- The apsaras are celestial nymphs. These beautiful young women appear first in the Vedic literature and play a role in the puranas. Late tradition says that apsaras either were born from BRAHMA’s fancy or are the daughters of the RISHI DAKSHA or of Kashyapa. The Vedic apsaras born from the daughters of Daksha are Menaka, Sahajanya, Parnini, Punjakasthala, Gritasthala, Ghritachi, Vishvachi, Urvashi, Anulocha, Pramlocha, and Manovati. Other well known apsaras of later times are Tilottama, Rambha, and Mishrakeshi.The most famous apsaras is perhaps Urvashi, whom King Pururavas fell in love with and begged to stay with him. She agreed upon several condi-tions, one of which was that she never see him undressed. As fate would have it, one night she saw him without his clothes and was forced to return to her celestial home. Pururavas was heart-broken and searched everywhere for her. One day he was able to reach her abode and persuaded her to promise that she would meet him yearly and have his son. After he had gone to see her several times she told him how he might obtain her as his bride permanently. Through a ritual sacrifice he was able to become a celestial (GANDHARVA singer) and gain her as his bride forever.Tilottama is also well known, as the apsaras who tempted Lord BRAHMA when he was doing austerities. She appeared before him in turn on all sides and caused him to form heads in all direc-tions. Eventually he was humiliated, because he had been doing austerities to gain the throne of INDRA. Apsarases are often depicted in temple architecture.Further reading: Projesh Banerjee, Apsaras in India Dance (New Delhi: Cosmo, 1982); E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986); Kanwar Lal, Apsaras of Khajuraho (Delhi: Asia Press, 1966); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology (Calcutta: Rupa, 1973); J. C. Wright, “Pururavas and Urvasi,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 30 (1967): 526–547.
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.