One of the most striking features of Hindu dance is the use of hand gestures.
Speaking in dance via gestures, rather than orally, in order to visually convey outer events or things, as well as inner feelings, two classifications of specific traditional 'MUDRA' (hand/finger gesture) are used in Indian Classical Dance, and indeed are a prominent part of the dancer's vocabulary.
This is a list of only a few hastamudras.
The Abhinaya Darpan (a descriptive primmer for dancers) mentions that the dancer should sing the song by the throat, express the meaning of the song through hand gestures, show the state of feelings in the song by eyes, and express the rhythm with his or her feet.
From the Natya Shastra, a text on the arts, this beautiful quotation and translation is often quoted by Indian classical dance instructors:
"Yato hasta stato drishti"..."Where the hand is, the eyes follow"
"Yato drishti stato manaha"..."Where the eyes go, the mind follows"
"Yato manaha stato bhava"..."Where the mind is, there is the feeling"
"Yato bhava stato rasa"..."Where there is feeling, there is mood/flavour, sweetness (i.e., appreciation of art; aesthetic bliss)"
So vast are the subtleties expressed in the hand gestures of hasta that the vastness of what being human entails, and perhaps even what the entire universe contains, might be expressed by the dancer.
Hence as 'hasta' form a distinct coded language which brings a unique poetic element while performing, so too when abhinaya (traditional facial expressions), pose (attitude), and rhythm complete the language, the dancer may express practically anything and everything to an attentive audience.
In Bharata Natyam, the Classical Dance of India, approximately fifty-five root mudras (hand/finger gestures) are used to clearly communicate specific ideas, events, actions, or creatures in which thirty-two require only one hand, and are classified as `Asamyukta Hasta', along with twenty-three other primary mudras which require both hands and are classified as 'Samyukta Hasta. [NB these fifty-five are the roots; the branches permit of many more mudra, some of which are used primarily as aesthetic or decorative enhancements.]
Asamyukta hastas (single hand gestures)
Samayukta hastas (double hand gestures)
|Name in Sanskrit||Translation(s) in English||Other Meanings||Illustration|
|Pushpaputam||bag of flowers|
|Shivalingam||Lingum of Lord Shiva|
|Samputa||round shaped casket|
|Garuda||Half-eagle, half-human mount of Lord Vishnu|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to mudras.|
- Indianartz.com. Hasta Mudras - Gallery.
- Ramm-Bonwitt, Ingrid (1987). Mudras - As Maos Como Simbolo do Cosmos.
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