Do you remember coming across the Anjali Mudra anywhere in your daily routine? Maybe the term is not familiar, but the chances of you having performed the mudra at least once during your lifetime are very high. The Anjali Mudra simply refers to the prayer position which you use to say Namaste – with both hands held together and the palms facing each other. On the outset, the gesture invokes emotions of devotion and gratitude. Deeper digging reveals theories that propagate the astonishing healing powers of mudras such as these. This the oryon how mudras heal your mind and body is slowly but steadily gaining ground because of the global attention to yoga and other healing practices. Mudras have always been an essential part of yoga and are believed to help you develop and constantly aim for superior qualities.
Mudra is a Sanskrit "seal", "mark", or "gesture". It has been derived from two root words –‘mud’ meaning pleasure or delight and ‘rati’ meaning to bring forth. According to Tantra shaastra ‘Mudra’ is a word formed by the first letters of the first words of the two lines of a sloka ( like an abbreviation) :
Muditham sarvva devaanaam
Dravinam papa santhathe!
Mu& Dra. Giving happiness to all the divine ones and disintegrates sins always – is ‘MuDra’
Among the Naatya-performers, Mudra is better known as hasta. It is an indispensable part of angikabhinaya or body movement used by an artist to express or convey a meaning. Bharata’s Natyashastra – the Sanskrit guidebook to performing arts, credited to Sage Bharata, talks about 64 hastas that an artist can use in performances. These hastas fall under three categories – 24 asamyuta or gestures of single hand, 13 samyuta or gestures using both hands and 27 nrtta or decorative dance gestures. While these are just the technicalities, on the stage, hastas allow an artist to depict various objects and subjects, ranging from the concrete to the abstract. Using Hastas (gesturing with hands) is a process of silent, yet visual communication.
Kathakali, a kind of theatre form of Kerala that expresses emotions better than words is believed to have one of the most elaborate systems of mudras. Like majority of other classical dance forms, Kathakali has 24 root mudras or hastas, but is far more intricate. For example, the Pathaka mudra in Kathakali (based on the text, Hastalakshnadeepika) can have 51 different meanings that widely range from the Sun to an animal foot; based on how it is mobilized in relation to the different levels of the torso.
So how did these hastas become a part of dance and theatre? Animals use gestures, not essentially with their fingers or toes, to communicate. Mudras have been intrinsic to most of the ancient civilizations that walked the earth. This includes rich cultures such as the ancient Egytian, Roman, Greek, Indian, Chinese, African and many more. All of them made elaborate use of hand gestures for non-verbal communication. It is believed that the high priests and priestesses of ancient Egypt used hand gestures to communicate with the Supernatural Powers. These gestures later formed the basis of hieroglyphics and soon travelled far and wide, along with the knowledge of their spiritual power. As far as India is concerned, the undated Vedic scriptures do discuss the types and uses of Mudras. In India, they became a critical part of the practice of yoga, Tantric practices, Sculpture and Naatya. Buddhists, having realized the power of the mudras began using them to close prayer rituals. This practice is continued even today.