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I have read that Gandharvas are related to music and Yakshas are related to nature. Other than these specializations I can't understand the difference.

Are Gandharvas heavenly while Yakshas are earthly—similar to the difference between Western conceptions of angels and fairies? Are both divine? Semi-divine? Celestial?

Please explain how Yakshas & Gandharvas differ.

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    Yakshas are at times mischievous and have their own agenda, while Gandharvas and Apsaras are solely dedicated to dancing and singing in the court of the devas. They are not earthly, but live in Bhuvarloka.
    – user9072
    May 3 '18 at 5:47
  • I read that Apsaras cause men to stray from Dharma because of their beauty. Doesn't that make them a negative influence? Or are they still considered "good" (because they do not mean to lead men astray... or some other reason??)? May 3 '18 at 5:56
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    They generally do no such things on their own. They do that on the orders of Indra who is the Devaraj and test the sadhaks. Not only apsaras, He sends other passions as well, like money, luxury, food etc. He even sends fear on their path. The following link will show you Rishi Markandeya who conquered them all in his tapas - maransdog.net/TVG/…
    – user9072
    May 3 '18 at 8:23
  • I see. Please feel free to develop this response into an answer. May 3 '18 at 13:19
  • I need sources for that. Apparently I cannot find them properly. The only source I have is my grandmother narrating the story from a scripture translated into Bengali (my mothertongue). I still don't know what scripture that was. Lol.
    – user9072
    May 4 '18 at 4:17
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What is the difference between Yakshas & Gandharvas?

The primary difference is their origin. Puranas describes the origin story of Yakshas:

Vishnu Purana - Next from lord Brahma, in a form composed of the quality of rajas, was produced hunger, of whom anger was born: and the god put forth in darkness beings emaciate with hunger, of hideous aspects, and with long beards. Those beings hastened to lord Brahma. Some of them yelled, "Protect us", and were thence called Rákshasas. Others who yelled, "Let us eat!", were called Yakshas.

Another story in the Bhagavata Purana says that Yakshas were created by Brahma before Rakshasas. The Yakshas then wanted to eat Brahma, so Brahma cried out "Protect me!", and from that he created Rakshasas who protected him. The word "rakshasa" has the word "raksha" in it, which means "protect". Yaksha means "eat".

So from this and other verses, we can see that Rakshasas and Yakshas are closely related.

Gandharvas have a different origin as mentioned subsequently in the same Vishnu Purana:

The Gandharvas were next born, imbibing melody: drinking of the goddess of speech, they were born, and thence their appellation.

Gandharva here includes Apsaras too, since Gandharvas and Apsaras are basically the male and female counterpart to each other. Gandharvas and Apsaras are very handsome. Gandharvas are the husbands of Apsaras:

Atharva Veda - The Apsaras, you know, are your wives; You, the Gandharvas, are their husbands. Speed away, you immortals, do not go after mortals (humans)!

They are known for their promiscuous lifestyle, and so the "gandharva vivaha (love marriage)" is named after them.

Another description of Yakshas:

Vishnu Purana - Glory to Lord Vishnu, who are the Yakshas, whose nature is charmed with sounds, and whose frivolous hearts perfect knowledge cannot pervade.

I have read that Gandharvas are related to music and Yakshas are related to nature.

Correct. Yakshas like to live in forests.

Are both divine? Semi-divine? Celestial?

They are all celestial beings. Yakshas and Gandharvas are non-belligerent, materialistic, celestial beings:

Manusmriti 12.47 - Gandharvas, Guhyakas, ‘Yakṣas,’ the attendants of the gods, and all the Apsaras, represent the high state among those partaking of ‘Rajas.’

Rakshasas on the other hand, even though they are paired with Yakshas often, are bloodthirsty and very violent.

Manusmriti 12.44 - Cāraṇas, Suparṇas, hypocritical men, Rākṣasas, and Piśācas—represent the highest state among those partaking of the quality of ‘Tamas.’

Glory to Lord Vishnu, who art all Rakshasas, that walk by night, sprung from the quality of tamas, fierce, fraudulent, and cruel.

So, the main difference between Yakshas and Gandharvas is origin and physical appearance. The main similarity is that they are rajasic and partake in material enjoyments and are not belligerent.

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  • As you can see by my name, I asked this question before deciding whether or not Yakshi would be appropriate to use in my username as a South Asian replacement for the Western "fae." I have since read many other things about them some of which are conflicting. For example, since there are several different origin stories related to their name, each of which differ slightly (here's another: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/22925/10329 ), it seems likely these are folk etymologies developed long after the first mention of Rashas and Yakshas. 1/2 Feb 27 at 20:12
  • Since they are associated with Kubera some say they protect hidden treasures. Others say these are actually Guhyakas. Still others say Guhyakas are a type of Yaksha. Some say Kubera is king of the Gandharvas, but others say he is king of the Yakshas. So it's a bit confusing for me. I've also read that Yakshas are the children of Kashyapa & Khasa, Gandharvas are the children of Kashyapa & Arishta, and Apsaras are the children of Kashyapa & Muni making them all sibling-cousins to each other as well as to the Adityas, Daityas, Danavas, Nagas, and others. 2/3 Feb 27 at 20:30
  • I could not find any solid details about these groups. As best I can tell Yakshas are most similar to Western nymphs & sylphs, as they often inhabit trees and water features, Guhyakas are most closely similar to Western gnomes and dwarves, as they are hidden in caves and underground and are associated with treasures, Rakshasas are most closely similar to ogres & trolls, as they are man eating beasts living in the wilderness, and I'm not sure how similar this is, but Ghandharvas & Apsaras remind me of Muses and (the modern conceptions of) angels. Anyway, thanks for the additional info Feb 27 at 20:59
  • @RubelliteYakṣī "Western nymph" - Those would definitely be apsaras. They are even translated as nymphs by european translators of Indian texts. Kubera is most definitely the king of the Yakshas, since he is a Yaksha. The king of the gandharvas is someone else whose name I forgot. Gandharvas are musicians.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 28 at 0:26
  • @RubelliteYakṣī "Guhyakas are most closely similar to Western gnomes and dwarves" - I agree.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 28 at 0:27

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