Apsaras and Yakshinis
Long ago in the mists of time, perhaps even before the Vedas were written, people in India, recognizing the life-giving properties of water, worshipped the rivers and the trees. The spirits in them became known as apsaras, yakshas and yakshis or yakshinis. Thus the origins of apsaras and yakshinis appear to be the same. They were both associated with waters, vegetation and fertility and were guardians of forests and rivers. Presumably the different names evolved and they developed different characteristics. It is interesting to compare the descriptions from early texts and some descriptions as made by Dr. Madhu Bazaz Wangu are summarised and paraphrased below:
At first apsaras with their male partners, gandharvas, the musicians to the gods, are associated with waters and vegetation and are regarded as the guardians of the forest, rivers, and fertility. They dwell among the clouds and in the dark woods when they visit the earth. They swing on the branches of trees. At times aromatic plants scare them away and, at other times, they themselves are filled with fragrance. They bear the names of sweet-smelling herbs and exude the fragrance of the lotus. Apsaras are paradoxical in nature, erotic as well as eternal virgins.
The yaksha is a water deity and his female partner the yakshini symbolised fertility. When they came together they were known as mithuna, a couple, and were associated with trees and vegetative growth. The yakshas were also considered guardians of the forests, lakes and rivers. In Buddhism some yakshas became guardians and were given fierce dispositions.
Together with the yakshas, the yakshinis were considered to serve Kuvera. With time there appeared various stories about them, with some who are benevolent and others who became demonic. There are various images of yakshinis and in general they appear as beautiful female figures, usually more mature than the apsaras. With their connection to water it is probable that they would be shown with a kamandalu (water pot), which suggests that the following photographs might be identified as yakshinis.
Material: bronze, high relief.
Patina: greenish brown
Posture: tribhanga (three bends), with both hands holding a kamandalu (water pot).
The clothing and ornamentation suggest a divine status.
Note the lotus plants coming from the pot. This is a characteristic of statues made during the Majapahit period.
3. Water Pot Carrier
Patina: greenish brown
Posture: walking on a padma pedestal, with right arm holding a kamandalu (water pot).
The simpler clothing, hat and ornamentation might suggest a lower status, but the lotus pedestal indicates perhaps she could be a more simple form of yakshini.
1. Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings, and Models, Madhu Bazaz Wangu, Abhinav, New Delhi, 2003.