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One of the most striking features of Indian classical 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 mudras (hand/finger gesture) are used in Indian Classical Dance, and indeed 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 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.

Indian DanceEdit


In Bharatanatyam, 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)Edit

Name in Sanskrit Translation(s) in English Other meanings Illustration
Pataka Flag
Tripataka Flag in three parts  


Half flag
Kartarimukha Scissors face
Mayura Peacock
Ardhachandra Half moon
Arala bent
Shukatunda Beak of a parrot
Mushthi fist
Shikhara Peak  
Kapitta Elephant Apple
Katakamukha Opening of a bracelet
Suchi Needle
Chandrakala Face of the moon  
Padmakosha Lotus bud
Sarpashirsha Snake head  
Mrigashirsha Head of a deer
Simhamukha Face of a lion  
Langula or Kangula Lily
Alapadma lotus
Chatura Four  
Bhramara Bee
Hamsasya Swan head
Hamsapaksha Swan wing  
Sandamsha Pincers
Mukula Flower bud
Tamrachuda Rooster  
Trishula Trident  
Ardhasuchi Half needle
Vyagraha Tiger
Palli Knot
Kataka Resting Place

Samyukta mudras (double hand gestures)Edit

Name in Sanskrit ;' Translation(s) in English Other Meanings Illustration
Anjali Offering  
Kapotam Dove
Karkatam Crab
Swastikam Auspicious sign  
Dola-Hastam Drummer's hands
Pushpaputam bag of flowers l
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

See alsoEdit