Urvashi is the most famous of the beautiful Apsaras, heavenly nymphs, that serve Indra. She was often described as “the most beautiful woman in the entire Universe”, and her looks were very enchanting. The story of Urvashi and Pururavas is one of the most famous tragic love stories in all of Hinduism. The nymph falls in love with the great king, but eventually because of the ploys of heaven, they are separated.
- Fathers: Nara and Narayana
- Husband: Pururavas
- Sons: Ayus, Dhimat, Amavasu, Visvavasu, Satayus, and Srutayus
The Birth of Urvashi
This story is in the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Book 4, Chapters 5-6
Nara and Narayana were the sons of Dharma and the grandsons of Lord Brahma. They came to the Himalaya Mountains and began difficult penance in Badarikashrama. They continued their penance for one thousand years. And as usual, Indra became scared. Indra was always insecure about his position as the king of the gods, so whenever someone began penance to gain power, he always worried that they would take his throne. Indra brainstormed ways to stop the penance of Nara and Narayana before they gained too much power.
He decided to approach them himself. and tempt them with boons Mounting his elephant Airavata, Indra arrived at Badarikashrama and said, “I am very pleased with your penance. You have done enough penance. I have come to grant you three boons. Ask for whatever you want, and I will give it to you.”
But Nara and Narayana didn’t care about Indra’s presence. They weren’t doing penance to get boons from him. So they just ignored him. Indra repeated his words, but he got no response in return. Tired of waiting, Indra began creating deadly wild animals to scare the two Rishis, but they remained completely nonchalant. He then created intense rains and blazing fires, but the Rishis still remained unaffected. Eventually, Indra gave up and went back to Swarga.
Indra Sends Kama, the God of Love
When Indra got back to his palace, he spent more time pondering different means to distract Nara and Narayana from their penance. He called Kama deva (the god of love) and his usual accomplices: his wife Rati and the god of spring, Vasanta. Indra requested Kama to go with the Apsaras to distract Nara and Narayana. Kama readily agreed and soon reached Badarikashrama with a large group. They started their usual plan:
First, Vasanta went and made the surroundings appear like spring. All the trees flowered and the flowers bloomed. Birds began to sing and bees began to hum, creating a pleasant environment. The Apsaras then began beautiful singing in harmony. Nara and Narayana awoke. They were both thinking the same thing: why did it appear like spring, even though it wasn’t springtime. They heard the Apsaras singing and they quickly realized that this was most likely Indra’s plot. Indra must have sent these Apsaras to distract them from their penance.
At this moment, their doubts were confirmed when they saw Kama and his entire entourage, which the eight thousand five hundred Apsaras. Nara and Narayana knew the true intentions of the Apsaras. They decided to create a woman far superior and far more beautiful than any of these Apsaras to exact their revenge. The two rishis slapped their thighs and suddenly, a woman emerged. Nobody had ever seen someone as beautiful as her. Her name was Urvashi. She was the most gorgeous woman in the universe. The Apsaras dropped their jaws in shock. They apologized to Nara and Narayana, understanding their mistake. Nara and Narayana were pleased and sent them back to Swarga. The divine Urvashi accompanied the rest of the Apsaras to Swarga.
Urvashi and Pururavas
This story is in the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Book 1, Chapter 13 and the Harivamsa, Harivamsa Parva, Chapter 26
King Pururavas was a great king. He had everything: wealth, power, prestige, beauty, and endless virtues. All across the Universe, people knew about the famous king Pururavas. Among them was Urvashi, who secretly admired Pururavas and fell in love with him. One day, Lord Brahma cursed Urvashi that she will be forced to reside on earth for a certain amount of years. It is not exactly stated why she was cursed, but it is not very important to the story.
Anyways, Urvashi left Swarga, reached the earth, and arrived at Pururavas’s palace. They spent a lot of time together and they quickly fell in love with each other. One day, Pururavas asked Urvashi to become his wife. Urvashi readily agreed, but she laid down three conditions:
- I have two lambs that I keep with me as pets. I want you to look after them and protect them. Make sure nothing happens to them.
- I will only eat ghee for food, and I will not eat anything else.
- I do not want to see you naked except for when we are engaged in sexual intercourse.
Pururavas thought these conditions were odd, but he just went along with it and accepted them. They were simple enough to follow. So Pururavas and Urvashi got married. They spent years together in different regions such as the gardens of Kubera or the base of Mount Gandhamadhana. Soon, fifty-nine whole years passed, and the couple remained engrossed in each other.
Urvashi’s Secret Admirer: Durmada
This story is in the Brahmanda Purana, Chapter 3
Hamsa, the king of the Gandharvas, had an army general named Durmada. Durmada had fallen in love with Urvashi. Whenever he encountered her, we would follow her with lust. On many occasions, Durmada had confessed his undying love for Urvashi, but Urvashi had immediately rejected him. She was, in fact, already married to King Pururavas.
One day, Pururavas and Urvashi were present in the court of Indra. There, Pururavas signaled to Urvashi that they would meet in the corner of the Nandana Garden at night. Durmada saw this gesture, and he understood what Pururavas was telling Urvashi. He realized that this was his chance. He called a Vidhyadhari (celestial woman) named Unmada, and together, they made a devious plan. Unmada disguised herself as Urvashi, and Durmada disguised himself as Pururavas. Thus, at nightfall, Durmada and Unmada arrived at the Nandana Garden disguised as Pururavas and Urvashi respectively. When Urvashi saw Durmada, she thought it was Pururavas and they united in sexual intercourse. When Pururavas saw Unmada, he thought it was Urvashi, so they had sexual intercourse as well.
After they had intercourse, Durmada began loudly laughing. His ploy had succeeded. Urvashi was initially perplexed, and then realized his true identity. This was not her husband Pururavas. This was that stalker Durmada. At that time, Unmada also arrived there with a dumbfounded Pururavas. Urvashi was furious.
“Durmada, I curse you that you will be born on Earth as a Rakshasa. And your partner Unmada, she will also suffer a terrible fate. She will be born on Earth as the daughter of King. She will fall in love with one man, but she will end up marrying another!”
Durmada and Unmada were shocked by this curse. They begged Urvashi to forgive them. They didn’t want to leave heaven for Earth. Urvashi took some pity on them and said, “Durmada will be born as the son of Unmada. Durmada will die during a war and attain heaven. Unmada’s husband will also die. With the death of her husband and her son, she will be so sad that she will jump into a fire and obtain heaven as well.”
Urvashi’s curse came true, but that is another story for another day.
Gandharvas Steal Urvashi’s Lambs
Meanwhile, in Swarga, Indra began wondering what had happened to Urvashi. It had been many years since he had seen her. She was after all the most beautiful women in Swarga. He called the Gandharvas, heavenly singers, and asked them to search for her.
One of the Gandharvas, Vishwavasu, happened to know where Urvashi was: “I know where she is. She is married to King Pururavas. There is only one way to separate the two lovers. I have heard that Urvashi set forth three conditions to Pururavas before marrying him. One of those conditions was that he has to protect her two lambs. If we still those lambs, then she will definitely leave him and come back to Swarga.”
Indra was satisfied by this plan. Thus, Vishwavasu and the other Gandharvas went to Pururavas’s palace in the middle of the night. At this time, Pururavas and Urvashi were having sexual intercourse. Covertly, the Gandharvas kidnapped the two lambs and left. Urvashi heard the wailing of the lambs and realized that something dire had happened to them. She berated Pururavas, yelling, “You betrayed my trust. You broke fulfilled your promise. Thieves are stealing my lambs right now, and you are relaxing on this bed, completely nonchalant!”
Pururavas immediately got up and ran out of the room to find the lambs. He didn’t even put on his clothes, he just ran. The Gandharvas meanwhile had fulfilled their purpose. They left the lambs in the middle of nowhere and went back to Swarga. Meanwhile, the king ran around his palace, completely naked, looking for the lambs. When he found them, he came running back to Urvashi, completely out of breath, with the lambs in his possession. However, when he came back, he was still naked. Thus, Pururavas broke the third condition when Urvashi saw him naked at a time other than intercourse. A disappointed Urvashi left on the spot and went back to Swarga.
Urvashi and Pururavas Meet Again
Meanwhile, on Earth, Pururavas was depressed beyond recovery. He spent all of his time wandering all over the world, just crying and wailing over the lost love of his life. One time, when he came to Kurukshetra, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Urvashi was standing right there in front of him. “Urvashi, my love. Wait! You can’t leave me during such a difficult time. I can’t live without you!”
Urvashi looked at his state and felt pity. She said, “You have fallen from grace. You were once a powerful king, and now you are a ruined man, obsessed with a woman you can never have. So stop this madness and go back to your kingdom. Rule well!” Saying this, Urvashi vanished. But Pururavas was inconsolable. For the rest of his life, he remained a deranged man, with no purpose or ambition.
The Birth of Agastya and Vashishta
This story is in the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Book 6, Chapter 14
They requested, “Seeing your beauty and grace, we have fallen in love with you. Please stay here with us.”
Urvashi agreed to live with them. As Urvashi stayed with Mitra and Varuna, they became excited and their semen dropped in an uncovered jar. Because of this, two children were born. The first child was Agastya, who become a powerful ascetic, and the second child was Vashishta, who was adopted by King Ikshvaku and later became a famous rishi.
The Story Behind the Birth of Agastya and Vashishta
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