Bharatanatyam is one of the most graceful and beautiful classical dance forms of India. A Bharatanatyam dancer narrates a story, bringing out images through her eyes, body and gestures. The integral part of storytelling is the use of single or double-handed gestures called mudras along with footwork and facial expressions. Mudras are hand gestures that represent a beautiful hand movement that adds grace and beauty to the dance form. Each of these mudras has a host of meanings ranging from objects to feel, animals to verbs and much more that allow for any story to be told. Mudras in Bharatanatyam are considered as the alphabets of Indian classical dance and are used in all the dance forms, although their meanings might differ in each.
Mudras of Bharatnatyam form a very significant part of this dance form as it’s considered the soul of Indian classical dance. Each mudra has a specific meaning and purpose behind them. Mudras are basically divided into two: “Asamyukta Mudras” which represent mudras that are done with only one hand and the “Samyukta Mudras” which represent the mudras done with both hands. There are approximately fifty-five root mudras, out of which thirty-two are classified as “Asamyukta Mudras” and twenty-three are classified as “Samyukta Mudras”.
Here Are A Few Famous Mudras In Bharatanatyam To Get You Started!
Significance And Forms Of Some Of The Famous Asamyukta Mudras
Pataaka – Flag
In this form of Mudra, all the fingers are kept straight together signalling for someone to pause. The only variation in this mudra is that the thumb should be slightly bent while keeping all the other fingers tight. Pataaka mudra is used to depict clouds, forests and the denial of objects.
Tripataaka – Three Colors
Tripataaka means “three parts of the flag”. From your Pataaka hand position, just bend your ring finger, while keeping the other fingers straight. This denotes trees, arrows, thunder, crown and so on in Bharatanatyam dance form.
Ardhapataaka – Half Flag
From the Tripataaka position, one should bend the thumb, little finger and also the ring finger. Only the index and the middle finger will be stretched open. This mudra represents leaves, the number two in a dance move and board or a slab.
Kartari Mukha – Scissors
To form this mudra keep your little finger and the ring finger bent and pressed against the thumb. Gently open your index finger and the middle finger and spread them apart like a scissor. This is used to portray differences in opinion, anger, looting and separation.
Mayura – The Peacock
This mudra represents a peacock and is made by joining the ring finger and the thumb together leaving the index, middle and little finger extended straight without any gap. This mudra is used to depict the bird’s neck, creepers, Krishna’s feather which is placed on the crown or something famous.
Ardha Chandra – Half Moon
This mudra is performed by keeping all the fingers up and straight along with the thumb and it replicates the Pataaka Mudra. The only difference is that in Arthachandra all the fingers including the thumb are kept straight. It depicts a spear, a hand seizing the throat, waist, contemplation and many more.
Significance And Forms Of Some Of The Famous Samyukta Mudras.
Anjali Hasta is the first of the samyuta mudras commonly called the ‘Namaste’ where both hands in Pataaka hasta and joined together to get Anjali hasta. This mudra is used to show respect by offering salutations. When the joined hands are placed above the head, it’s offering salutations to God. If placed in front of the face, it’s offering salutations to a Guru or elders and if placed in front of the chest, it’s offering salutations to peers.
This is an extension of Anjali Mudra where there is a slight bulge at the knuckles of the palm. In this gesture, the palms touch each other only at the tips and the base of the palm with the center being cupped. These hand gestures in Bharatanatyam depict respect for elders, the mark of humility, show obedience and down to earth attitude.
Karkata means a crab or a crane which is formed by interlocking fingers of both hands held straight while keeping the thumbs outstretched. These Bharatanatyam mudras denote many things from blowing a conch, stretching limbs, to showing your midriff.
The swastika is one such mudra in Bharatanatyam that’s quite easy to achieve. We get the swastika pose when both the palms in pataka mudra are crossed at the wrists. Swastika symbolizes the crocodile and is also used to portray a blocked road or path, imprisonment or to say “No”.
This mudra is a combination of two different Bharatanatyam hastas (Shikhara and Ardhchandra mudra) that is a representation of the form of Shiva Linga. This Bharatanatyam’s powerful hand gesture denotes the supreme creative energy which is a union of Lord Shiva and his wife Devi Parvati.
Join both hands by bringing the little fingers together with the palms facing the sky with a shallow dip in the middle. It symbolizes the openness of mind and soul, offerings to God or acceptance of offerings. It can also be used to show a bowl or a plate.
Mudras in Bharatanatyam are one of the purest forms of expression which allow us to convey what words cannot. The content here is to help a new learner understand the basic mudras in Bharatanatyam. If you like them, get yourself enrolled for an offline or online class. Keeping the pandemic in mind, one can opt for Bharatanatyam online classes from any of the professional classical dancers or renowned Bharatanatyam dancers to help take your dancing to a whole new level, involving a spectrum of expertise, technique and style. If you want to share your experience with us, please do so in the comment box below……. we’d love to hear them!