September 1, 2020

Mudras of YOGA & Dance

Indigenous Art & Culture


NrityaChuramani  Rahul Dev Mondal

( Exponent Of BharatNatyam & Yoga / Assistant Professor , Rabindra Bharati University , Department of Dance ) 

A mudrā (muːˈdra; “seal”, “mark”, or “gesture”) is a symbolic or ritual gesture performed by the hands, often used in practicing Hinduism and Buddhism; it is a spiritual gesture that acts as an “energetic seal of authenticity”.  Most mudras are performed with the hands and fingers often in combination with movements of the wrists, elbows, and shoulders; some involve the entire body. Hundreds of mudras are used in the ceremonies, dance, sculpture and painting iconography (i.e. representations of Buddha).  In the yoga and spiritual practices, of Indian religions and traditions such as Dharma and Taoism, mudras have been used for thousands of years to assist in meditation and/or healing.

In yoga, mudrās are hand gestures used in conjunction with pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), and are generally done while seated in Padmasana, Sukhasana or Vajrasana pose.  Mudras act to stimulate different parts of the body involved with breathing and to affect the flow of energy in the body and even one’s mood.  The specific hand gestures and positions act as “locks” to guide energy flows and reflexes to the brain. By curling, crossing, stretching and touching the fingers and hands, we can manipulate the mind body connection as each area of the hand corresponds to a certain part of the mind or body.

On a more spiritual level, practicing specific mudras is an outward representation of one’s inward intentions. There are many different mudras and it is said that meditating on a specific mudra will help manifest certain hopes, energies, or devotions into your life. Mudras are a way to concretely see what we want to be, what we need most. When your hands come into a mudra, it allows a physical connection with an intangible wish.

Like any other Indian, the announcement of the International Yoga Day on 21st June piqued my interest. So, I researched books on Yoga and came across the ‘Hand Yoga’ aka ‘Yoga Mudras’.  And it dawned on me that I have practiced Hand Yoga throughout my childhood. It was a trip down memory lane when I had professionally learned Bharatnatyam. It amazed me to find that the ‘Hastas’/ ‘Mudras’ used in Bharatnatyam are very similar to the ‘Yoga Mudras’’.

Yoga states that the fingers of our hand represent the ‘Pancha Mahabhutas’ or the 5 elements. Touching one finger with others in different combinations creates circuits in our body through which energy flows. Such a flow of energy allows the body to gain better circulation of blood, indirectly formulating long-term health benefits. Different ‘Hastas’ are used to also communicate specific ideas, events, actions, or creatures. The basic Mudras which are common to all Indian Classical Dances were originally used by the Devdasis who performed in temples for entertainment of the Gods and Goddesses.

The book “Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands” by Gertrud Hirsch explicates the relation between hand positions and health. It reveals that the hands bring into use certain regions of the brain and thus, have an effect on them. In Hath Yoga, the thumb is considered symbolic of cosmos while the index finger stands for the individual consciousness. Yoga is directed towards bringing together and uniting individual to the cosmic consciousness. The adjacent mudra stands for this union.

While the birth of mudras is shrouded in mystery, the role of mudras in religious activities of India is recorded prominently with the use of hand poses to represent qualities of deities. In the words of Ingrid Ramm-Bonwitt, “With his or her hands, the Indian dancer expresses the life of the universe”. This gives testimony to the integral role of hath mudras in Indian dance forms. Here is a stream of hand yoga mudras representing the relation between hand movement and bodily health:

Hamsasya hasta

The ‘Hamsasya hasta’ in Classical Dance represents the shape of a ‘Swan’ and is also similar to ‘Gyan mudra’ in Yoga which increases the memory power, enhances concentration and prevents insomnia.

Trishula Hasta

The ‘Trishula Hasta’ depicting ‘Trishula/ Trident’ matches with ‘Varun Mudra’ which is claimed to balance the water content in body and prevent pain due to inflammation or shrinkage of muscles.

Mayura Hasta

The ‘Mayura Hasta’ symbolizing ‘Peacock’ resembles ‘Prithvi Mudra’ that improves the complexion of skin and helps to increase weight.

Simhamukha Hasta

The ‘Simhamukha Hasta’ typifying a ‘lion head’ is similar to the ‘Apana Mudra’ which regulates diabetes and helps to cure constipation and piles.

Kartarimukha Hasta

The ‘Kartarimukha Hasta’ represents ‘Scissors’ and tallys with the ‘Prana Mudra’. It removes vitamin deficiency and fatigue, improves immunity and power of eyes and reduces eye related diseases. 

‘Mudras’ or ‘healthy hastas’ are a small aspect of the Indian classical dances. Other than that these dances improve our body posture, increase our flexibility, improve our body balance, give us a grace and importantly teach us discipline. Moreover, it gives you seven different options to choose from – viz. Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, Kathakali, Mohiniattam  Manipuri and Satriya .

                   Your body is like a mini world, which consists of five elements or components Vayu (Air), Agni (Fire), Jala (Water), Bhumi (Earth), and Akasha (Aether). When any of these elements is disturbed, you can experience some imbalance in your mind and it can also make you suffer illnesses. While you can restore your body using physical postures, various yoga poses can assist you to balance all your body elements. That’s where Mudras come in. Hasta Mudras are hand gestures that assist in guiding energy flow to particular parts of your brain. Mudras come in different types, and each type has different benefits—but this depends on what you especially need. Mudras are combined with breathing in order to increase Prana flow in your body.Practicing various Mudras during yoga practice develops a connection with the brain patterns that affect the unconscious

reflexes in different parts of your body. Furthermore, the Mudra balances and redirects your internal energy, and this influences your tendons, glands veins, and sensory organs.

Yoga Mudras are great for personal growth and they can be done in a yoga retreat, meditation retreats or even at home. The good thing about yoga Mudras is that they only require hand gesture, which means that there is not much physical activity involved.

Bibliography :

  • Sastri Gourinath – Abhinaya Darpan
  • Das Nilmoni – Byam O Sastho – Iron Man Publishing House
  • Vivekananda Swami  – Patanjali Yoga Sutra – Vijay Goel( Publisher )