Soma in a
pose of Minakshi Devi
holding the holy bird, the parrot
into the mirror and applying ornaments”, with the Mudras
Pataka (left hand) and Hamsaasya (right hand)
DEFINITION OF “MUDRA”
The Vedic Hymns and Mantras or mystical syllables, are
forming the backbone of our holy worship. The recitation of the Hymns
and Mantras are sometimes accompanied by hand gestures and movements.
These hand gestures are called “Mudras”.
Some people are of the opinion that the word “Mudra”
is of Persian origin, denoting a “seal”, meaning hereby, that the hand
gesture places a seal or puts a finishing touch to the Mantra, with
which it is linked.
The Tantrik school says, that it comes from “Mud”,
meaning “Bliss”. This bliss is attained through the divine powers of the
Mudras or hand gestures, which emphasize and intensify the concentration
on the Divine and attract the blessings of the Divine.
The Tantrasara in this connection defines “Mudra” as
being a source of pleasure to the Gods worshipped and a cause of freedom
from the defilements of sin and passion.
The Mudras, performed along with the Mantras or
mystical syllables, combine elegance with mysticism. They purify,
energize and divinize the spiritual aspirant in a similar way, as the
recitation of Mantras.
INDIAN CLASSICAL DANCE
Mudras play a very important role in the Indian
There are single hand gestures, called “Asamyukta
Hastah” (hands, not united), which can be executed either by the right
hand only, or the left hand only, or by both hands simultaneously
(without combining the two hands).
There are also gestures, which are formed by uniting
both the hands, they are called “Samyukta Hastah” (united or combined
According to the ancient scripture “Abhinaya Darpana”
(Nandikeshwara) there are 28 single hand gestures and 24 united hand
gestures. All these different hand gestures or Mudras are frequently
used in Indian Classical Dance forms, specially in Bharatanatyam. There
are even special hand gestures or Mudras which denote all the Gods and
Goddesses (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Saraswati, Lakshmi, etc.), the four
different castes (Brahmana, Kshatriya, etc.), different relations
(Mother, daughter, etc.), the nine planets (Sun, moon, etc.), rivers
(Ganga, Yamuna, etc.), animals (Lion, deer, etc.) and so many things
From left to right: Neha in the
pose of Lakshmi Devi, Soma in the
pose of Parvati Devi and Pinky in the pose of Saraswati
Soma and her students Neha and
Pinky with the Anjali Mudra
through which the Divine is worshipped and glorified
Any sincere student of Indian Classical Dance has to
learn by heart all the 28 single and 24 combined Mudras. Each of these
Mudras has a Sanskrit name. When a student is showing the Mudras, he or
she also has to recite the corresponding Sanskrit names along with them.
It is like learning an audiovisual alphabet or a language. Since the
Mudras can convey myriads of meanings, the "Viniyoga" (Usage) of each
Mudra should be practised, so that one gets the knowledge how Mudras are
used in different contexts and thereby acquire different meanings. When a dance student has learned
and understood all the different Mudras and the many meanings, which
they can express, he or she can immediately make out the meaning of any
performance of Indian Classical Dance, without having been told in
detail, which story the dance unfolds.
Here is a short example of how Mudras in Indian
Classical Dance can be used:
The first hand gesture in the alphabet of the Mudras is “Pataka”, which
means literally “Flag”. It is called “Flag”, because it actually looks
like that and so it is easy for the students to remember and make that
Mudra if the teacher orders them to show “Pataka”. In the Mudra “Pataka”
all fingers are straight and extended and close together. Only the thumb
is slightly bent towards the base of the index finger. By moving the
right hand or the left hand or both hands simultaneously in the Pataka
Mudra, many different meanings can be expressed in the dance, like: “the
beginning of dance”, “clouds”, “forest”, “night”, “river”, “wind”,
“entering a street”, “waves”, “opening the door”, “taking an oath”, “to
bless somebody”, and many other things. With only one single hand
gesture a dancer can convey so many things!
There is another Mudra from the Mudra alphabet which I
want to mention here, “Suchi”. “Suchi” means literally “Needle”. This
Mudra exactly looks like a needle. The index finger is extended and
straight and all the other fingers, including the thumb, are bent
towards the palm. Many things can be shown with the “Suchi” Mudra:
“searching something”, “to contemplate”, “scolding somebody”, “making a
hair braid”, “playing a temple drum”, etc. Even highly mystical or
metaphysical things can be expressed with this simple “Suchi” Mudra, for
example, when one or both hands in this Mudra are held a bit over the
head level and the wrists execute soft, circular movements, the creating
or sustaining Divine Power of the wondrous universes, the galaxies, is
When the right hand in the “Suchi” Mudra is held in
front of the chest (in front of the “spiritual heart”) and moved slowly
up above the head level, this Mudra indicates “Paramashiva” or “Parabrahma”,
the Undivided, the One without a second, the Absolute.
THE CREATIVE ASPECT OF MUDRAS
above the head depict the sun
showing another variety of the
parrot. This holy bird symbolizes the
Divine Wisdom of the Vedas.
Children as well as adults enjoy the multitude of
things, which can be shown by using the Mudras. With a few changes of
finger positions a flying bird can be shown or a swimming fish, a
dancing peacock, a honeybee hovering over a flower, the tender waves of
a calm river or the ferocious waves of the ocean, clouds, the sun, the
rain, lightning, the beauty of the moon, the tenderness, grace and
beauty of women, playing of instruments, and so many things more.
If dancers have thorough knowledge of Mudras and
sufficient experience, how to apply them in dance, they can choreograph
easily new dances to Bhajans, Vandanas or any subject of their choice.
THE HEALING POWERS
Mudras have definitely healing powers. By stretching
or bending the fingers or exerting pressure on fingertips or palms,
unbalanced energies in body and mind, causing diseases, can be balanced,
tensions can be released and eased out. By practising Mudras properly,
blocked energy can be released and flow freely. Hereby accumulated
toxins are removed and the bodily system is purified and harmonized.
THE MYSTICAL ASPECT OF MUDRAS
From the statues and pictures of the Gods and
Goddesses we can see that Their hands are all formed in beautiful
definite Mudras. The hand expressions of the Divinities are never casual
or in an ordinary human way. One can take the example of any Divinity,
be it Lord Shiva or Ganeshji or Lakshmiji, etc.
Mudras play a most important role in Shrividya, the
worship of the Supreme Divine Mother, Shri Lalita Mahatripurasundari,
the Goddess of Infinite Love, Infinite Purity, Infinite Beauty, Power,
Sweetness and Tenderness. When the Goddess is worshipped and invited
through special Bija Mantras, corresponding hand gestures have to be
performed. These sacred Mudras multiply the effects of the Bija Mantras.
The combination of Mantra recitation and simultaneous performance of the
corresponding Mudras help the sincere and pure-hearted devotees to
progress very fast on the spiritual path till the aim, the spiritual
union with one’s Ishta-Devata, is reached. The Bija Mantras and their
corresponding Mudras are secret and can be learned only after special
initiations. The conditions for learning these Mantras and Mudras are
utmost outer and inner purity, otherwise the sacred Mantras and Mudras
will have an adverse effect. If they are practised with low, selfish,
sensual and passionate motives, they will lead fast to one’s destruction.
Often we get glimpses of the mystical aspect of the
Mudras in the Indian Classical Dance, too, specially where the different
Gods and Goddesses are depicted, but also in the purely rhythmic,
so-called abstract portions of the Indian Classical Dance. Here the
emphasis is on powerful foot-work and graceful body-movements. No
special story is told, but Mudras are used to beautify the rhythmic and
graceful movements in this abstract form of dance.
Usually dance experts are of the opinion that in the
pure rhythmic portion of Indian Classical Dance (like in Jathiswaram,
Tillana, etc.) Mudras do not convey any special meaning, but have just
decorative purpose. I do not fully agree with this view. Of course,
Mudras in the rhythmic part of dance have definitely an aesthetic charm
and appeal, but they also exert subtle energies on the physical as well
as the spiritual level. Here a strong parallel can be observed between
the role of the Mudras in the Shrividya worship and in the Indian
Classical Dance, which is also a form of worship.
In ancient times, temple dancers used to dance in
front of the Deities to the recitation of Bija Mantras. Unfortunately,
the practice of these sacred dances has come out of vogue. The Mudras,
which the dancers have performed along with the Bija Mantras, may have
resembled the sacred Mudras, which are used for example in the Shrividya
Sometimes glimpses of these Mudras can still be seen
in the so-called abstract or rhythmic portions of Bharatanatyam dance. I
want to give one practical example for this:
Pinky with the Kapittha
Mudra, depicting Lord Ganesha
Soma in a
classical Kathak Dance pose using
the Hamsaasya Mudra with both hands
When the finger tip of the index finger of the “Suchi”
Mudra is slightly bent, a Mudra, called “Ankusha”, is derived. This
Mudra is not specially mentioned in the dance Mudra alphabet, though it
resembles the “Tamrachuda Mudra”. “Ankusha Mudra” has a great importance
in the rhythmic, non-story telling dance part. “Ankusha Mudra” is a
“mystical” Mudra, used specially by Shrividya Upasakas, since the most
beautiful, enchanting Goddess, Shri Lalita Mahatripurasundari, is
holding one “Ankush” (goad) in Her right hand. It is an important Mudra,
which attracts material and spiritual success and influence. In the
rhythmic portions of Bharatanatyam Dance sometimes this Mudra is used at
the shoulder, near the face. It looks really attractive and charming.
I want to throw light upon another practical example
for the mystical or metaphysical aspect of Mudras in the rhythmic
“abstract” portions of Indian Classical Dance, this time from the
North-Indian temple dance, Kathak. Very often a special Mudra is used in
the Kathak Dance, which is called “Kamal ghumana”, which literally means
“to turn around the Lotus”.
To execute this Mudra one has to combine the wrists of
both hands in front of the chest (in front of the spiritual heart) and
turn them around continuously in a soft manner. The “Heart Lotus”,
situated on a very subtle level, is not static, but consists of
brilliant, moving light waves, sound and fragrance, and can be shown on
the material level with the Kathak Dance Mudra “Kamal ghumana”.
I feel, that in the so-called abstract, purely
rhythmic part of the Indian Classical Dances, the Mudras, used along
with the rhythmic steps and the graceful poses, execute and transmit a
certain spiritual power. Though these Mudras don’t convey a specific
story in this context, they radiate an irresistible charm and a
dignified, divine beauty. Here, in this context, we may compare the
abstract, non-story telling Mudras with the Bija Mantras, which can not
be easily translated into human words or human conceptions, but still
are real and are fully charged with divine powers.
Many facts about the metaphysical meanings of the
Mudras in the Indian Classical Dance have been forgotten over the
centuries. The dancers are often taught these Mudras along with the
movements and rhythmic steps without learning the deeper meanings behind
them. They execute the beautiful Mudras along with the dance movements
just for the beauty sake. But some of the dancers may be intuitively
aware, even if they are not specially taught about it, that certain
Mudras or dance gestures generate a considerable divine, subtle power or
energy, besides looking elegant and beautiful. This is what makes our
Indian Classical Dance so special and differentiates it from other
dances in the world.
The Mantras and Vedic Hymns are the language of the
Gods and the Mudras are the hand gestures of the Gods. OM.
The Hamsaasya or Chin-Mudra
The maybe most important Mudra is the single-hand
Mudra “Hamsaasya” . The meaning of the Sanskrit word “Hamsa” is “swan”,
that beautiful majestic bird, but in the philosophical context of
ancient India “Hamsa” means also the “Soul”. “Aasya” (Sanskrit) means
“mouth” or “face”. So the meaning of this mudra is “Face (mouth) of the
Swan” or “Face of the Soul” .
This Mudra is practically made like this: The Tips of
the thumb and the index-finger (fore-finger) of one hand are combined in
such a way, that they form a round shape, a circle. The other three
fingers, middle-finger, ring-finger and small finger are stretched
straight and kept slightly apart from each other.
In the Indian Classical Dances this mudra is used with
both hands, if one wants to show the “tying of a necklace”, “the flute”, “tying of
the marriage-thread”, and for “meditation”, “divine Wisdom”, and, with
the right hand only, for showing “initiation”, “telling, that something
is ‘good or certain’ ”, “drawing” or “painting”, “speaking”, “reading”,
“singing”, “the Truth”, “the Absolute” and with one or both hands to
depict “peacock feathers”, “pearls”, “gems”, “drops of water”, “sounds of the flute”,
“carrying garlands”, “ecstasy” and so many things more. Very beautiful
and delicate, soft things can also be depicted with this mudra.
This Mudra is very important because of its spiritual
and mystical implication. It is contributed to Shri Dakshinamurti, a
form of Lord Shiva, who conferred highest divine Wisdom to his
disciples, without uttering any word, using this Mudra.
Therefore this Mudra is shown in Indian Classical
Dance for Meditation, divine Wisdom or showing Enlightenment.
|Somashekhari showing the Hamsaasya Mudra, depicting infinite Truth, Bliss and
In the field of spirituality this mudra is called
“Chin-Mudra”. It is the ideal mudra to concentrate on and express the
Infinite, the Truth, the Absolute, beyond time and space limitations. My
Sadgurudev H.D. Paramahamsa Omkarananda Saraswati mentioned in His many
speeches the spiritual importance of this mudra. This simple gesture can
depict the Highest State, called “Turiya” (the Fourth State) in the
Upanishads. The circle, made by the combination of the thumb and
fore-finger, depicts the Absolute, the undivided One, the Truth, beyond
time and space, or Turiya, “the Fourth State”, consisting of infinite
Peace and Bliss, which is our real Being and which can be experienced
consciously, while living in this mortal body, when we receive the Grace
of the Divine through the Sadguru. The other three fingers may represent
the three gunas in our material time-space-world, or the three worlds,
or the three States (Wakening State, Sleep-State and Deep-Sleep- State).
Swami Omkarananda used to explain to us, that the circle, or dot, are
the most ideal abstract forms to denote the Infinite, because there is
no beginning and no end. Therefore, if we want to describe the timeless,
spaceless, endless, eternal Being, or Truth, within this limited
time-space world, the symbol of a circle or dot, is most ideal.
According to ancient Indian Science the thumb
represents the individual Self and the fore-finger represents the Guru,
the One who removes the darkness of ignorance from our Soul and leads us
to infinite Happiness, Wisdom and Immortality.
Therefore, in the Chin-Mudra, or Hamsaasya Mudra, if
the fingers, representing the Guru and the individual soul, are
combined, it indicates the Enlightenment and final Liberation of the
human being, which is explained in the Upanishads in different terms,
like in one of the Mahavakyas: “Soham”, which means “I am He”, i.e. “I
am this immortal Being”, “I am this Infinite
This Mudra is used since thousands of years for
concentration, meditation and imparting divine Wisdom.
I personally use this Mudra often, when I perform
Temple-Dances, whenever I want to express infinite Truth, Divine Wisdom
or infinite Divine Beauty. OM.
Gurubhakti-Ratna Kumari Somashekhari