced that country, Arjuna reached the country called Harataka, ruled by the Guhakas (a class of Yakshas). Subjugating them by a policy of conciliation, the Kuru prince beheld in that region that excellent of lakes called Manasa (lake Manasa is in Tibet close to Kailas peak) and various other lakes and tanks sacred to the Rishis. Arjuna having arrived at the lake Manasa conquered the regions ruled by the Gandharvas that lay around the Harataka territories. Here the conqueror took, as tribute from the country, numerous excellent horses called Tittiri, Kalmasha, Manduka. Arjuna at last reached the country of North Harivarsha and desired to conquer it. Thereupon certain frontier-guards of huge bodies coming to him with gallant hearts, said, ‘O Arjuna, this country can be never conquered by thee. If thou seekest thy good, return hence. The Uttara Kurus (see also Kuru Kingdom) live here. There cannot be war here.'

Pandavas visit the region of Yakshas and Gandharvas

Pandvas, guided by the sage Lomasa, visit the region of Yakshas and Gandharvas in the highlands of Himalayas

Lomasa said, ‘O king Yudhisthira, now hast thou left behind the mountains Usiravija, Mainaka and Sweta, as well as the Kala hills, O son of Kunti, O descendant of Bharata, here flow before thee the seven Gangas. Now wilt thou see the play-ground of the Devas, marked with their footprints, as we have passed the mountain Kala. We shall now ascend that white rock, the mountain Mandara, inhabited by the Yakshas, Manibhadra and Kuvera, king of the Yakshas. O king, at this place eighty thousand fleet Gandharvas, and four times as many Kimpurushas and Yakshas of various shapes and forms, holding various weapons, attend upon Manibhadra, king of the Yakshas. In these regions their power is very great. They can, without doubt, displace even the lord of the Devas (Indra) from his seat. Protected by them, and also watched over by the Rakshasas, these mountains have been rendered inaccessible. There are fierce ministers of Kuvera and his Rakshasa kindred. The mountain Kailasa is six yojanas in height. Numberless Devas and Yakshas and Rakshasas and Kinnaras and Nagas and Suparnas and Gandharvas pass this way, in going towards Kuvera's palace. (3,139)

Pandavas saw hillocks teeming with various minerals, thronged with Vidyadharas, inhabited on all sides by foresters and Kinnaras and Kimpurushas, and Gandharvas (3-144,157)

The Siddhas, the Charanas, the Gandharvas, the Kinnaras and the serpents (Nagas) were prenset in the Saugadhika forest (3,83)

Bhima on his way to Saugadhika forest saw many hills inhabited by Yakshas and Gandharvas (3,145). The wives of the Devas and Gandharvas resort to this place, and the time of their arrival is night.(3,150) Bhimasena saw Saugandhika lake, in the vicinity of the Kailasa cliff. It was a lotus lake, guarded by the Rakshasas. And it sprang from the cascades contiguous to the abode of Kuvera. It situated on the rocky elevation. This lake was the sporting region of the high-souled Kuvera, the king of the Yakshas. It was held in high regard by the Gandharvas the Apsaras and the Devas. It was frequented by the sages of the Deva regions and the Yakshas and the Kimpurushas and the Rakshasas and the Kinnaras There was a river flowing into it. (3,152)

On the summits of the mountain were seen amorous Kimpurushas with their paramours, mutually attached unto each other as also many Gandharvas and Apsaras clad in white silk vestments and lovely-looking Vidyadharas, wearing garlands and mighty Nagas, and Suparnas, and Uragas, and others. (3,158)

By ascending the Gandhamadana mountain inhabited by Kinnaras, and great Nagas, and sages, and Gandharvas, and Rakshasas, Bhima saw the city of Kuvera (Alaka), adorned with golden crystal palaces surrounded on all sides by golden walls having the splendour of all gems, furnished with gardens all around, higher than a mountain peak, beautiful with ramparts and towers, and adorned with door-ways and gates and rows of pennons.(3,159)

The origin of Gandharvas

In the Krita age, there were neither Devas, nor Asuras, nor Gandharvas, nor Yakshas, nor Rakshasas, nor Nagas. And there was no buying and selling. (3,148).

The births of the Devas, the Danavas, the Nagas, the Gandharvas, the Apsaras, men (Aryas), Yakshas and Rakshasas are mentioned at (1,65). Here the names of some of the prominent Gandharvas were also mentioned. The verifiability of this information is very limited.

  • Wives of Kasyapa (like Muni, Pradha and Amrita) gave birth to Gandharvas (12,206)
  • Chitraratha, son of Muni
  • Kali (The originator of Kali age), son of Muni
  • Ativahu, son of Pradha or Amrita
  • Haha, son of Pradha or Amrita
  • Huhu, son of Pradha or Amrita
  • Tumvuru, son of Pradha or Amrita
  • Daughters of Pradha (Alamvusha, Misrakesi, Vidyutparna, Tilottama, Aruna, Rakshita, Rambha, Manorama, Kesini, Suvahu, Surata, Suraja, and Supria) — were all Apsaras.
  • Many Gandarvas and Apsaras were also born of Kapila

Gandharvas and Apsaras

Gandharvas and Apsaras are mentioned as a single group (1-63,64,120), (2-7,8,9,10)(3-24,42,43,147,165,167,230) (5,44) (7,67) (and many more references). This is probably because Apsaras were female Gandharvas.

Tumvuru, Bhimasena, Ugrasena, Urnayus, Anagha, Gopati, Dhritarashtra, Suryavarchas, Yugapa, Trinapa, Karshni, Nandi, Chitraratha, Salisirah, Parjanya, Kali, and Narada, Vrihatta, Vrihaka, Karala, Brahmacharin, Vahuguna, Suvarna, Viswavasu, Bhumanyu, Suchandra, Sam and the celebrated tribes of Haha and Huhu were collectively mentioned as Gandharvas (1,123) Anuchana and Anavadya, Gunamukhya and Gunavara, Adrika and Soma, Misrakesi and Alambusha, Marichi and Suchika, Vidyutparna and Tilottama and Ambika, Lakshmana, Kshema Devi, Rambha, Manorama, Asita, Suvahu, Supriya, Suvapuh, Pundarika, Sugandha, Surasa, Pramathini, Kamya and Saradwati, and Menaka, Sahajanya, Karnika, Punjikasthala, Ritusthala, Ghritachi, Viswachi, Purvachiti, the celebrated Umlocha, Pramlocha and Urvasi were described as Apsaras (1,123)

Viswavasu, the Hahas, the Huhus, the Gandharva Chitrasena with other Gandharvas were mentioned at (12,199)

Cultural exchanges

Ugrasrava Sauti knew the history of men (Aryas), serpants (Uragas) and Gandharvas (1,4). The Yakshas, Rakshasas, Gandharvas, Pisachas, Uragas and Danavas, are possessed of wisdom and intelligence, and acquainted with the history of the Kuru race. Gandharva Angaraparna considered the origin of Kurus to be from Tapati (a river in central India, in Maharashtra) (1,172)

The Gandharvas mentioned in Mahabharata

Gandharva Kali

Kali is mentioned as a Gandharva at (1,123). He is mentioned along with his companion Dwapara] at (3-58), where he said to become envious upon, Nishadha king Nala (3-59,72,76,78,79). The last two eras among the four, (viz Krita Age (1728000 years), Treta Age (1296000 Years), Dwapara Age (864000 Years) and Kali Age (432000 Years), mentioned in ancient Indian texts, were named after Dwapara and Kali. Other sources consider both Kali and Dwapara as Gandharvas. (At (1,67) Dwapara is equated with Sakuni and Kali with Duryodhana). Bhagavata Purana mentions Kali having an encounter with Kuru king Parikshit.

In the Kalki Purana, Kali dies near the end from wounds inflicted by Dharma and Satya Yuga personified.

Gandharva King Viswavasu

This Gandharva king seems to be the oldest among the Gandhravas. (Refer Angaraparna) (1,172). (12,282). Gandharva king Viswavasu beget a daughter in the Apsara lady Menaka. This daughter was raised by sage Sthulakesha. Her name was Pramadwara.(1,8). He also was mentioned as an attendant in the palace of Yaksha king Kuvera (2,10). Raghava Rama encounter Gandharva, Viswavasu in the form of a Rakshasa in Dandaka forest (3,277). The Gandharva Viswavasu was well-conversant with the Vedanta scriptures (12,318)

Gandharva King Chitrangada and the Kuru king Chitrangada

Kuru prince Chitrangada, son of Santanu, was slain by a Gandharva king (1,95). This history is detailed again at (1,101): Bhishma installed his stepbrother Chitrangada, on the throne of Kuru Kingdom. Chitrangada the powerful king of the Gandharvas, approached the Kuru King Chitrangada for an encounter. Between that Gandharva king and the Kuru king there occurred on the field of Kurukshetra a fierce combat which lasted full three years on the banks of the Saraswati River.

Gandharva Chitrasena

Tumvuru, and the Gandharva Chitrasena were mentioned as friends of Arjuna (2-4,5). In the palcace of Deva king Indra, Arjuna learned music and dance from Chitrasena. Chitrasena taught the music that was the latest hit, among the Devas during that time. Arjuna lived happily in peace with Chitrasena. And Chitrasena instructed Arjuna all the while in music vocal and instrumental and in dancing. When however, his friendship with Chitrasena had ripened fully, he at times learned the unrivalled dance and music practised among the Gandharvas.(3-44,45,46)

The art of music and dance itself was called the Gandharva Veda (the knowledge of the Gandharvas) (3,91). Arjuna learned this knowledge from Chitrasena. Arjuna dwelt in Indra’s sacred abode with the children of the Gandharvas (3,173). The Gandharvas and the Apsaras were highly skilled in music (13,14)

Chitrasena attacked Duryodhana at Dwaita lake

The soldiers of Duryodhana, having reached the region of the Dwaita lake, were about to enter the gates of the wood, a number of Gandharvas appeared and forbade them to enter. The king of the Gandharvas accompanied by his followers, had come thither beforehand, from the abode of Kuvera. The king of the Gandharvas, Chitrasena had also been accompanied by the several tribes of Apsaras, as also by the sons of the Devas. Intent upon sport, he had come to that place for merriment, and occupying it, had closed it against all comers. (3-238). Duryodhana attacked the Gandharvas. The angry Chitrasena, their king, resolved to exterminate the Kuru army.(3-239). Gandharvas took Duryodhana and allies captive (3,240). Commanded by Yudhisthira, Arjuna fought with the Gandravas. Seeing that their king was Chitrasena, his old friend, Arjuna stopped fighting. Gandharvas then released Duryodhana. (3-241,242,243,244). This incident is mentioned again at (3-245,246,247,251) (4-44,49,63) (5-49,54,56,138,159) (7-125,155) (8-9,37,41

Gandharva Tumburu

Tumburu, and the Gandharva Chitrasena were mentioned as friends of Arjuna (2-4,5). The Gandharva Tumburu gladly gave a hundred horses to Yudhisthira as tribute for Rajasuya. (2,51). The friend of Arjuna, Tumburu, and the Gandharva Chitrasena with his ministers, and many other Gandharvas and Apsaras, well-skilled in vocal and instrumental music and in cadence and Kinnaras also well-versed in musical measures and motions singing celestial tunes in proper and charming voices, waited upon Pandava king Yudhisthira (2-4,5)

Gandharva King Chitraratha

Chitraratha (1,75), the king of Gandharvas, the friend of Indra, gave four hundred horses gifted with the speed of the wind to Yudhisthira as tribute for Rajasuya. And the Gandharva Tumvuru gladly gave a hundred horses. (2,51), (3,80). The steeds of the Tittiri, Kalmasha, and Gandharva breeds, decked with ornaments, were given by Chitraratha, having been vanquished in battle, unto Arjuna. (2,60). Chitraratha among the Gandharvas is the foremost (6,34)

Gandharva Angaraparna and Arjuna

Gandharva king Angaraparna attacked Arjuna while crossing river Ganges, who ruled over a forest by the name Angaraparna on the banks of the Ganges. This place was close to the Panchala Kingdom. (1,172). Arjuna calls him a ranger of the skies. He possessed a chariot. The name Angaraparna means the blazing vehicle. He had this name since he possessed this blazing chariot. He tells to Arjuna that it is due to the science of producing illusions called Chakshushi that Gandharvas are superior to kings of Aryavarta. He also gave to each of the five Pandavas, a hundred steeds born in the country of the Gandharvas. He seemed to know a great deal about horses. In exchange of this, Angaramparna took from Arjuna, his excellent weapon of fire, using which he destroyed the chariot of Angaraparna (1,172). (Some argue that Angaraparna and Chitraratha are same person, siting the reference (2,60))

War skills of Gandharvas

Many military configurations used in warfare were based on Gandharva form of battle-arrays.

Dhrishtadyumna, who is acquainted with human, Deva, Gandharva and Asura arrays of battle, leadeth that host. (5,54). Bhishma is acquainted with all the methods of military array prevalent amongst the Devas, Gandharvas, and human kings. (5,166), (6,19). Kaurava generalissimo Bhishma, as each day dawned, sometimes disposed the troops in the human army, sometimes in the Deva, sometimes in the Gandharva, and sometimes in the Asura. (6,20). Abhimanyu the son of Arjuna, then, applied the Gandharva weapon and the illusion consequent to it. Practising ascetic penances, Arjuna had obtained that weapon from the Gandharva Tumvuru and others. With that weapon, Abhimanyu now confounded his foes. (7,43)

Gandhrarva custom of Marriage

Marriage without the consent of parents, between two lovers is considered as a marriage based on the custome of Gandharvas. There are, in all, eight kinds of marriages. These are Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paisacha, the eighth. (1,73)

When the father of the girl, disregarding his own wishes, bestows his daughter upon a person whom the daughter likes and who reciprocates the girl's sentiments, the form of marriage, is called Gandharva by those that are conversant with the Vedas. (13,44)

Gandharvis, the female Gandharvas

List of female Gandharvas mentioned in Mahabharata:

  • A Gandharvi (female Gandharva) is linked with horses (1,65)
  • A Gandharvi, by name Dundubhi is mentioned at (3,274) (She took birth as Manthara, the servant of Kaikeyi the wife of Dasaratha (3,274)
  • Numerous Gandharvi girls are seen in Deva regions (12,98)
  • Kichaka asked Draupadi if she is a Gandharvi (4,9)
  • Angaraparna's wife was mentioned as a Gandharvi (1,172)
  • Female Gandharvas were some times called as Gandharvis and some times as Apsaras. Urvasi was an Apsara. Apsaras were free and unconfined in their choice of mate. (3,45)
  • Kadru (mother of the Nagas) is mentioned as the mother of the Gandharvas (3,229)

Signs of Gandharva worship

Gandharva spirit is mentioned at (3,229). They were also described as singers in Deva region. *Gandharvas chant psalms, stealing away both the heart and the intellect. (5,109). One possessed of wisdom should offer garlands of aquatic flowers, such as the lotus and the like, unto the Gandharvas and Nagas and Yakshas. (13,98). Gandharvas are found close to water tanks (13,58).

Incarnation myths

The five highly blessed Gandharvas were the sons of Draupadi (18,4). Dhritarashtra, the king of the Gandharvas was the Dhritarashtra the father of Duryodhana (18,4). Gandharvi Dundhubhi was born as Manthara (3,274).

Varied references

Gandharvas, of bodies blazing like the sun were seen Arjuna who was about to travel to the territory of Devas (3,42)

Mystification of Gandharvas

Draupadi spread the rumour that she had five Gandharva husbands at the court of Virata in order to feel safe. (This is an example of the mistification of the Gandharva tribe) (4-12,14,16,21,22,23,24,25,30,71). Virata's son Uttara also took the same stratey (4-43,45) Gandharvas are said to visit wars. E.g., the war between Matsyas, Trigatas and Kurus for stealing cattle (4-56,58) and also the Kurukshetra War ((6,35), many other references) and important events in the epic Mahabharata and Ramayana. These seems to be purely dramatic and mythological.

Gandharva and Kurukshetra War

The Asuras and the Daityas with the Danavas will be vanquished, and the Adityas, the Vasus, the Rudras will be victorious. Indeed, the Devas, and Asuras, and human beings, and Gandharvas, and Snakes, and Rakshasas, will in rage slaughter one another in Kurukshetra War (5,128). Arjuna's bow Gandiva was well known even to the Devas and Gandhravas (1,227) (4,43)

The Rishis, the gods, the Gandharvas, and Apsaras, always worship Siva and his emblem (7,199). Siva sometimes assume the form of a Gandharva (13-14,17). Siva was also surrounded by Kinnaras and Yakshas and Gandharvas and Rakshasas (13-140,146)

Churning the entire universe, a mass of energy was found. That energy is gold. It is for this reason that the Devas and Gandharvas and Uragas and Rakshasas and humans and Pisachas hold it with care. All these beings shine in splendour, with the aid of gold, after converting it into crowns and armlets and diverse kinds of ornaments. (13,83)

The Science of Gandharvas

The science of reasoning, as also the science of words, the science of the Gandharvas, and the four and sixty branches of knowledge known by the name of Kala, the Puranas and the Itihasas were mentioned at (13,104)

Profile [ edit | edit source ]

Shin Megami Tensei [ edit | edit source ]

Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE [ edit | edit source ]

Apsaras can be contracted on the Suginami and Shinagawa fields.

Shin Megami Tensei IV [ edit | edit source ]

Apsaras can be found in the 4th and 5th stratums of Naraku. She can teach Flynn the Media, Dormina and Posumudi skills through her Demon Whisper. Apsaras is needed to fuse David using special fusion.

Apsaras is also the client in the Challenge Quest, Tokyo Bay Mixer. She asks for Vasuki hides so they can make a rope in order for the gods to create the divine wine, Soma, in Tokyo Bay. She is found in Infernal Tokyo's Shinjuku. She is impressed that Flynn defeated two and mentions they'll always need more for the project. The quest can be done multiple times.

Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse [ edit | edit source ]

Apsaras can be found within Kanda-no-yashiro. She can teach the Diarama, Marin Karin, Posumudi and Mabufu skills during Demon Whisper. Apsaras benefits from learning Ice and healing skills.

Persona 3 [ edit | edit source ]

Persona 5 [ edit | edit source ]

Apsaras is the second Persona of the Priestess Arcana and can be found in Madarame's Palace and the Chemdah area of Mementos, with the title "Waterside Nymph." She is the first Persona accessible to the protagonist that learns Media and Elec Wall. When itemized through Electric Chair execution, Apsaras yields the Freeze Boost Skill Card.

DemiKids Light & Dark [ edit | edit source ]

Apsaras can perform the combo Ice Wing with War Lion, Ice Wind with Sylph and Hurricane with Frezberg. Apsaras also has the power WindProof.

Apsaras Part V – Through The Silk Route To China

Apsaras, the celestial beauties of Devalok as described in Indic and Puranic scriptures gracefully immigrated to China through the ancient Silk Route. These flying Chinese Apsaras, the mythical cosmic creations of Indian origin trekked along with the envoys of Bodhisattva to the Chinese landscape.

Apsaras or Feitian as they are referred to in Chinese are magnificent flying figures seen dancing and playing celestial music in the frieze paintings and sculptures of Buddhist cave sites in China. These sacred floating Apsaras can be seen in the Magao Caves, Yulin Caves, and the Yungana and Longmen Grottoes.

The Chinese Feitian is much similar to the Indian Apsara and is regarded as a Goddess of cloud and water, dwelling in tarns and swamps. She is also said to be the lover of a God named Jiletian. In Buddhist scripture, the Feitian is called the Divine deity of heavenly music, carrying a whiff of aroma. She is also referred to as the fragrant Goddess with a sweet voice. These water nymphs could be seen flying pleasantly and freely below the Bodhi tree.

Thus, Apsara originally made its way from India to China along with Buddhism and was later classified as sacred Buddhist figures.

The propagation of Buddhism from India to neighboring China was initiated between or before the 1st century. The Han Dynasty took Buddhism to China through the Silk Route via the Kushan Empire into the Chinese territory bordering the Tarim basin.

An account in the Mouzi Lihuolun, the classic Chinese Buddhist text, gives credit to Emperor Ming Ti of the Han dynasty for introducing Buddhism in China. Mouzi writes that once emperor Ming dreamt of a God whose body carried the brilliance of the Sun and then he saw God flying around Ming’s palace.

The next day the emperor asked his officials: “What God is this?” Fu Yi, a scholar in his court responded and informed that he had heard that in India there is somebody who has attained the Dao and who is called Buddha. He further added that this God could fly in the air his body had the brilliance of the Sun and finally concluded that He must be the same God the emperor had dreamt of. Thereafter Emperor Ming Ti sent emissaries to India and Buddhism made its entry into China.

Buddhism promoted the concept of Bodhisattva, the branch of Buddhism written mainly in Sanskrit, popularly known as Mahayana Buddhism. The first documented translation of Buddhist scriptures from various Indian languages into Chinese occurred in 148 CE by Parthian, the prince-turned-monk.

The introduction of Mahayana Buddhist teachings further facilitated in adding Indian influence on Chinese art, literature, and culture. Buddhist mythology consisted of tales of the Buddha’s life and information derived from Vedic texts as well as popular Indian folklore.

Along with Buddhist discourse, India had successfully transported the Sanskrit language, Indic myths, legends, epics, Gods, Demi-Gods, Apsaras, Gandharvas, and Rakshasas to China.

With the influence of Buddhism, cave temples were created in Dunhuang and other places. The Mogao Caves in the desert of Northwest China narrate the chronicle of art and Buddhism that started almost more than 1,500 years ago. A UNESCO World Heritage site, a collection of nearly 500 caves are collectively known as the Mogao caves.

These caves are carved in cliffs for about 15 miles in the town of Dunhuang in Gansu province. These grottoes reveal a fortune of sculptures, manuscripts, painted scrolls, and wall paintings dated from the 4th to the 14th century. The first Mogao cave was built in 366 CE, and later dynasties that followed continued to construct caves in Dunhuang for almost a thousand years until the decline of the Silk Route.

Indian Buddhism penetrated through all aspects of Chinese literature, art, poetry, and performing art. Indian dance began to spread to China. Within 2,000 years, Indian dance influenced the Chinese palace and folk dance directly or indirectly.

The modification, adaptation, and integration of Indian Buddhism dance lead to the creation of different styles of Chinese Buddhist dance forms. The Folk Buddhism dance, Tibetan Buddhism dance, Southern Buddhism dance and most importantly the Dunhuang dance draws its inspiration from the frescos of Mogao Caves in Dunhuang. During festivals or temple fairs, there would be rich and colorful Buddhism dance performances.

The Dunhuang wall frescos narrate the growth of Apsara images that developed in Dunhuang caves from the Northern Liang Dynasty to the Tang dynasty. The Dunhuang cave nymphs had long-lasting fame and authority. The Apsara motif was typical in Dunhuang art and almost five thousand pieces of Apsaras were shown on Dunhuang wall paintings.

There are two hundred and forty grottoes depicting dance and music. The frescoes in these caves show four thousand instruments in forty-four groups and three thousand performers, and five hundred groups of bands of all kinds.

The Dunhuang dance can be seen gathering its basics and inspiration from the Dunhuang frescoes. The unique contours of Apsaras- the Divine nymphs of Devalok and Gandharvas-the heavenly musicians as illustrated in the Hindu mythology were introduced by the Buddhist monks and have been expansively depicted in these frescoes.

These Apsaras as depicted in these Chinese frescos stand in the Tribhangi stance or the S-Shape, having its postural relation with the Indian classical dance form of Odissi. In these early fresco paintings, the Apsaras have been shown wearing costumes of Indian origin.

These Apsaras were seen with long hair in barefoot they have seen topless covered with jewelry, armlets, bracelets, and anklets. They wore colored drapes and wrapped free-flowing ribbons around their bodies. The lower part of the body was covered with short knee-length skirts or chinos.

These Apsaras in the cave paintings can be seen as having Greek, Roman, Gandharaian, Persian, Central Asian, and Indian influence. The multi-facet impact on the Chinese Apsaras added unique iconic features to the fresco Apsaras of Dunhuang.

The early Apsara figures illustrated in these caves are usually shown having a v-shape posture with a rigid and cumbersome body. These Apsaras looked much different from their Indian predecessors.

Instead of depicting the idealized female body, the early representations of Apsaras in the Dunhuang mural were muscular.

The Apsara figures during the period of Tang dynasty (618-904 CE) were naturalistic, vivid, and embodied Chinese perception of gorgeousness. Regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture of China the Apsaras portrayed during this period display the pinnacle of Dunhuang art.

In nearly all the five hundred Mogao grottoes, there are more than two hundred caves that have flying Apsaras displaying diverse attitudes, full of spirit and energy. There are some Apsaras leaning against the fence and overlooking while some are free-flying.

There is a depiction of heroic King Kong and also of some gentle and dignified Bodhisattva. Distinct changes can be seen in these Apsaras almost in every dynasty during the thousand-year journey of their creation. All the dynasties had varied flying Apsara images that continued to evolve with the passage of time and history for a thousand years.

The Silk Route was a passage to trade and exchange silk, spices, indigo, precious gems, paper, and many other goods that were equally significant to those times. Besides trade and relocation, this route was also the path through which Buddhism traveled from India and spread throughout Central Asia.

The entry of Buddhism into China from India altered the visage of China. The Chinese landscape transformed forever with the creation of pagodas and monasteries and also with the fascinatingly exclusive airborne Apsaras embellishing them. The Apsaras had successfully made their way through the Silk Route to China.


The origin of 'apsara' is the Sanskrit अप्सरस्, apsaras (in the stem form, which is the dictionary form). NB The stem form ends in 's' as distinct from, e.g. the nominative singular Ramas/Ramaḥ (the deity Ram in Hindi), whose stem form is Rama. The nominative singular form is अप्सरास् apsarās, or अप्सरा: apsarāḥ when standing alone, which becomes अप्सरा apsarā in Hindi, from which in turn the English 'apsara' presumably is derived. Monier-Williams Dictionary gives the etymology as अप् + √सृ, "going in the waters or between the waters of the clouds".

The Rigveda tells of an apsara who is the wife of Gandharva however, the Rigveda also seems to allow for the existence of more than one apsara. [3] The only apsara specifically named is Urvashi. An entire hymn deals with the colloquy between Urvashi and her mortal lover Pururavas. [4] Later Hindu scriptures allow for the existence of numerous apsaras, who act as the handmaidens of Indra or as dancers at his celestial court. [3]

In many of the stories related in the Mahabharata, apsaras appear in important supporting roles. The epic contains several lists of the principal Apsaras, which lists are not always identical. Here is one such list, together with a description of how the celestial dancers appeared to the 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 thousands, possessed of eyes like lotus leaves, who were employed in enticing the hearts of persons practising rigid austerities, danced there. And possessing slim waists and fair large hips, they began to perform various evolutions, shaking their deep bosoms, and casting their glances around, and exhibiting other attractive attitudes capable of stealing the hearts and resolutions and minds of the spectators. [5]

The Mahabharata documents the exploits of individual apsaras, such as Tilottama, who rescued the world from the rampaging asura brothers Sunda and Upasunda, and Urvashi, who attempted to seduce the hero Arjuna.

A story type or theme appearing over and over again in the Mahabharata is that of an apsara sent to distract a sage or spiritual master from his ascetic practices. One story embodying this theme is that recounted by the epic heroine Shakuntala to explain her own parentage. [6] Once upon a time, the sage Viswamitra generated such intense energy by means of his asceticism that Indra himself became fearful. Deciding that the sage would have to be distracted from his penances, he sent the apsara Menaka to work her charms. Menaka trembled at the thought of angering such a powerful ascetic, but she obeyed the god's order. As she approached Viswamitra, the wind god Vayu tore away her garments. Seeing her thus disrobed, the sage abandoned himself to lust. Nymph and sage engaged in sex for some time, during which Viswamitra's asceticism was put on hold. As a consequence, Menaka gave birth to a daughter, whom she abandoned on the banks of a river. That daughter was Shakuntala herself, the narrator of the story.

Natya Shastra Edit

Natya Shastra, the principal work of dramatic theory for Sanskrit drama, lists the following apsaras: Manjukesi, Sukesi, Misrakesi, Sulochana, Saudamini, Devadatta, Devasena, Manorama, Sudati, Sundari, Vigagdha, Vividha, Budha, Sumala, Santati, Sunanda, Sumukhi, Magadhi, Arjuni, Sarala, Kerala, Dhrti, Nanda, Supuskala, Supuspamala and Kalabha.

Khmer Culture Edit

Apsaras represent an important motif in the stone bas-reliefs of the Angkorian temples in Cambodia (8th–13th centuries AD), however, all-female images are not considered to be apsaras. In harmony with the Indian association of dance with apsaras, Khmer female figures that are dancing or are poised to dance are considered apsaras female figures, depicted individually or in groups, who are standing still and facing forward in the manner of temple guardians or custodians are called devatas. [7]

The bas-reliefs of Angkorian temples have become an inspiration of Khmer classical dance. The indigenous ballet-like performance art of Cambodia is frequently called "Apsara Dance". The dance was created by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia in the mid-20th century under the patronage of Queen Sisowath Kossamak of Cambodia. The role of the apsara is played by a woman, wearing a tight-fitting traditional dress with gilded jewelry and headdress modelled after Angkor bas-reliefs, [8] whose graceful, sinuous gestures are codified to narrate classical myths or religious stories. [9]

Malay Archipelago culture Edit

In the Malay language throughout medieval times, apsaras are also known as 'bidadari', being conflated with the 'vidyadharis' (from Sanskrit word vidhyadhari: vidhya, 'knowledge' dharya, 'having, bearer, or bringer') known as Bidadari in the modern Malay language (surviving in both Indonesian [10] and Malaysian [11] standards), the females of the vidyādharas, another class of celestial beings in Indian mythology. 'Vidyādhara' literally means 'possessed of science or spells', and refers to 'a kind of supernatural being . possessed of magical power' or 'fairy' according to Monier-Williams Dictionary. The bidadaris are heavenly maidens, [10] living in the svargaloka or in celestial palace of Indra, described in Balinese dedari (bidadari or apsara) dance.

Traditionally apsaras are described as celestial maidens living in Indra's heaven (Kaéndran). They are well known for their special task: being sent to earth by Indra to seduce ascetics who by their severe practices may become more powerful than the gods. This theme occurs frequently in Javanese traditions, including the Kakawin Arjunawiwaha, written by mpu Kanwa in 1030 during the reign of a king Airlangga. The story tells that Arjuna, in order to defeat the giant Niwatakawaca, engaged in meditation and asceticism, whereupon Indra sent apsaras to seduce him. Arjuna, however, managed to conquer his lust and then to win the ultimate weapons from the gods to defeat the giant.

Later in the Javanese tradition the apsara was also called Hapsari, also known as Widodari (from Sanskrit word vidyādhari). The Javanese Hindu-Buddhist tradition also influenced Bali. In Balinese dance, the theme of celestial maidens often occurred. Dances such as Sanghyang Dedari and Legong depicted divine maidens in their own way. In the court of Mataram Sultanate the tradition of depicting heavenly maidens in dances still alive and well. The Javanese court dances of Bedhaya portray apsaras.

However, after the adoption of Islam, bidadari is equated with houri, the heavenly maiden mentioned in the Quran, in which God stated that the 'forbidden pearls' of heaven are for those men who have resisted temptation and borne life's trials. Islam spread in the Malay archipelago when Arabic traders came to trade spices with the Malays at that time, Hinduism formed the basis of the Malay culture, but syncretism with the Islamic religion and culture spawned the idea of a Bidadari. It is usually seen as a prized offer to those who lived a lifestyle in service to and pleasing to God after death, the Bidadari was the man's wife or wives, depending on what type of person he was. The worthiness of a man who was offered Bidadari depended upon his holiness: how often he prayed, how much he turned away from the 'outside world', and how little he heeded worldly desires.

Java and Bali, Indonesia Edit

Images of apsaras are found in several temples of ancient Java dating from the era of the Sailendra dynasty to that of the Majapahit empire. The apsara celestial maidens might be found as decorative motifs or also as integral parts of a story in bas-relief. Images of apsaras can be found on Borobudur, Mendut, Prambanan, Plaosan, and Penataran.

At Borobudur apsaras are depicted as divinely beautiful celestial maidens, pictured either in standing or in flying positions, usually holding lotus blossoms, spreading flower petals, or waving celestial clothes as if they were wings enabling them to fly. The temple of Mendut near Borobudur depicted groups of devatas, divine beings flying in heaven, which included apsaras. In the Prambanan temple compound, especially in Vishnu temple, along with the gallery, some images of male devata are found flanked by two apsaras.

Manipur, India Edit

In the ancient Manipur culture of the Meitei people of northeastern India, apsaras are considered as celestial nymphs or hellois as the flying creatures resembling the human female body attracting the male wanderers or any knights who lost their ways in the woods. They were known for their beauty, glamour, magical powers and enchanting supernatural Androphilic Magnetism. They are believed to be seven in number and are the daughters of the sky god or the Soraren deity.

Cambodia Edit

Angkor Wat, the largest Angkor temple (built-in 1113-1150 AD), features both Apsaras and Devata, however, the devata type are the most numerous with more than 1,796 in the present research inventory. [12] Angkor Wat architects employed small apsara images (30–40 cm as seen below) as decorative motifs on pillars and walls. They incorporated larger devata images (all full-body portraits measuring approximately 95–110 cm) more prominently at every level of the temple from the entry pavilion to the tops of the high towers. In 1927, Sappho Marchal published a study cataloging the remarkable diversity of their hair, headdresses, garments, stance, jewelry and decorative flowers, which Marchal concluded were based on actual practices of the Angkor period. Some devatas appear with arms around each other and seem to be greeting the viewer. "The devatas seem to epitomize all the elements of a refined elegance," wrote Marchal. [13]

Champa Edit

Apsaras were also an important motif in the art of Champa, medieval Angkor's neighbour to the east along the coast of what is now central Vietnam. Especially noteworthy are the depictions of apsaras in the Tra Kieu Style of Cham art, a style which flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries AD.

China Edit

Apsaras are often depicted as flying figures in the mural paintings and sculptures of Buddhist cave sites in China such as in the Mogao Caves, Yulin Caves, and the Yungang and Longmen Grottoes. They may also be depicted as dancers or musicians. They are referred to as feitian (飞天) in Chinese.

Fiction Edit

The Asuras also inspired the Askyas Powers of the tabletop roleplay game Gandariah Lords of Arcanas universe. [14]

In Buddhism

A Gandharva (Sanskrit) or Gandhabba (Pāli) is one of the lowest-ranking devas in Buddhist theology. They are classed among the Cāturmahārājikakāyika devas, and are subject to the Great King Dhṛtarāṣṭra , Guardian of the East. Beings are reborn among the Gandharvas as a consequence of having practiced the most basic form of ethics (Janavasabha-sutta, DN.18). It was considered embarrassing for a monk to be born in no better birth than that of a gandharva.

Gandharvas can fly through the air, and are known for their skill as musicians. They are connected with trees and flowers, and are described as dwelling in the scents of bark, sap, and blossom. They are among the beings of the wilderness that might disturb a monk meditating alone.

The terms gandharva and yakṣa are sometimes used for the same person yakṣa in these cases is the more general term, including a variety of lower deities.

Among the notable gandharvas are mentioned (in DN.20 and DN.32) Panāda, Opamañña, Naḷa , Cittasena, Rājā. Janesabha is probably the same as Janavasabha, a rebirth of King Bimbisāra of Magadha. Mātali the Gandharva is the charioteer for Śakra.

Timbarū was a chieftain of the gandharvas. There is a romantic story told about the love between his daughter Bhaddā Suriyavaccasā (Sanskrit: Bhadrā Sūryavarcasā) and another gandharva, Pañcasikha (Sanskrit: Pañcaśikha). Pañcasikha fell in love with Suriyavaccasā when he saw her dancing before Śakra, but she was then in love with Sikhandī (or Sikhaddi), son of Mātali the charioteer. Pañcasikha then went to Timbarū's home and played a melody on his lute of beluva-wood, on which he had great skill, and sang a love-song in which he interwove themes about the Buddha and his Arhats.

Later, Śakra prevailed upon Pañcasikha to intercede with the Buddha so that Śakra might have an audience with him. As a reward for Pañcasikha's services, Śakra was able to get Suriyavaccasā, already pleased with Pañcasikha's display of skill and devotion, to agree to marry Pañcasikha.

Pañcasikha also acts as a messenger for the Four Heavenly Kings, conveying news from them to Mātali, the latter representing Śakra and the Trāyastriṃśa devas.

Gandharva or gandhabba is also used in a completely different sense, referring to a being (or, strictly speaking, part of the causal continuum of consciousness) in a liminal state between birth and death.

The Apsaras in Rigveda

The Rigveda speaks of an apsara who is Gandharva’s wife however, the Rigveda also seems to allow the existence of more than one Apsara.

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 legends concerning the birth of Urvashi are numerous the following is the most widespread:

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.

Apsaras : Vedic Origins Of The Cosmic Damsels

Apsaras, the celestial maidens of Indra Puri were enigmatic creations with enthralling elegance. These sensuous maidens of illusion created by Gods had a role to play. They had to lure, attract and amuse. Apsaras, were the free flowing female spirits endowed with supernatural powers, charm, calm and capability to commence or cease any moment. These Devanganas were endowed with oodles of creative brilliance. They were experts in dance and music these attractive damsels were the court entertainers of Indra Puri -The heavenly kingdom of Lord Indra. These cosmic nymphs were the companions of the Gandharvas, while some were created with a devoted mission to be a reason or a cause. Derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘apas’ meaning water, Apsaras are known to have evolved out of the clouds and water. Just like water is ever flowing, Apsaras are as fluid and uncontained like the gurgling chasm of celestial Divinity. Urvashi, Menaka, Rambha, and Tilottama are the most prominent in the Hindu Mythology.

The Rigveda mentions these Apsaras as aquatic nymphs. Atharvaveda introduces Apsaras as the inhabitants of the waters. It discusses their heavenly association with the stars, clouds and rain. The Satapatha Brahmana Samhita often describes Apsars as transforming themselves into a kind of a marine bird. The Apsaras are seen in close contact with the woods and the wet. The Atharvaveda puts forward that the Apsaras are fond of the dice game and create the basis to bring in fortune at the dice play. They are also feared as causing mental void. There are two types of Apsaras -Aloukika (worldly) and daivika (Divine).

During the Samudra Manthan– the churning of the milky ocean many jewels came out of the sea that included some famed Apsaras namely Rambha, Menaka, Punjisthala . They are said to have emerged after the appearance of the Kalpavriksha. These Apsaras were gorgeous women , draped in attractive robes and bejewelled with golden ornaments. These celestial nymphs were engaged in alluring by their intoxicating movements and amorous glances. Manu Sastra asserts that Apsaras were created with the seven Manus to serve as wives of the Gods and daughters of pleasure.

As per Matsya Purana, Rishi Kashyapa is said to have married thirteen daughters of Daksha. In companionship with his thirteen wives he fathered the Devas, Asuras, Nagas, Gandgarvas, Apsaras, flora, fauna and all of humanity. The Apsaras are said to be the daughters of Rishi Kashyapa and his wife Muni. These celestial daughters of Rishi Kashyapa were – Alambusa, Misrakesi, Vidyutparna, Tilottama, Raksita, Rambha, Manorama, Kesini, Subahu, Suraja, Surata and Supriya. The Brahmanda Purana has a mention of Brahma asking Lord Indra to send some chosen Apsaras from his palace to become the wives of Vasudeva Krishna.

According to the ya Śāstra, Apsaras were mental creations of the Universal Creator- Brahma . In the beginning of the Treta Yuga, Brahma went to deep rumination he recalled the four Vedas, picked up suitable parts from them and created a new Veda. He picked up hymns from the Rigveda, melody and music from the Samveda, gesticulation and emotion from Yajuveda and aesthetics of the rasas from the Atharveda . He further amalgamated all these selected essentials from all the four Vedas and called it Natyaveda- The scripture of Arts.

Brahma passed the Natyaveda to Indra and prescribed that the Devatas should practice the Natyaveda. But the Devatas were not dedicated enough to learn and perform the new scripture on performing art. Brahma then decided to train his hundred children in Natyaveda. Brahma delegated the task to Bharat Muni and assigned him with the duty to be the Natya Guru of his hundred children. Bharat Muni started educating them but in the process realized that Brahmas’ hundred children would not be able to perfect the Nāṭya Śāstra without female companions. Brahma then created the Apsaras. He endowed these celestial beauties with the skill of dance, music and enact. Thereafter Brahma passed these Apsaras to Bharat Muni as female companions to accompany, polish and train his hundred children. These Apsaras created by Brahma were called Natyaalankar– Jewels of Acting. The Apsaras mentioned in ya Śāstra are Manjukesi, Sukesi, Misrakesi, Sulocana, Saudamini, Dovadatta, Devasena, Manorama, Sudati, Sundari, Vidagdha, Sumala, Santati, Sunanda, Sumukhi, Magadhi, Arjuni, Sarala, Kerala, Dhrti, Nanda, Supuskala and Kalabha.

The Vayu Purana refers to the origin of Apsaras from various sources. It describes Apsaras as Manasa Kanya- mental creation of Brahma gifted them with beauty, energy and force of nature. It presents them as dazzling maidens, similar to the stretched rays of the sun and also bearing the soft illumination from moon and benevolence. It confers their birth to the fire of the Yagna. They are also said to be born out of the ocean, elixir, wind and lightning. These Apsaras have varied characteristics like being caring, loving, magical, and ferocious. The Vayu Purana gives the physical description of these celestial maidens as golden hued with the whiff of sweet fragrance. They perform their errands without the assistance of wine and only with touch alone. The assemblage of Apsaras at Indra Puri includes- Misrakesi, Chasi, Varnini, Alambusa, Marichi, Putrika, Vidyutparna, Tilottama, Adrika, Laksana, Devi, Rambha, Manorama, Suvara, Subahu, Purnita, Supratisthita, Pundarika, Sugandha, Sudanta, Surasa, Hema, Saradvati, Suvrata, Subhuja and Hamsapada.

In the Vishnu Purana , Apsaras are mentioned as the attendants of Surya. They attend to Surya in the form of the twelve Adityas who are the indicators of the various seasonal changes that happen throughout the year. In the Vishnu Purana, Rishi Parashar describes that between the extreme northern and southern points, the sun has to traverse at one hundred and eighty degrees in a year, ascending and descending. The movement of his chariot is presided over by Divine Aditya, Rishis, Gandharvas and Apsaras, Yaksas, Nagas and Rakshasas.

According to Vamana Saromahatmya when Vamana shed his dwarf-like form, in a twinkling of an eye he manifested the form which consisted of all the Gods. His eyes were the moon and the sun, the sky was his head and the Earth his feet, his toes were the Pisachas and his fingers the Guhyakas. The Visvedevas were in his knees, the Sadhyas were in his skin. In his nails appeared the Yaksha and the Apsaras appeared in the contours of his body.

Apsaras have been a consistent part of Hinduism, having an insightful presence in Vedic literature. The commonality lies in the fact that these beautiful creations were females with captivating powers and immense dedication to their creators.

Watch the video: Flying ApsarasDunhuangHistorys Heavenly StageEP 1. China Documentary (May 2022).