This Raja Ravi Varma lithographic poster shows Shukra trying to resist the charms of Menaka, the apsara. Usually it is Indra who sends apsaras to disturb the tapasya of saints, when it becomes too intense and his throne in heaven begins to tremble. Menaka seems to be slightly sad either because she is not getting any success or because she really hates Indra for sending her on these jobs. She looks fetchingly beautiful, in a drenched white sari, no less.
This poster is unique, I couldn’t find any references of this incident ever happening. Most of Ravi Varma’s posters are based on incidents in one of our ancient stories. Menaka is more famous for her tryst with Vishwamitra the angry monk. Maybe Menaka did come to disrupt his tapasya when he was trying to please Shiva to get the Sanjivani vidya. But it is immaterial if it happened even inside of a story or didn’t. Because this picture has a very important lesson inside it.
Shukra or Shukracharya as came to be known after he was made the designated guru of the asuras, is also the root word for shukranu. The word for semen. Shukra dhatu is the last dhatu formed by the transformation of the other six dhatus. And this dhatu is present in both males and females and is responsible for their sexual/reproductive health. If conserved for a week, or some say a month it is possible to transform this into a upa-dhatu, ojas. The bright magnetic glow that even those who don’t believe in dhatus, rasas and ojas would find impossible to miss.
There is more. Shukra is also one of the, navagrahas of vedic astrology, the nine astrological energies that have the most effect on our lives. The one that corresponds to Venus in western astrology. Venus is considered feminine in character, but she has similar characteristics to Shukra. Beauty, comfort bordering on luxuries, youth, love, creativity, arts, social appeal and so on. In our pranamaya kosha it is the lord of the Anahata heart chakra, which is responsible for being able to make connection with other beings, among other things.
So it makes sense that Shukra in this picture has his arms folded. Almost as a shield to his heart chakra. Maybe he knows that if he unfolds his arms he would be swept by either her beauty or her beseeching ways. Folded arms is not a natural yoga position or a mudra, so this is in fact a disruption to his practice. Which seems why he looks slightly displeased and wants her to go away. Menaka seems to be in her last stages of endearments, not looking forward to reporting failure to Indra.
Shukra niti has this shloka which tells of six things which we are bound to change and with which one should not get too attached.
यौवनं जीवितं चित्तं छाया लक्ष्मीश्र्च स्वामिता।
चंचलानि षडेतानि ज्ञात्वा धर्मरतो भवेत्।
Youth, life(health), psyche(mental state), social opinion of oneself, wealth and authority. These six things are very fickle and one should be ok when they go, and continue to be in dharma. The very things he is the lord of, he says, all these will go, and not to be attached to these. And that is the lesson shukracharya wants to convey.