Old Balinese woodcarving of Bidadari
Bidadari are the Indonesian evocation of the apsaras from Indian mythology. They are beautiful, supernatural female beings, youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing. They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas, The court musicians if Indra, usually in the palaces of the gods. They entertain and sometimes seduce gods and men.
An image from the Mahabrata. Arjuna meditating. Here he is being tempted by the nymphs sent by Indra. Notice the two erotic nymphs in the lower part of the painting trying to seduce the servants Australian Museum No: E74247
As ethereal beings who inhabit the skies, they are often depicted taking flight, or at service of a god, they may be compared to angels, heavenly maidens that live in the savaloka or in celestial palace of the god Indra.
In the first millennia in Indonesia the depiction of these heavenly maidens was much more related to the Indian concept. Later, as often happened they were modified,especially in Bali where a reverence for the past is blended with contemporary creativity.
The name Bidadari is a medieval Indonesian iteration of the Hindu Aspara being conflated with the 'vidyadharis' (from the Sanscrit vidhya, 'knowledge'; dharya, 'having, bearer, or bringer'). 'Vidyādhara' literally means 'possessed of science or spells', and refers to 'a kind of supernatural being ... possessed of magical power' or 'fairy' according to Monier-Williams Dictionary.
Apsara floating in clouds with birds from Borobudur gallery 1, 9th century, photo ca. 1900 Leiden University Libraries
Reproduction of a 9th cent Apsara.
In Bali now they are represented in the sacred dance sanhyng dedari amongst other ceremonies and dances.
Although the contemporary legong dancers are not thought to represent bidadari, the legong of Ketewel village in Gianyar traces its origins back to around 1825 when a prince named Dewa Karna Agung saw beautiful heavenly nymphs dancing the legong in a vision whilst he was in deep meditation in the local temple, following which he recreated this vision using prepubescent girls to represent the nymphs.