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Apsara Menka – Story Of Menaka Apsara

Apsara Menka is one of the most beautiful celestial dancers in the court of Indra. Story of Menaka Apsara is found in the Mahabharata and Puranas. She helps Indra, the king of demigods, by distracting Rishis (Saints) who undertake severe penance. Indra felt threatened by the Rishis because his position among as the king of demigods (devas) might be threatened if the sages acquired spiritual powers by virtue of their penance.

Menaka is referred to in the drama Vikramorvasiyam as a “tender weapon of Indra”.

Several instances of Menka distracting sages from their spiritual goal have been recounted in Hindu scriptures especially the Puranas.

One such instance refers to the birth of Shakuntala, heroine of poet Kalidasa’s drama Abhijnana Shakuntalam. The original story is traced back to the Mahabharata Adi Parva 71 – 72.

When Indra found the royal sage Vishwamitra performing severe penance, he sent Apsara Menaka to distract the sage from his penance, which she effectively did.

Shakuntala, born of their union, later became the wife of King Dushyanta and mother of emperor Bharata, after who India got the name Bharata.

It was again the heavenly damsel Menka who was the first link in the chain of reactions that led to the churning of the Kshirasagara (Milky Ocean) for nectar by the gods and the demons.

She gave a garland of scented flowers to Sage Durvasa, who presented it to Indra. He hung it on the tusk of his elephant Airavata which, annoyed by bees, hurled it away. This enrage, the shot-tempered Sage Durvasa, who cursed Inra to be disposed from his place in heaven.

This curse was fulfilled in the form of demons defeating the gods. The gods and the asuras decided to battle it out. In order to win the war, the gods acquired the nectar which gave them strength and immortality, which led to the churning of the Milky Ocean. They drove out the Asuras and regained their heavenly kingdom (Vishnu Purana Section I, Chapter 9, Bhagavata Purana, Skanda VIII Chapters 6 to 9).

Notes taken from - Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume VII - page 142 - 143 - IHRF
Reference - Vishnu Purana (1980) H H Wilson - Rep Nag Publishers Delhi