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One of the most striking features of Indian classical dance and dances of Thailand,[1] Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Malay world is the use of hand gestures. Speaking in dance via gestures in order to convey outer events or things visually is what mudras do. To convey inner feelings, two classifications of mudras (hand or finger gesture) are used in Indian classical dance, Thai dances, Cambodian dances, Lao dances, Burmese dances and Malay dances, and are a prominent part of the dancer's vocabulary.


The Abhinaya Darpa (a descriptive primer 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 quotation and translation is often quoted by Indian classical dance instructors:

"Yato hastastato drishtihi"..."Where the hand is, the eyes follow"
"Yato drishtistato manaha"..."Where the eyes go, the mind follows"
"Yato manastato bhavaha"..."Where the mind is, there is the feeling"
"Yato bhavastato rasaha"..."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 Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of India performed by Lord Nataraja, approximately 51 root mudras (hand or finger gestures) are used to clearly communicate specific ideas, events, actions, or creatures in which 28 require only one hand, and are classified as `Asamyuta Hasta', along with 23 other primary mudras which require both hands and are classified as 'Samyuta Hasta'; these 51 are the roots but the branches permit of many more mudra, some of which are used primarily as aesthetic or decorative.

Asamyuta hastas
# Name in Sanskrit Translation(s) in English Other meanings and usage Illustration
1. Pataka flag beginning a dance, forest, river, sprinkling water, cloud, night, forbidding things, horse[2]
2. Tripataka three parts of the flag tree, arrow, vajra weapon, Indra, crown, light rising, union[2]
3. Ardhapataka[3] half flag flag, temple tower, horn, riverbank, tender shoots, writing panel, knife[2]
4. Kartarimukha scissors face or arrow shaft face separation of women and men, opposition, stealing, corner of the eye, death, disagreement, lightning[2]
5. Mayura peacock or peacock's beak bird of omen, forehead, stroking the hair, wiping tears, argument[2]
6. Ardhachandra half moon spear, platter, anxiety, meditation, prayer, greeting[2]
7. Arala bent drinking poison[2]
8. Shukatunda parrot head shooting an arrow, throwing a spear, mystery[2]
9. Mushthi closed fist steadiness, holding things, grasping the hair, wrestling[2]
10. Shikhara mountain top or spire God of Love, bow, pillar, sound of a bell, silence, questioning, husband, lover, embrace[2]
11. Kapitta wood apple Goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati, holding cymbals, holding flowers at the time of flirting, milking cows[2]
12. Katakamukha opening of a bracelet picking flowers, holding a pearl necklace or garland of flowers, drawing a bow slowly, speech, glancing[2]
13. Suchi needle Parabrahma, one, one hundred, sun, city, world, fan, threatening, astonishment, umbrella, beating the drum[2]
14. Chandrakala crescent moon digit of the moon[2]
15. Padmakosha lotus bud water lily, fruit, apple, mango, breast[2]
16. Sarpashirsha snake head giving water to Gods and sages, the flapping of elephant's ears, slowness[2]
17. Mrigashirsha deer head women, calling the beloved, cheek, holding an umbrella, actor's costume, house, fear, discussion[2]
18. Simahmukha lion face elephant, lotus, coral, pearl, garland, fragrance, drop of water, salvation when placed on the heart[2]
19. Kangulashya tail Lakuce fruit, water lily, breast[2]
20. Alapadma or Solapadma lotus in full bloom yearning for the beloved, mirror, moon pavillion, full moon, village, murmuring sound, praise[2]
21. Chatura square eyes, musk, a little, breaking to pieces[2]
22. Bhramara bee parrot, crane, cuckoo, union[2]
23. Hamsasya swan beak tying the marriage thread, initiation, painting, drop of water[2]
24. Hamsapaksha swan wing arranging, constructing a bridge, making marks with the nails, number six[2]
25. Sandamsha Padmakosha mudra repeatedly opened and closed generosity, worship, offering, number five[2]
26. Mukula flower bud water lily, the God of love, eating[2]
27. Tamrachuda rooster crane, camel, calf, writing or drawing[2]
28. Trishula trident three together, wood apple leaf[2]
Samyukta mudra
# Sanskrit English Other Meanings Illustration
1. Anjali offering
2. Kapotam dove
3. Karkatam crab
4. Swastikam auspicious sign
5. Dola-Hastam drummer's hands
6. Pushpaputam bag of flowers
7. Utsangam embrace
8. Shivalingam sign of Lord Shiva
9. Kataka-vardhanam chain
10. Kartari-swastikam
11. Shakatam carriage
12. Shankha conch shell
13. Chakram rotating disc
14. Pasha ropes
15. Kilaka bond
16. Samputa round shaped casket
17. Matsya fish
18. Kurma tortoise
19. Varaha boar
20. Garuda half-eagle, half-human mount of Lord Vishnu bird(s) flying
21. Nagabandham snakes entwined
22. Khattva cot
23. Bherunda pair of birds

Thai dances

Name in Thai Translation(s) in English Other meanings Illustration
Taw chan (ตัวฉัน) I, Myself
Taw thex (ตัวเธอ) You

See also


  1. ^ "Thai Classical Dance | Asian Traditional Theatre & Dance". 2 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Marg Magazine. Bharata Natyam. 10:4, pp. 12 and opposite unnumbered page, 24. (September 1957).
  3. ^ "Ardhapataaka Hand Gesture (Mudra)". 24 September 2007.

Further reading