What is the earliest account of apsaras/nymphs?

  • How were they born?
  • How did they get the duty to dance in Indrasabha?
  • What all famous stories we have related to them?

Not sure but I think apsaras had came in from the Samudra-Manthan. During that time as division was going on so Devas got the apsaras. Some famous apsaras are Rambha, Menka, Urvashi. Some of their famous stories can be following:

  1. Menaka was sent to woo Rishi Vishwamitra such that he does not do penance and become Bramharishi. Rishi Vishwamitra was trapped in her scam and engaged himself with her. She then had a daughter with him named 'Shakuntala'. After the birth of 'Shakuntala', Menaka left Rishi Vishwamitra and returned back to Devlok. References : Bala kand of Valmiki Ramayan and this wiki page.

  2. In Jamini Mahabharat, there is a story of Urvashi, when she insulted Rishi Durvasa. Rishi Durvasa the cursed her to become a mare. When she pleaded for forgiveness, Rishi reduced the curse such that she will become mare only in the daytime and in night she will regain her apsara form and will be only able to be in full form throughout the day only when 3 and a half vajras come together. Then a series of events occur after which she was relieved of the curse.

  3. Urvashi is also said to be involved with King Pururava. They both fell in love and had a son. But as per a curse on her if the father and son meet, she had to return back to heaven. Later, Pururva helped Indra in a battle against Demons and Indra allowed Urvashi to stay with Pururva again. This story is covered in Shatapatha Brahmana of Yajur veda and on this wiki page

  4. There was also an apsara called Punjikasthala who had an affair with Pawandev. Once she insulted sage Durvasa and was cursed to become a female monkey. In her next incarnation she became Anjana, the mother of Lord Hanuman. This story is covered in Kishkindha kand of Valmiki Ramayana and could also be found in this wiki page

  5. Rambha was also sent to break the penance of Rishi Vishwamitra, but she was cursed by him to become a rock for 10,000 years till a Brahmin delivers her from the curse. This story is covered in Bala kand of Ramayana and this wiki page.

  6. Rambha was wife of Kuber's son Nalkuber. She was once being voilated by Ravava. Ravana was then cursed that if he tried to voilate any other women his head will burst. This story is covered in Uttara kand of Ramayana as stated in this question and this wiki page.

  7. There is also a story in Mahabharat about Urvashi according to which once Arjuna had visited heaven along with his Gandharva friend. There he was watching the dance performance of Urvashi. Later Indra asked Urvashi to spend some leasure time with Arjuna. She was also attracted towards him. But when she tried to lure him, he denied the proposal saying that she was the wife of one of his ancestor Pururva, so he respected her and can't accept her proposal. Furious on this Urvashi cursed Arjuna that as he has not behaved in a manly way with her therefore he will have to live as a female. It was because of this curse that Arjuna had to later act as a female called 'Bhrehenala' in the last one year exile when they have to be hidden in disguise. This story is present in Mahabharata.

Apart from these there can be more stories which other readers can tell.


Apsaras are born from Rishi Kashyapa and his one of wife called Muni as per Bhagavata Purana

Just like other celestial beings like devas , they live for a manvatara. They are typically seen women counterparts of gandharvas.

However unlike devas , their number is not constant. Human beings with suitable penace can become gandharvas or apsaras. For example : 16000 consorts of Krishna became apsaras

MB Svargarohana Parva 18.5 says that "16,000 women had been married to Vasudeva as his wives. When the time came, O Janamejaya, they, plunged into the Sarasvati. Casting off their (human) bodies there, they re-ascended to Heaven and transformed into Apsaras"

  • 1
    Actually, the reason they turned into Apsaras is that they were already Apsaras before, and they had simply incarnated as Krishna's wives. See this chapter of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata: sacred-texts.com/hin/m01/m01068.htm "And, O king, the portions of the tribe of Apsaras which I have mentioned already, also became incarnate on earth according to Indra's commands--And sixteen thousand portions of those goddesses became, O king, in this world of men, the wives of Vasudeva." Dec 9 '14 at 4:54
  • 1
    I didnt know they were apsaras before.Thanks for pointing out that. Scriptures always mention exact number of devas (33 million) , but they dont mention number of gandharvas or apsaras. Also during samudra manthan, only devas drank nector , neither apsaras nor gandharvas had it. Even non-hindu scriptures like Janavasabha-sutta, DN.18 states that gandharvas and apsaras are lowest ranking gods , it is very embarassing to be reborn just as gandharva or apsara for a person with serious spiritual goals.
    – tekkk
    Dec 9 '14 at 5:12
  • But the general rule would be as I have seen in scriptures, whichever species have death , there is also a birth. Such species procreates.Otherwise they would be extinct . We always hear that Rakshasas , their children and their decedents(For Ex: Hiranya kashipu- prahlada-virochana-bali) . We dont hear same thing for devas.
    – tekkk
    Dec 9 '14 at 5:13
  • @sysinit, Thanks for your reply and thanks to Keshav Srinivasan too for clarification. Dec 9 '14 at 10:11

Srimad Ramayana has a reference to Apsarasas in Bala Kanda.

अप्सु निर्मथनात् एव रसात् तस्मात् वर स्त्रियः। उत्पेतुः मनुज श्रेष्ठ तस्मात् अप्सरसो अभवन्॥ १-४५-३३

"Choicest females have come out an elixir obtained on absolute churning of the waters of Milk Ocean, oh, best one among men, Rama, thereby that genera of females became Apsara-s. "

षष्टिः कोट्यो अभवन् तासाम् अप्सराणाम् सुवर्चसाम्। असन्ख्येयाः तु काकुत्स्थ याः तासाम् परिचारिकाः॥ १-४५-३४

"Six hundred millions of such Apsara-s with amazing dazzle have emerged from the churning of Milky Ocean, oh, descendent of Kakutstha, and their maidservants who emerged along with them are innumerable"

न ताः स्म प्रतिगृह्णन्ति सर्वे ते देव दानवाः। अप्रतिग्रहणात् एव ता वै साधारणाः स्मृताः॥ १-४५-३५

"Anybody either from gods or demons espoused them, and when none espoused them they are virtually reckoned as 'general-purpose' Apsara-females. "


I have got more information this time . So adding as a separate Answe.r This information is taken from brahmanda purana.

Gandharvas and Apsaras were the children of muni. From Muni there are 16 deva gandharvas and 24 younger sisters named apsaras.The following are remembered as Laukiki(Earthly) Apsaras

  1. Earthly(Laukiki) Apsaras

    Hamsa, Sarasvati, Suta, Kamala, Abhaya, Sumukhi, and Hamsapadi.

  2. Panchacudis(5 plates of hair and expounders brahman)

    Menaka, Sahajanya, Parnini, Punjikastala,Krtasthala, Ghrtaci, Visvaci, Purvachitti . Urvashi is 11 directly born from narayana.

Apart from this there are separate 14 groups of apsaras.

  1. Ahrtis - mental daughters of brahma
  2. Shobhavatis- daughters of maruts
  3. Vegavatis- Daughters of Rista
  4. Urjas- Daughters of Agni
  5. Yuvatis- Born of Rays of Sun
  6. Sruks — Born of Yajna
  7. Kurus—Born of Rays of moon
  8. Barhis - Daughter of Kusavati
  9. Amrtas - Born of Amrta
  10. Mudas — Born of Vayus
  11. Mrgus — Born of Earth
  12. Ruks — Born of Lightening
  13. Bhirus — Daughters of Mrtyu
  14. Shobhayantis— Daughters of Kama

These are wives,mothers of devas and sages.

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