Mudras in Mohiniattam – Part 1

by Ranjitha Chowalloor

April 29, 2020

#WednesdayWisdom is a series that began during the 40th anniversary celebration of Akademi to revisit Indian classical dance roots by sharing gems of knowledge from ancient Shastras (dance texts) that hold relevance even today. The blog is curated by Bharatanatyam artist, Suhani Dhanki, along with with our Head of Marketing, Antareepa Thakur.

In this blog series, we are inviting artists practicing different South Asian dance styles to contribute some interesting facts about their art forms.

This blogpost on Mudras in Mohiniattam is researched and written by Ranjitha Chowalloor, Mohiniattam artist. It is part 1 of a two part series. Part 2 will be released for our next #WednesdayWisdom.

The hand gestures used in Mohiniattam are mostly drawn from Hastalakshanadeepika, an ancient text in Sanskrit that articulates 24 mudras. An interesting fact about this ancient text is that the author remains unknown to this day and only a part of the text has been discovered thus far. The definition and usage are distinct from those mentioned in Bharata’s Natyashastra.

Art forms from Kerala like Kudiyattam, Nangjar kuthu, Krsnattam, Kathakali and Mohiniattam, along with other traditional art forms, have adopted the mudras laid down by the text. While Mohiniattam as an art form uses the simple mudras coupled with abhinaya to depict or express an emotion or a feeling, it is not as elaborate with mudras as one may see in the other art forms.

 The mudras can be held in four different ways:

1) Asamyukta Mudra – holding the mudra in one hand

2) Samyukta Mudra – holding the mudra in both hands

3) Samana Mudra – holding the same mudra on both hands

4) Misra Mudra – holding different mudras on each hand

Below we will explore the first 12 mudras visually and learn what meanings they convey.

1) Patakam

Samyukta – sun, king, elephant, bull, earth, evening, temple door opening to the sanctum, bolt to a door, feet, crown

Asamyukta – to leave or go

2) Mudrakhyam

Samyukta – meditation, heaven, life or breath or breathing, all or everything

Asamyukta – mind, thought, desire, to remember, feeling, knowledge

3) Katakam

Samyukta – gold, fragrance, sleeping, demon/demoness, cupid arrows, ornaments

Asamyukta – earring, single arrow, woman

4) Mushti

Samyukta – beauty, to bless, act of giving or delivering, good qualities, force

Asamyukta – victory, to attack, bow, old age, food

5) Kartharimukham

Samyukta – house, temple, to hear, to speak, namely, breeze, body, stomach, showing

Asamyukta – you, man or mankind, child

6) Shukathundam

Samyukta – bird

7) Kapithakam

Samyukta – to drink, to get down, to climb, deep hurt

8) Hamsapaksham

Samyukta  – full moon, wind, hair, to bless, to offer, to hide

Asamyukta – showing “you” & “I”, now, sword, flames

9) Shikhara

Samyukta – to see, to walk, to search, creeper

Asamyuta – to show eyes and Lord Shiva’s third eye

10) Hamsasyam

Samyukta – softness, mercy, affection, earrings, necklace, powder

Asamyukta – showing a line, making a garland

11) Anjali 

Samyukta – river, to flow, confusion, embrace, terrible sound

Asamyukta – branches of a tree

12) Ardhachandran

Samyukta – crescent or moon

Asamyukta – to smile, asking “what?”

Watch this space for part 2 of this series on Mudras in Mohiniattam on next week’s #WednesdayWisdom.

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