The Mahabharata talks about many fairies and nymphs called apsaras. Out of these, six are celestial. Let us try and understand what they represent in our psychic structure.
‘Ap’ means water and ‘sara’ is to glide – apsara is the one that glides on water. The word for snake ‘sarp’ also means the one that glides but snakes glide on soil whereas these celestial damsels glide on water. Water is symbolic of our emotional structure; in theosophy, this emotional structure is called the astral body. In effect, energies that glide across our emotional centres are apsaras. Throughout our scriptures, there are many instances where rishis have helplessly fallen in love with ‘apsaras’, symbolising the power of these energies to glide across even advanced emotional centres. If we take the earth, the physical body of the earth is the continents and its land-mass, whereas the water or the oceans is the emotional or the astral part of the earth.
The names of the six apsaras are Urvashi, Purvachitti, Sahajanhya, Maneka, Vishwachi, and Gritachi. Today, many modern psychologists talk about emotional intelligence, i.e. the usage of the power of our emotional energy. In the workings and the functions of the apsaras, our rishis have hidden the deepest secrets of our emotional structure.
Urvashi: ‘Uru’ means wide, large, or to prevail, ‘vasha’ means to control or hypnotise. This is that power of our emotional energy which through loving, sweet, and kind words or deeds influences another person or brings that person under our control. The sweetness of the emotional centre pervades that person’s heart or mind and they feel they are in love.
Purvachitti: ‘Purva’ means before or first and ‘chitta’ means conception – the art of perception without thought. When we see someone, thoughts based on our memory or what we already know about that person come to our mind. My teacher used to advise feeling a person’s energy through the heart before a thought was formed. This feeling or sensing is represented by Purvachitti; we can feel a person without the interference of memory.
Sahajanya: ‘Saha’ means together and ‘jana’ means to be born – that which is born together. For instance, love for a child lies within our subconscious, but it only surfaces or manifests with the birth of our own child. So effectively, the love was born only with the birth of the child. This is the art of doing one action to give birth to another. In many people’s destiny, if they desire to earn money directly, they may not be successful in doing so, but if they venture into something totally different purely out of joy of doing it, it may yield results. For example, pursuing creativity activities such as painting, gardening, or any other could result in money flowing into that person’s life; through activities where it was least expected. This is an example of Sahajanya, one thing giving birth to another.
Maneka: Maneka comes from the words ‘Manan’ and ‘karoti’, which means to make the mind do (something). We are born with a lot of potentialities. Gurdjieff calls this our essence. Of all these, very few become actualities, which he calls as personalities. For instance, a person maybe born a very good artist but for some reason becomes a surgeon, but this artistic potentiality lying within can also make that person a surgeon whose work has the grace of the work of art. In life, we can’t do many things at the same time and have to follow a certain singular path, but the power of enriching and enjoying that path with our hidden potentialities is what Maneka represents.
Vishwachi: ‘Vishwa’ means universal and ‘anch’ is to ask – that is to ask of the universal consciousness or mind. Whenever we go to a temple and ask something of the deity there, it is our individual mind trying to ask something from the universal mind. The universal mind knows all our desires. Whatever we get in life, whether on a physical plain – say material well-being, or on subtle plain – say family, friends, well-wishers etc, first manifests in the universal mind in a very subtle dimension before coming to us. In all of us, lies the power to ask in the right way to the universal mind so that our needs and comforts can be fulfilled. This power is called as Vishwachi.
Gritachi: means that which gets attached easily. To play the game of life, our emotional centre must get attached to relationships. If we were just to see the truth about everything, then it would be very difficult to get attached. For instance, the fact is that my child is mine, but the truth (or reality) beyond the fact is something different – it is a soul that has come through me. So, in one dimension, my child is mine but in reality it is not so. But to love and care for the child, one has to get attached and this quality to get attached and care for is represented by Gritachi.
Pictured here is an apsara from The Sun Temple as Konark. Let us try and read the symbology of it. The lushness of her figure (or Urvashi) hypnotises us. On seeing her, if we sense the very first feeling we have within us without thought or memory, it is a soft beautiful feeling of love (or Purvachitta). She is looking down with deep love at her child (or Sahajanya), the love that only manifests with the birth of her own child. She expresses this love and joy by tying on her dancing anklets. She is in deep introspection awakening her creativity to express in her dance (or Maneka). At the same time, she is in deep meditation in the universal mind asking of it to look after her child while she is performing her dance (or Vishwachi). She is attached to her child and is smiling at the child’s mischievousness and the child’s attempts to attract her attention (or Gritachi).