Urvashi (Urvaśī, from Uras "heart" + Vashi "one who controls", "one who controls the heart") 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 became the wife of king Pururavas (Purūrávas, from purū+rávas "crying much or loudly"), an ancient chief of the lunar race and treated in Kalidasa's drama Vikramōrvaśīyam. She is perennially youthful and infinitely charming but always elusive. She is a source as much of delight as of colour.
- It was Pururavas who first brought from the region of the Gandharvas the three kinds of fire (for sacrificial purpose). And he brought thence, the Apsara Urvasi also. And the son of Ila begat upon Urvasi six sons who were called Ayus, Dhimat, Amavasu and Dhridhayus, and Vanayus, and Satayus. And it is said that Ayus begat four sons named Nahusha, Vriddhasarman, Rajingaya, and Anenas, on the daughter of Swarbhanu. And, O monarch, Nahusha, of all the sons of Ayus, being gifted with great intelligence and prowess ruled his extensive kingdom virtuously.
- Of the dialogue in the Rig Veda it may be said, that 'the language is coarse and the meaning is obscure.' We only gather that Urvasi, though she admits her sensual content in the society of Pururavas, is leaving him 'like the first of the dawns'; that she 'goes home again, hard to be caught, like the winds.' She gives her lover some hope, however—that the gods promise immortality even to him, 'the kinsman of Death' as he is. 'Let thine offspring worship the gods with an oblation; in Heaven shalt thou too have joy of the festival.' In the Rig Veda, then, we dimly discern a parting between a mortal man and an immortal bride, and a promise of reconciliation.
HYMN XCV. Urvasi. Purūravas
- Purūravas: Ho there, my consort! Stay, thou fierce-souled lady, and let us reason for a while together. Such thoughts as these of ours, while yet unspoken in days gone by have never brought us comfort.
- Urvashi: What am I now to do with this thy saying? I have gone from thee like the first of Mornings. Purūravas, return thou to thy dwelling: I, like the wind, am difficult to capture.
- Purūravas: Like a shaft sent for glory from the quiver, or swift-steed winning cattle winning hundreds. The lightning seemed to flash, as cowards planned it. The minstrels bleated like a lamb in trouble.
- Urvashi: Giving her husband's father life and riches, from the near dwelling, when her lover craved her, She sought the home wherein she found her pleasure, accepting day and night her lord's embraces.
- Purūravas: Thrice in the day didst thou embrace thy consort, though coldly she received thy fond caresses. To thy desires, Purūravas, I yielded: so wast thou king, O hero, of my body.
- Urvashi: The maids Sujirni, Sreni, Sumne-api, Charanyu, Granthini, and Hradecaksus,— These like red kine have hastened forth, the bright ones, and like milch-cows have lowed in emulation.
- Purūravas: While he was born the Dames sate down together, the Rivers with free kindness gave him nurture; And then, Purūravas, the Gods increased thee for mighty battle, to destroy the Dasyus.
- Urvashi: When I, a mortal, wooed to mine embraces these heavenly nymphs who laid aside their raiment, Like a scared snake they fled from me in terror, like chariot horses when the car has touched them.
- Purūravas: When, loving these Immortal Ones, the mortal hath converse with the nymphs as they allow him. Like swans they show the beauty of their bodies, like horses in their play they bite and nibble.
- Urvashi: She who flashed brilliant as the falling lightning brought me delicious presents from the waters. Now from the flood be born a strong young hero May Uruvasi prolong her life for ever.
- Purūravas: Thy birth hath made me drink from earthly milch-kine: this power, Purūravas, hast thou vouchsafed me. I knew, and, warned thee, on that day. Thou wouldst not hear me. What sayest thou, when naught avails thee?
- Urvashi: When will the son be born and seek his father? Mourner-like, will he weep when first he knows him? Who shall divide the accordant wife and husband, while fire is shining with thy consort's parents?
- Purūravas: I will console him when his tears are falling: he shall not weep and cry for care that blesses. That which is thine, between us, will I send thee. Go home again, thou fool; ṭhou hast not won me.
- Urvashi: Thy lover shall flee forth this day for ever, to seek, without return, the farthest distance. Then let his bed be in Destruction's bosom, and there let fierce rapacious wolves devour him.
- Purūravas: Nay, do not die, Purūravas, nor vanish: let not the evil-omened wolves devour thee. With women there can be no lasting friendship: hearts of hyenas are the hearts of women.
- Urvashi: When amid men in altered shape I sojourned, and through four autumns spent the nights among them, I tasted once a day a drop of butter; and even now with that am I am contented.
- Purūravas: I, her best love, call Urvasi to meet me, her who fills air and measures out the region. Let the gift brought by piety approach thee. Turn thou to me again: my heart is troubled.
- Urvashi: Thus speak these Gods to thee, O son of Iḷā: As death hath verily got thee for his subject, Thy sons shall serve the Gods with their oblation, and thou, moreover, shalt rejoice in Svarga.
History of Indian Theatre: Classical theatre
Manohar Laxman Varadpande in: History of Indian Theatre: Classical theatre Abhinav Publications, 2005 Page 124
- King Pumrava of Vikramorvashiyam already had a beautiful queen but this does not deter him from running after Urvashi. Poor queen, daughter of king of Kashi, too looks on helplessly the affair of her husband with doting [[w:Apsara|Apsara.
- In p. 124.
- Urvashi, the heroine of his [Kalidasa’s] play Vikramorvashiyam, according to myth recorded in the Vishnudharmottara Purana, was herself a painting incarnate. Once beautiful heavenly damsels, Devastriya, appeared before Narayana|Bhagavan Narayana to seduce him.
- In p. 127.
- Mahamuni with mango juice drew on the earth the painting of an extremely beautiful girl, Urvashi. Witnessing the painting the pride of heavenly damsels lay shattered and they departed feeling terribly ashamed of themselves. This, the Purana says, was the first painting on the earth. However Kalidasa gives some other myth about the origin of Urvashi, the myth that she was born from the uru or thigh of Narayana.
- In p. 127.
- Kalidasa's Vikramorvashiyam is based on the Puranic versions of the love story of king Pururava and celestial nymph Urvashi. However earliest mention of Urvashi is found in the Vedic literature in different contexts. In a Rig Vedic hymn in a dialogue form, Samvad Sukta, the love story of Pururavas and Urvashi is found recorded. In this rather obscure hymn Pururava is portrayed as a glum melancholy dejected lover of a celestial nymph who had abandon him at will.
- In p. 142.
- In the hymn we see the pathetic king asking his cruel hearted beloved to take pity on him and return to him otherwise he may commit suicide. Urvashi rejects his entreaties and asks him to go back to his kingdom and perform his kingly duties. She also tells him that at appropriate time she will send his son to him who at that time was growing in her womb.
- In p. 142.
- The nymph Urvashi loved Pururavas, the son of Ila. When she wedded him she said, 'Thrice a day though embrace me, but do not lie with me against my will and let me not see naked for such is the way to behave to us women.'
- In p. 142.
- She then dwelt with him a long time, and was even with child of him, so long she dwelt with him. Then the Gandharvas said to one another, 'For a long time, indeed, has this Urvashi dwelt among men; devise ye some means how she may come back to us. Now an ewe with two lambs was tied to her coach; Gandharvas than carried off one of the lambs.
- In p. 142.
- 'Alas', she cried, 'they are taking away my darling, as if I were where there is no hero and no man!' They carried off the second, and she spake in the selfsame manner. He then thought within himself, 'How can that be [a place] without a hero and without a man where I am?' And naked, as he was, he sprang up after them: too long he deemed it that he should put on garments. Then the Gandharvas produced a flash of lightning, and she beheld him naked even as by daylight. Then, indeed, she vanished.
- In p. 142.
- Wailing with sorrow he wandered all over Kurukshetra. Now there is a lotus-lake there called Anyatahplaksha. He walked along its bank; and there nymphs were swimming about in the shape of Swans. And she (Urvashi) recognised him, said, 'This is the man with whom I have dwelt.' They then said, 'Let us appear to him!' 'So be it!', she replied; and they appeared to him.
- In p. 142.
- According to this theory Pururava-Urvashi dialogue hymn was one of the earliest known performative texts. Urvashi was the key figure of this text. There are legends showing relationship of Urvashi with dramatic art. Through a legend recorded in Natyashastra it is implied that she was responsible for bringing on earth the heavenly art of drama.
- In p. 146.
The Kathá Sarit Ságara or Ocean of the Streams of Story
- ...there was a king of the name of Purúravas, who was a devoted worshipper of Vishṇu; he traversed heaven as well as earth without opposition, and one day, as he was sauntering in Nandana, the garden of the gods, a certain Apsaras of the name of Urvaśí, who was a second stupefying weapon in the hands of Love, cast an eye upon him. The moment she beheld him, the sight so completely robbed her of her senses, that she alarmed the timid minds of Rambhá and her other friends.
- The king too, when he saw that torrent of the nectar of beauty, was quite faint with thirst, because he could not obtain possession of her. Then Vishṇu, who knoweth all, dwelling in the sea of milk, gave the following command to Nárada, an excellent hermit, who came to visit him
- O Divine sage, the king Purúravas, at present abiding in the garden of Nandana, having had his mind captivated by Urvaśí, remains incapable of bearing the pain of separation from his love. Therefore go, O hermit, and informing Indra as from me, cause that Urvaśí to be quickly given to the king.
- Rise up, O king, for thy sake I am sent here by Vishṇu, for that god does not neglect the sufferings of those who are unfeignedly devoted to him.
- Nárada to Purúravas
- Nárada cheered up Purúravas, and then went with him into the presence of the king of the gods. Then he communicated the order of Vishṇu to Indra, who received it with reverent mind, and so the hermit caused Urvaśí to be given to Purúravas. That gift of Urvaśí deprived the inhabitants of heaven of life, but it was to Urvaśí herself an elixir to restore her to life.
- Purúravas returned with her to the earth, exhibiting to the eyes of mortals the wonderful spectacle of a heavenly bride. Thenceforth those two, Urvaśí and that king, remained, so to speak, fastened together by the leash of gazing on one another, so that they were unable to separate.
- One day Purúravas went to heaven, invited by Indra to assist him, as a war had arisen between him and the Dánavas. In that war the king of the Asuras, named Máyádhara, was slain, and accordingly Indra held a great feast, at which all the nymphs of heaven displayed their skill. And on that occasion Purúravas, when he saw the nymph Rambhá performing a dramatic dance called chalita, with the teacher Tumburu standing by her, laughed.
- I suppose, mortal, you know this heavenly dance, do you not?
- From associating with Urvaśí, I knew dances which even your teacher Tumburu does not know.
- When he heard that curse, Purúravas went and told Urvaśí what had happened to him, which was terrible as “a thunderbolt from the blue.” Immediately some Gandharvas swooped down, without the king’s seeing them, and carried off Urvaśí, whither he knew not. Then Purúravas, knowing that the calamity was due to that curse, went and performed penance to appease Vishṇu in the hermitage of Badariká.
- But Urvaśí, remaining in the country of the Gandharvas, afflicted at her separation, was as void of sense as if she had been dead, asleep, or a mere picture. She kept herself alive with hoping for the end of the curse, but it is wonderful that she did not lose her hold on life, while she remained like the female chakraváka during the night, the appointed time of her separation from the male bird. And Purúravas propitiated Vishṇu by that penance, and, owing to Vishṇu’s having been gratified, the Gandharvas surrendered Urvaśí to him. So that king, re-united to the nymph whom he had recovered at the termination of the curse, enjoyed heavenly pleasures, though living upon earth.