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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 and 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/finger gesture) are used in Indian classical dance, Thai dances, Cambodian dances, Lao dances, Burmese dances and Malay dances, and are indeed 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 beautiful 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 fifty one root mudras (hand/finger gestures) are used to clearly communicate specific ideas, events, actions, or creatures in which twenty eight require only one hand, and are classified as `Asamyuta Hasta', along with twenty-three other primary mudras which require both hands and are classified as 'Samyuta Hasta'; these fifty one 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 Illustration
Pataka Flag


Tripataka Flag in three parts

crown, tree

Ardhapataka[2] Half flag
Kartarimukha Scissors face
Mayura Peacock
Ardhachandra Half moon
Arala bent
Shukatunda parrot head
Mushthi closed fist
Shikhara mountain's top
Kapitta wood Apple
Katakamukha Opening of a bracelet
Suchi Needle
Chandrakala crescent moon
Padmakosha Lotus bud
Sarpashirsha Snake head
Mrigashirsha deer head
Simahmukha lion face
Tangula jamun fruit
Alapadma lotus in full bloom
Chatura square
Bhramara Bee
Hamsasya Swan beak
Hamsapaksha Swan wing
Sandamsha to repeat again and again
Mukula Flower bud
Tamrachuda Rooster
Trishula Trident
Ardhasuchi Half needle
Vyagraha Tiger
Palli Knot
Kataka Resting Place
Samyukta mudra
Sanskrit English Other Meanings Illustration
Anjali Offering
Kapotam Dove
Karkatam Crab
Swastikam Auspicious sign
Dola-Hastam Drummer's hands
Pushpaputam bag of flowers
Utsangam embrace
Shivalingam sign of Lord Shiva
Kataka-vardhanam chain
Shakatam carriage
Shankha Conch-shell
Chakram Rotating disc
Pasha Ropes
Kilaka bolt
Samputa round shaped casket
Matsya Fish
Kurma Tortoise
Varaha Boar
Garuda Half-eagle, half-human mount of Lord Vishnu, a bird/birds flying
Nagabandham snakes entwined
Khattva cot
Bherunda A 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. ^ "Ardhapataaka Hand Gesture (Mudra)". 24 September 2007.