Urvaśī (Sanskrit: उर्वशी, lit. 'she who controls hearts')[a] is an apsara 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 is perennially youthful and infinitely charming but always elusive.[1] She is a source as much of delight as of dolour.[2]

Narayana on the left and Nara on the right, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh, ca. 5th century

The Bhagvatam narrates the story of Urvashi. Once the revered sages Nara-narayana were meditating in the holy shrine of Badrinath Temple situated in the Himalayas. Indra, the king of the Gods, did not want the sage to acquire divine powers through meditation and sent two apsaras to distract him. The sage struck his thigh and created a woman so beautiful that Indra’s apsaras were left matchless. This was Urvaśī, named from ur, the Sanskrit word for thigh. After his meditation was complete the sage gifted Urvaśī to Indra, and she occupied the place of pride in Indra’s court.[3][4][5][6]

Urvashi in the Ramayana, seduced Vibhandaka and became the mother of Rishyasringa, who later played crucial role in birth of Rama and was married to Shanta, the elder sister of Rama.[7]

Once Pururavas, founder of lunar dynasty, and Urvashi fell in love with each other. Pururavas asked her to become his wife, but she agreed on three conditions.[8] The three conditions were:

Pururavas agreed the conditions and they lived happily. Indra started missing Urvashi and he created circumstances where all the three conditions were broken. After all three conditions were broken, Urvashi returned to heaven which left Pururavas heartbroken. Urvashi used to come on earth and bore Pururavas many children, but they were not completely reunited.

Their love story is found in the Rigveda and Shatapatha Brahmana too. Kalidasa's drama Vikramōrvaśīyam is about their love story with variations from the original texts.[9]

She is also mentioned in the Mahabharata, as the celestial dancer of Indra's palace. When Arjuna had come for obtaining weapons from his father, his eyes fall upon Urvaśī. Indra seeing this sent Chitrasena to address Urvasi to wait upon Arjuna. Hearing virtues of Arjuna, Urvasi was filled with desire. At twilight, she reached Arjuna's abode. As soon as Arjuna saw that beauty at night in her room in beautiful attire, from fear, respect, modesty and shyness he saluted her with closed eyes. She told Arjuna everything and also of her heart desire. But Arjuna refused, as considering her to his superior of old. He also mentioned that she was like his mother because of her past marriage to Pururavas.

In wrath she cursed Arjuna of destitute of manhood and scorned as a eunuch for a year. This curse helped Arjuna during his Agyatvās.[10]