Perhaps Gandharvas and Apsaras are the most heard names in our lives. Every time they are called as ‘celestial beings’ and are dumped into mythology. But our scriptures have been kind enough to properly elaborate on these ‘human beings’ from which we can certainly conclude that these were normal humans with proper kingdoms and tribes.
This is a bit tricky thing. We have to understand one thing. Gandharvas and Apsaras were NOT husband-wives. They were two separate tribes with certain rare cases of Apsaras and Gandharvas marrying each other like Urnayu-Menaka. Now on what basis I say this? There are two aspects to it-
First, IF Apsaras were female Gandharvas, why have both Ramayana and Mahabharata mentioned women called ‘Gandharvi’ meaning female Gandharva? See examples- In Mahabharata ( 4.9), after seeing her beauty, Kichaka asked Draupadi, “Are you a Yakshi,a Goddess, a Gandharvi or an Apsara?” meaning Gandharvi and Apsara were different..!! In many places Mahabharata mentions Gandharvis and makes proper distinction between Gandharvis and Apsaras. Even in Ramayana, Ravana’s grandfather Rakshas Sumali had married the daughter of Narmada, a Gandharvi.
The Puranas and Mahabharata tell that the Gandharvas and Apsaras originated from Kashyapa from his wife Pradha/Muni. If one looks at the chronological tables prepared by me, Kashyapa was the grandfather of Vaivasvat Manu. So technically, there should not be a single mention of any Apsara before Vaivasvata or Kashyapa. But this is not the case. King Agnidhra had married an Apsara called Purvachitti and Prachetas Daksha had married an Apsara called Pramlocha. Looking at this inconsistency,we can say that the Gandharvas could have originated from Kashyapa but the Apsaras existed before him and their origin is not specified. The names of Apsara daughters of Kashyapa are given but we can assume that these daughters later on joined the Apsara community.
I have mentioned this earlier that for the need to prove that every living being originated from Kashyapa and his wives,even plants and trees are told to have been born from women..!!! Same happened with Apsara. So it is fixed that Apsara as a community was existing even before Kashyapa while Gandharvas could possibly have originated from Kashyapa.
Mahabharata (2.11) mentions 27 different tribes of Gandharvas and Apsaras.
But one question remains, if the scriptures name both male and female Gandharvas, but why do they call Apsaras as females only? Meaning if Apsara community was only of females, how did that community propagate through the ages? The answer might be that Apsara was not a homogeneous community but was made up of girls from other exotic tribes since the work of Apsaras was to dance and entertain.Even the scriptures say that Apsaras had the freedom of choice and no confinement in choosing their mate.
There was no specific kingdom of Gandharvas. They are mentioned to be there in Lanka and also in different Yaksha and Rakshas kingdoms in Himalayas. They are under Kubera and guard the gold mines of Yakshas.They are also mentioned to be living in Uttar Kuru kingdom beyond the Himalayas. Also, in the Mahabharata, Gandharva kingdoms are said to be existing in the Saraswati basin when Balarama had visited various teethas on the Saraswati. A connection of Gandhara kingdom with Gandharvas needs to be examined.
Following are the famous Gandharvas in history-
Vishvavasu – He is probably the oldest Gandharva mentioned. He existed during Ram’s era. He is the composer of Rigveda ( 10.139) by the name Vishvavasu Devgandharva. Valmiki Ramayana says that Malyavan, Ravana’s granduncle had married his daughter Anala to Vishvavasu. So Vishvavasu is 1 generation prior to Ram. He had a daughter called Pramadwara raised by Sthulakesha rishi and married to Ruru rishi. An incomplete genealogy of Ruru rishi is given. He is said to be the descendant of Gritsamada rishi who was amlsot 20-25 generations before him but only 12-13 names are given in the genealogy. It goes thus- Gritsamada->Sucheta->Varcha->Vihavya
>Vitatya ->Satya> Santa ->Shrava ->Tama ->Prakash ->Vageendra ->Pramati ->Ruru
Chitraratha – He is said to be the ruler of Gandharvas. He is said to be the son of Pradha and Kashyapa.
Chitrangada – He was a king among the Gandharvas. He had a contention that only one person with name Chitrangada should exist so he had fought a war and killed the Kuru king Chitrangada, grandfather of Pandavas.
Tumvuru – He and Chitrasena had taught Arjuna the art of music and dance when he was at Indra’s abode. Arjuna used this knowledge to become a Kinnara in court of Matsya during his Adnyat-Vasa of 1 year.
Shailusha – Valmiki Ramayana ( Uttar Kand 100) says that the Gandhara kings in north west were in fact the descendants of Shailush Gandharva.
Dhritarashtra – He was sent by Indra as a messenger to the yagya started by Vaishali king Marutta and Samvarta rishi, the brother of Brihaspati.
Urvashi – She was the wife of Pururavas Aila. His and her conversation is recorded in Rigved (10.95). She is said to have married him on the condition that she would never see him nude except during sex. Her Gandharva companions made Pururavas flout this condition and she left him.
Menaka – She was the mother of Shakuntala. She begot Shakuntala when she had come to disrupt Vishvamitra’s penance. She abandoned Shakuntala who was taken care by Kanva, a rishi in the family of Kashyapa.
Purvachitti – She is considered to be the best of Apsaras. She was the wife of king Agnidhra and from her he begot 9 sons between whom the Jambudweepa was divided.
Alambusha – She was the wife of the Vaishali king Trinavindu.
The Gandharvas and Apsaras were related to each other because the Gandharvas used to sing and play music beautifully on which the Apsaras used to dance. All scriptres at lenght descirbe the beautiful voice of Gandharvas and the beauty of Apsaras. A separate upa-veda called Gandharva Veda which deals with all forms of Music. Dhritarashtra and Manthara were told to be born from Gandharvas. There is a separate style of marriage called Gandharva-vidhi where the bride and the groom themselves choose their mate without the consent of their parents. These Gandharvas had attacked the Kauravas during the Mahabharata war. There is a specific type of gold called Jambunada from which Yakshas, Gandharvas, Apsaras, etc used to make their ornaments.Gandharvas are also said to be very powerful warriors who don’t fear any king.