Urvashi and Pururavas painted by Raja Ravi Varma
|Children||Rishyasringa from Vibhandaka|
Amavasu from king Pururavas
Urvashi (Sanskrit: उर्वशी, lit. she who can control heart of others. ("Ur" means heart and "vash" means to control) is an Apsara (nymph) in Hindu legend. Monier Monier-Williams proposes a different etymology in which the name means 'widely pervasive' and suggests that in its first appearances in Vedic texts it is a name for the dawn goddess. She was a celestial maiden in Indra's court and was considered the most beautiful of all the Apsaras.
She is the mother of Rishyasringa, the great saint of the Ramayana era of ancient India from Vibhandaka, who later played crucial role in birth of Rama and was married to Shanta, the elder sister of Rama.
There are many legends about the birth of Urvashi but the following one is most prevalent.
Once the revered sages Nara-narayana were meditating in the holy shrine of Badrinath Temple situated in the Himalayas. Indra, the king of the Gods, did not want the sage to acquire divine powers through meditation and sent two apsaras to distract him. The sage struck his thigh and created a woman so beautiful that Indra’s apsaras were left matchless. This was Urvashi, named from ur, the Sanskrit word for thigh. After his meditation was complete the sage gifted Urvashi to Indra, and she occupied the pride of place in Indra’s court.
She is also mentioned in the Mahabharata, as the celestial dancer of Indra's palace. When Arjuna had come for obtaining weapons from his father, his eyes fall upon Urvashi. Indra seeing this sent Chitrasena to address Urvasi to wait upon Arjuna. Hearing virtues of Arjuna, Urvasi was filled with desire. At twilight, she reached Arjuna's abode. As soon as Arjuna saw that beauty at night in her room in beautiful attire, from fear, respect, modesty and shyness he saluted her with closed eyes. She told Arjuna everything and also of her heart desire. But Arjuna refused, as considering her to his superior of old. In wrath she cursed Arjuna of destitute of manhood and scorned as a eunuch for a year.
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- A Dictionary of Hindu Mythology & Religion by John Dowson