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The most beautiful Apsara
Urvashi and Pururavas painted by Raja Ravi Varma
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Urvashi (Sanskrit: उर्वशी, romanizedUrvaśī, lit. 'she who controls hearts') is an apsara in Hindu legends. She was a celestial maiden in Indra's court and was considered the most beautiful of all the Apsaras. She is perennially youthful and infinitely charming but always elusive.[1] She is a source as much of delight as of dolour.[2]


The 'Urvashi' means she who controls hearts. It is derived from two words — "Ur", meaning heart and "vash" meaning to control. 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.[3]



Narayana on the left and Nara on the right, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh, ca. 5th century

The Bhagavatam narrates the story of Urvashi. 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 Urvaśī, named from ur, the Sanskrit word for thigh. After his meditation was complete the sage gifted Urvaśī to Indra, and she occupied the place of pride in Indra’s court.[4][5][6][7]

Birth of Rishyasringa[edit]

Urvashi in the Ramayana, seduced Vibhandaka and became the mother of Rishyasringa, who later played crucial role in birth of Rama and was married to Shanta, the elder sister of Rama.[8]

As Pururavas's wife[edit]

Once Pururavas, founder of the lunar dynasty and Urvashi fell in love with each other. Pururavas asked her to become his wife, but she agreed on three or two conditions. The most retold conditions are that Pururavas would protect Urvashi's pet sheep and they would never see one another naked (apart from lovemaking).[9]

Pururavas agreed with the conditions and they lived happily. Indra started missing Urvashi and he created circumstances where the conditions were broken. First, he sent some Gandharvas to kidnap the sheep, when the couple was making love. When Urvashi heard her pets' cries, she scolded Pururavas for not keeping his promise. Hearing her harsh words, Pururavas forgot that he was naked and ran after the sheep. Just then, Indra flashed lightings and Urvashi saw her husband naked. After the events, Urvashi returned to heaven and left Pururavas heartbroken. Urvashi used to come on earth and bore Pururavas many children, but they were not completely reunited.

Their love story is found in the Rigveda[10] and Shatapatha Brahmana too. Kalidasa's drama Vikramōrvaśīyam is about their love story with variations from the original texts.[11]

Urvaśī's Curse[edit]

Urvashi and Arjuna by B P Banerjee

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 Urvaśī. Indra seeing this sent Chitrasena to address Urvasi to wait upon Arjuna. Hearing the 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. He also mentioned that she was like his mother because of her past marriage to Pururavas. In wrath, she cursed Arjuna for destitute of manhood and scorned as a eunuch for a year. This curse helped Arjuna during his Agyatvās.[12]



  1. ^ George (ed.), K.M. (1992). Modern Indian Literature, an Anthology. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 978-81-7201-324-0.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ George (ed.), K.M. (1992). Modern Indian Literature, an Anthology. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 978-81-7201-324-0.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Monier-Williams, Sir Monier; Leumann, Ernst; Cappeller, Carl (1899). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Motilal Banarsidass Publishing House. ISBN 978-81-208-3105-6.
  4. ^ "Birth of Urvashi - Indian Mythology". www.apamnapat.com. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  5. ^ Tales from the Puranas By Mahesh Sharma, pp.60-62, Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.,ISBN 81-288-1040-5
  6. ^ Vijnanananda 2004, pp. 267–272
  7. ^ The Goddess in India: The Five Faces of the Eternal Feminine By Devdutt Pattanaik, Published 2000, Inner Traditions / Bear & Company, 176 pages, ISBN 0-89281-807-7 p.66
  8. ^ Kanuga, G. B. (1993). Immortal Love of Rama. Lancer Publishers. ISBN 978-1-897829-50-9.
  9. ^ https://www.blush.me/unwind/the-tragic-love-story-of-urvashi-an-apsara-and-king-pururavas-a-mortal
  10. ^ Kulasrestha, Mahendra (2006). The Golden Book of Rigveda. Lotus Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-81-8382-010-3.
  11. ^ Kalidasa; Pandit, Shankar Pandurang (1879). The Vikramorvasîyam, a drama in 5 acts. University of California Libraries. Bombay, Government Central Book Depôt.
  12. ^ https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03046.htm


  • Dowson, John. A Dictionary of Hindu Mythology & Religion.
  • Vijnanananda, Swami (2004). The Sri Mad Devi Bhagavatam: Books One Through Twelve Part 1. Kessinger Publishing. p. 624. ISBN 0-7661-8167-7.
  • “Urvaśī and the Swan Maidens: The Runaway Wife.” In Search of the Swan Maiden: A Narrative on Folklore and Gender, by Barbara Fass Leavy, NYU Press, NEW YORK; LONDON, 1994, pp. 33–63. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg995.5. Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.
  • Gaur, R. C. “The Legend of Purūravas and Urvaśī: An Interpretation.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, no. 2, 1974, pp. 142–152. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25203565. Accessed 27 Apr. 2020.
  • Wright, J. C. “Purūravas and Urvaśī.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, vol. 30, no. 3, 1967, pp. 526–547. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/612386. Accessed 27 Apr. 2020.
  • "‘Cupid, Psyche, and the “Sun-Frog”’, Custom and Myth: (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1884)." In The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Selected Writings of Andrew Lang, Volume 1: Anthropology, Fairy Tale, Folklore, The Origins of Religion, Psychical Research, edited by Teverson Andrew, Warwick Alexandra, and Wilson Leigh, 66-78. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015. Accessed June 6, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt16r0jdk.9.