The other day, I was having a conversation with a 45 year old ‘boy’ who asked me to introduce him to an ‘extremely beautiful’ girl to marry and settle down with! “She should be clever, an absolute charmer, and intelligent too, like James Bond’s women!” he quipped, to which I replied, “But all those women are sent to kill James Bond. You want to marry or die?” He laughed and continued, “Marry, of course! And oh! She has to be chaste and pure like an Apsara from swarg (Pari jevi khubsoorat).” I requested him to contact our ace match-maker, Koomi Kaajwali, and we parted ways, but the reference to Apsara and Swarg set me thinking and led me to writing today’s article!
As per Indian mythology, Apsaras are dangerous damsels, like Menaka, who destroyed Vishwamitra’s tapasya!
Myth has it that Lord Indra’s heaven was the ultimate rocking place, with wine, women, singing and dancing. The musicians jammed and Apsaras danced at this most happening Swarg. You could call these Apsaras the original party girls who were far from chaste and born from a churning ocean (Samudra-Manthan). They were the daughters of pleasure, wearing elaborate clothes and jewellery, oozing charm. Of course, their only task was to please the Gods as visual-candies and seduce unsuspecting devotees on Earth, to destroy their meditation and retard their spiritual progress. They never married, these prima donnas of the skies. Not allowed to!
Apsaras had something even more important than beauty… they had power. If Helen of Troy could launch a thousand ships, these sensuous Apsaras could bring kings, sadhus and soldiers to their knees. These Mata-Haris of Heaven (Indralok or Swarg) became key-players in celestial-strategies, where kings and sages were destroyed merely seeing a beautiful dance. Ladies like Menaka, Urvashi and Rambha were sent to corrupt them with weapons of attracting, distracting, humbling, seducing and finally destroying them with charm and grace, very much like James Bond’s women!
These ladies were also given power to perform miracles, like flying in the air or bringing luck, or causing break-ups in love affairs, making victims win at gambling and getting them lost in a forest, causing them to go insane if the victim rejected their charms.
The Apsaras of Indian mythology were a perfect ten. They were free spirits, visions of beauty, charm and talent. No strings attached, out-of-this-world creatures, almost Goddesses and yet they were not allowed to fall in love or marry, since they were given power only to play men like puppets. If she dared to fall in love with her victim, she was quickly dismissed from Heaven to lead a mundane life on Earth. Her job was to make ensure that Swarg wouldn’t stop swinging until her next assignment to destroy a mortal-man.
Urvashi was the head-girl of all the Apsaras as she cracked the toughest of cases, destroying the most chaste and powerful of men, and corrupting their minds, with a mere dance. Menaka came next, and when she was sent to tempt the stage Vishvamitra, he actually resisted her charms and held out for three years. She had to stay on Earth like an undercover agent and returned to Heaven only after she destroyed his years of meditation. Even Apsara Rambha was sent in the final stage to finish off this sage. He soon found out about her and cursed Rambha, turning her into a stone for 10,000 years!
The Apsaras were busy ladies, just like today’s working women, and their jobs were tougher and challenging, but the Human Resources (HR) policy in Swarg was very simple and effective. When human heroes fell in battle or if a sage’s meditation was destroyed, the Apsara was promptly promoted like today’s MBAs. They were given grand designations, with perks like delicious food and wine, new clothes and fabulous jewellery.
There were hundreds of Apsaras in Heaven as they could be produced from thin air, water, fire or even Earth. They escorted Gods everywhere – gambling, playing dice or cards, dancing, and drinking sessions. This concept is very similar to Greek mythology where Gods indulged themselves atop Mount Olympus. With so much entertainment available, no wonder Queen Sati refused to let her husband alone! She loved him so much that she voluntarily jumped into the funeral pyre to ensure that she would go to Heaven with her husband (and probably to fend off the Apsaras!). This is probably one reason of how the practice of SATI was started by a Queen who wanted to be by the side of her husband even in death!
The curse of the Apsara is, she can never fall in love. But once, Urvashi fell deeply in love with a mortal King, called Pururava and slyly began to live with him as his wife inside a hidden chamber of his palace. When the Gods called her back, she refused to live her life as an Apsara and committed suicide by drinking poison. King Pururava killed himself by falling on a sword. This story is similar to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Urvashi was cursed by the Gods to be reborn repetitively with beauty, charm, talent and luxuries. But she would always be unlucky in love. While playing out the Apsara role in different lives – flitting, floating, dancing with wealth, popularity, luxury – she’d have everything but NO LOVE!
I wonder – could Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Mata Hari, Rekha or Princess Diana be reincarnations of Urvashi?
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