Photo: Nataraja sculpture with his lower right hand in abhayamudra (the gesture that allays fear). Credit: iStock
Hasta Mudra is a series of hand gestures, movements and positions, that locks or seals the energy within the body and promotes the flow of energy to certain parts of the body. Symbolic hand gesture or Mudra has been an integral part of Indian heritage and culture since the Vedic period. For thousands of years hand mudras have been used in India for healing, storytelling, emotional expression, and to evoke and convey elevated spiritual states.
History of Mudras
In the Vedic period, while performing yagnas (sacrificial rites), priests and religious masters created mudras for ahuti (offerings), they also used mudras as an element of worship while reciting mantras.
Mudras are found in both Yoga and dance and while they are used for communicating externally in dance there are used for internal communication in Yoga.
Science behind Mudras & Their Benefits
In Yoga Mudras are practiced at the time of meditation of Pranayama – yogic breathing exercises and these mudras represent expressions of the subtle body’s certain states of consciousness.
In the yogic tradition, the fingers of the hand represent the five basic elements that make up the human body: air, wind, fire, mud, and water. According to Ayurveda, these energies are required to be in harmony for the wellness of our body.
This proper energy circulation helps blood circulation in our body and to stay healthy. By positioning the fingers in various postures known as mudras, we can regulate the flow of the vital elements in the body, promoting health and mind-body balance.
Photo: Fingers representing 5 elements, Credit: Nexoye.
Mudras in Yoga
Yoga mudras are practiced by sitting cross-legged in Vajrasana or in the Lotus Pose, or even by sitting comfortably on a chair.
These yoga mudras are part of Vedic healing practice. In yoga, there are around 399 mudras mentioned in different texts and by different yogis. Each mudra has different benefits and positive impacts for the body and mind and soul. Here are some commonly practiced mudra types with their pictures.
Photo: Ellora cave no.10, a 7th-century Buddhist chaitanya hall, seated Buddha sculpted with hands in the Dharma Chakra Mudra – the Wheel of Dharma from cave No 10, Viswakarma temple, Ellora caves, UNESCO World Heritage site, Maharashtra, India, 7th-8th century. Credit: The Stone Studio.
Types of Yoga Mudras
The Yoga Mudras can be categorized into five groups depending on the body part we use for the practice.
- Hasta (Hand Mudras)
- Mana (Head Mudras)
- Kaya (Postural Mudras)
- Bandha (Lock Mudras)
- Adhara (Perineal Mudras)
Following are some of the most popular yoga hasta mudras and their benefits –
Gyan Mudra or Jnana Mudra – Yoga Mudra for Mind – helps to focus on attaining true knowledge and wisdom,
Prana Mudra – Yoga Mudra for Life Energy – Helps to enhance body’s immunity.
Vāyu Mudra – Yoga Mudra for regulating the air element within the body – improves gastrointestinal functioning.
Prithvi Mudra – Yoga Mudra to awaken the element of earth in our body – Improves stamina.
Varuna Mudra – Yoga Mudra to awaken the water element in our body – Heps with blood circulation.
Hasta Mudras in Dance
Mudra is considered the soul of Indian classical dance. It has been a part of rituals, dance and drama in India. As per the ancient Indian text – ‘Abhinayadarpanam’ – Abhinaya or expressional dance is the rhythmic expression of moods, emotions and a narrative through the use of Mudra (hand gestures), Bhanga (postures of the body) and Rasa (facial expressions).
The Natya Shastra describes 24 mudras and the Abhinaya Darpana describes 28 mudras. In all the forms of Indian classical dance the mudras are similar, though the names and uses vary. Hand gestures of Bharatanatyam, the Classical Dance of India performed by Lord Nataraja, are a very highly developed aspect of the art and are a science of communication with the Divine.
Photo: The Nataraja Shiva Temple at Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu is famous for the depiction of the dance mudras. Credit: Jothishi.
Types of Dance Mudras
In Bharatanatyam approximately fifty-one root mudras (hand/finger gestures) are used. Hand gestures of Bharatanatyam dance are classified as
- ASAMYUTHA HASTHA – Single hand gestures
- SAMYUTHA HASTHA – Double hand gestures
There are 28 Asamyutha Hasthas and 24 Samyutha Hasthas.
Following are some of the single hand gestures of dance hasta mudras and their usage in dance.
Mayurakhyo Mudra (a peacock’s neck) – Mayura is the fifth mudra of the 28 Single Hand Mudras (Asamyutta Hasta) as described in the Abhinaya Darpana. It depicts a peacock’s neck, A Creeper, A Bird, Vomiting, Separating the hair locks, Applying Tilak on the forehead, Dispersing water of the river, Something Famous, Discussing the Shastras
Arala Mudra (“Bent” or “Crooked”)- The Arala Mudra is a simple yet meaningful hand gesture, achieved by a bend of the index finger towards the thumb. Arala is the seventh mudra of the 28 Single Hand Mudras (Asamyutta Hasta) as described in the Abhinaya Darpana. It denotes the drinking of nectar or the sipping of poison, the beauty of a woman, a powerful wind, and the burgeoning of peacock feathers.
Kapittha Mudra – Kapittha Mudra is the eleventh hand gesture of the 28 single-hand mudras (Asamyutta Hastas) as described in the Abhinaya Darpana. It is used to denote the following:- Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati, Milking Cows, Holding Cymbals, Holding Flowers at the time of making Love, Grasping the end of the robes, Offering Insense or Light, Collyrium (applying Kajal). This mudra will help you turn your fears, doubts and worries into courage, confidence and determination.
Alapadma Mudra – Alapadma Mudra (Lotus) is the twentieth hand gesture of the twenty-eight single-hand mudras (asamyukta hastas). Alapadma refers to “blossomed lotus, happiness”. The mudra stimulates all five fingers and therefore activates all Five Elements in the body, improves circulation and benefits the heart, boosts vitality and energizes body and mind.
Following are some of the double hand gestures of dance hasta mudras and their usage in dance.
Anjali Mudra – The Anjali Mudra, popularly known as namaste or namaskaram, is a simple gesture where both the palms are joined to mean a Namskara or to imply salutations.
Matsya Mudra – The Matsya as the name suggests signifies fish and particular movements of the thumb show the typical movement of fishes. This is also used to interpret the Matsya avatara of Lord Vishnu.
Katakavardharana Mudra – Katakavardharana is used in the worship of deities during a ceremony or during marriages too.
Check out this video on Mudras in Bharatnatyam – How mudras (hand gestures) can tell the story of The Lion and the Mouse HERE.