Pururavas and Urvashi: Tragic love of celestial nymph (Urvashi) and mortal King (Pururavas)


Pururavas was the first king of the lunar dynasty (Chandravamsha). He was born in Treta yuga as the son of Budha and Ila. Ila had both male and female forms, hence Ila was both mother and father to Pururavas. For reading about”birth of Pururavas” please refer (https://animatedwater.com/2020/07/13/beginning-of-lunar-dynastychandravansha/). The story of Pururavas can be found in the Mahabharata, Rigveda, Vishnu Purana, Matsya Purana, Bhagavata Purana and Kalidasa’s Vikramorvashiyam.

Pururavas was also called as Aila (son of Ila). Since he was born in mount Puru so, he was called Pururavas. He became king of Pratisthana (modern-day Prayag in Uttar Pradesh). He had performed a hundred Ashwamedha Yajnas to become sovereign of the whole earth.

Meanwhile, there lived two twin sages called Nara and Narayana in the holy shrine of Badrinath. For Nara Narayan story, please refer (https://animatedwater.com/2020/08/03/nara-and-narayan-past-life-of-karna-as-dambhodbhava-sahasra-kavacha/). Indra the king of heaven did not want Nara Narayana to achieve divine power through meditation as Indra always feared losing his throne if, Nara and Narayana grew stronger than him. Due to this insecurity, he sent all beautiful nymphs (Apsaras) from his court to distract sages from performing penance. But, no Apsaras could break penance of Nara and Narayana. To teach Indra a lesson, Narayana struck his thigh and created a woman. She was so beautiful that all Indra’s Apsara’s were put to shame. She was named Urvashi where “Ur” means thigh in Sanskrit, hence lady who was born from the thigh is called as Urvashi. After completion of meditation Nara and Narayana gifted Urvashi to Lord Indra. She became the pride of Indra’s court. It is believed that Urvashi is the most beautiful Apsara in Indra’s court.

Urvashi would often visit earth along with her friends and would return to heaven before dawn. Once, while she was about to return to heaven she was abducted by a demon (Asura) called Keshi who had the intention of forcefully marrying Urvashi. Urvashi started screaming for help. Pururavas who was travelling by, heard her crying for help. Pururavas immediately followed Keshi, fought with Asura and freed Urvashi. While rescuing Urvashi, Pururavas accidentally touched her. Pururavas had never seen anybody as beautiful as Urvashi, and he immediately fell for her. While for Urvashi it was the first time she was touched by any mortal, and she experienced the warmth of a mortal. As Urvashi belonged to heaven, Pururavas feared of rejection, hence he did not approach her. Both parted away and Urvashi went to heaven while the king returned to his kingdom.

Back in heaven, Urvashi could not stop thinking of Pururavas. Urvashi was giving a dance performance where she was portraying herself as Lakshmi (Vishnu’s wife) in front of Rishi Bharata, Since she was thinking of Pururavas, she called out Pururavas instead of Purushottama (Vishnu). In modern-day terms, we can say Rishi Bharata was the choreographer of that play (Rishi Bharata was a founder of Bharathanatyam, In other words, a dance (Natya) which was founded/ written by Bharata is called Bharatnatyam). Rishi Bharata got offended when he heard her saying Pururavas and cursed Urvashi ” you will live in the mortal world and will become a wife of the person whom you are thinking of”. Meanwhile, king Pururavas could not concentrate on his Kingdom affairs, so he came to the Gandhmadan garden (the place where he saw Urvashi for the last time), Urvashi also came down due to the curse. Pururavas was extremely happy to see Urvashi. This time he made no mistake, and he asked her to become his consort, to which Urvashi agreed with him, but Urvashi was still bound to Indra’s court and set forth three conditions upon Pururavas, and on breaking them she would return to heaven.

Three conditions of Urvashi are:

  • I will only live on ghee (clarified butter), only Ghee must be served as food for me,
  • I will bring two sheep with me these two sheep are like my children and their safety is your responsibility if, anything happens to them I will leave you,
  • Apart from making love, we will never see each other naked.

Pururavas who was madly in love with Urvashi didn’t think of any conditions and he agreed with it. Pururavas married Urvashi and they lived happily for 4 years. Up in the heaven, all Deva’s including Indra started feeling the absence of Urvashi. They knew about the conditions Urvashi had put forth before the king, so to bring Urvashi back they decided to steal sheep.

One night Gandharvas came down to steal the sheep while taking it away the sheep started bleating loudly. This noise woke both Urvashi and Pururavas. Urvashi was worried when she saw her sheep being taken away. She asked her husband to get her sheep back. Pururavas who just woke up had no time to dress. He ran behind Gandharvas without clothes. Gandharvas somehow managed to make away with sheep. Next moment Devas created lightning in the night sky. The lightning was so intense that it lit up all whole surrounding as if it was a day. Urvashi saw Pururavas naked thus, the second condition was also violated. During the whole process, she was not given ghee as her diet.

As all her three conditions got surpassed with a heavy heart, she decides to go back to heaven, leaving behind the shattered king. After Urvashi left him, King lost interest in everything he started wondering every place on earth to find Urvashi. Travelling everywhere king reached to a place called Kurukshetra, there he was delighted to see Urvashi along with her friends near a lake. Pururavas begs her to return to him, Urvashi could not resist herself, seeing the plight of the king, she promised him that she will meet him in the same place next year and spend one night with him. She also told him that, she is pregnant with his child. King had no option but to agree with her. Pururavas faithfully waited for a year. On the appointed day Urvashi came along with their firstborn son Ayu. As per the agreement she spent a night with the king and promised to meet him next year and also handed him their firstborn son Ayu. After this incident, Urvashi came down quite a few times and the couple had five more sons.

Six sons of Urvashi and Pururavas are:

Ayu, Amavasu, Vishvayu, Shrutayu, Shatayu (or Satayu) and Dridhayu.

Poet Kalidasa wrote a Sanskrit drama called “Vikramorvashiyam”. Vikramorvashiyam is adaptations of the original story of Pururavas and Urvashi from Mahabharata. According to Kalidasa, Devas were amazed at the love of Pururavas toward Urvashi, they granted him to live with Urvashi for a lifetime.

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