From Greece, the usage of hand gestures is said to have travelled to Rome where hand dancer performances were a popular source of entertainment to royalty. It is said that an American king who visited Emperor Nero was asked what he would like to take back home. He replied that it would be the hand dancer who communicated better with hands, than his people did with words.

A common hand pose in Italian paintings before and during Renaissance is that of the connected thumb and index finger. This is commonly referred to as the ‘Jnaana mudra’ or ‘Chinmudra’, referring to ‘Knowledge’ & ‘Mind’ respectively. Some Native Americans also used this gesture when they approved of something. A common sight in religious paintings is that of the palm turned upwards signifying openness or as imparting or blessing. The Chinese alphabet originated as the depiction of hand gestures. These are some of the many examples of hand gestures becoming a part of popular culture across the globe.

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In India, following a popular school of thought on the topic, we go back in time to when the Vedas were not studied by women or accessible to the lower castes due to societal constraints. Lord Brahma is then believed to have created a fifth Veda called Natyaveda, which would bring about moral and material welfare. It is said that Sage Bharata was approached by a number of sages, who asked him about Natyaveda and its inherent concepts. His answers formed the text for Natyashastra, which has been compiled as a loose dialog between Bharata and the other sages. This text would go on to be the foundation for performing arts in India. Many of the ancient rituals and practices were incorporated in this text along with the gestures and practices that accompanied them. As time passed, these began to be translated onto the stage as art forms and became an inseparable part of aesthetic communication & expression. Thus, Mudras progressed from being nature’s basic device to an aesthetic technique and then eventually moved on to stage performances.

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But are Mudras only for entertainment and aesthetics? Recent studies reveal otherwise! The mudra is a physical representation of a subtle pattern that helps direct and focus energy. Go one step further and they are also believed to have resilient healing powers. Concepts such as dance therapy have strong foundations in this. Dance brings about healing in two aspects – a conscious physical healing and an unconscious psychological healing. An example of this healing process is when mudras help strengthen the several flexor, extensor, adductor and abductor muscles groups in the hands. They can also relieve the pain of those suffering from health conditions like arthritis.

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The theory behind healing through mudras is that each finger of a hand denotes one of the five elements - fire, water, space, earth and air. One tends to fall ill when an imbalance occurs in any of these elements. Mudras help to balance them and bring about healing through a positive impact on the human body. Studies in this field have been limited, but interest is growing with the rising popularity of alternative methods of healing. In today’s fast paced world, the din and noise is deafening at times. At times, actions DO speak louder than words! Perhaps it should make sense to make ourselves heard through just a gesture.

Sources
Bharata’s Natyashastra
Healing Mudras – Yoga for your hands; by Sabrina Mesko

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