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Hasta Lakshana Deepika is a text exploring the hand gestures used in dancing. The words “Hasta Lakshana Deepika” mean ‘The Lamp which shows the purpose of Hand Gestures’. Koodiyaatam, Kathakali, Mohiniattam and Kerala Natanam follow this as the manual of gestures or ‘mudras’. The Kerala tradition’s hand gestures are recognized to be from the scripture of Hasta Lakshana Deepika, which is the principal text for the communication of gestures and is popularly used in theatre, dance, and art forms of Kerala.

The authorship of ‘Hasta Lakshana Deepika’ is unknown.  Its date and place of origin is also unspecified, though it is believed to have been written in Kerala. Largely, it could be said that it was written around or before the 10th century Abhinaya Darpana because Koodiyattam is said to have acquired its form around the same time. Numerous books like ‘Natyakalpadruma’, ‘Kerala Sahitya Charitam’ and ‘Kerala Sahitya Vijnana Kosam’ are helpful for the study of Hasta Lakshana Deepika. It is in the ‘Natyakalpa druma’ that Mani Madhava Cakyar expresses that the mudras of Koodiyattam generally follow the Hasta Lakshana Deepika. Aside from that, there is no other evidence available about this text. The earliest book found on Hasta Lakshana Deepika was printed at Janranjinee Achukoodam (Printers), Nadapuram, Kerala in the year 1892 and was written by Kadathanattu Udyavarma Thampuran.

(Koodiyattam is the oldest surviving classical theatre form in the world. Kathakali evolved from it and incorporated elements from it like facial expressions, musical instruments and even hand gestures)

There are a total of 24 basic hand gestures using single hand (Asanyunkta) or double hands (Sanyukta) called ‘Chatur Vimsathi mudras’. Nearly 300 combined gestures as specified in this text. Using single hand as well as using both hands, mudras are formed. Combinations of these hand gestures convey certain meaning to them. Most of the mudras bear names similar to those found in the Natyashastra. But their application (Viniyogas) is entirely different.

Apart from Asamyukta and Samyukta Hastas, the Hasta lakshana Deepika also mentions Samana and Misra Mudras. It is their taxonomical approach which clearly calls for precise orientation in executing the Mudras, in relation to different levels and aspects of the body. The use of specific Gestures for prepositions and cases in the theatre of Kerala is basically as suggested by the Hasta Lakshana Deepika. A single subject or object can be interpreted by more than one Gesture. Mudra for ‘of’ is shown by Kartarimukha, Sucimukha, or Musti. As different combination of mudras in certain ways represent different meaning, some even depending upon the context, unless one is well versed with these mudras, their combinations and meanings, it is difficult for one to understand and appreciate this art.

Hastas or mudras convey the meaning of songs, help in expressing an emotion through gestures according to the situation, making it a visual treat for the audience. They play the most important role in Angika Abhinaya.

Each finger of our hand has a name:

Little finger: Kanishtha

Ring Finger: Anamika

Middle finger: Madhyama

Index Finger: Tharjani

Thumb: Angushtham

Articulated together, these fingers create many types of mudras.

The Shloka for Hasta Lakshana Deepika is as follows: –

|| Hastah PatakoMudrakhya KatakoMushtirithyapi

Kartharimukhasamjascha Shukathunda Kapithakah

Hamsapakshashchah Shikaro Hamsasyah Punaranjali

ArdhachandrashchaMuhuro Bhramaro Soochikamukhah

Pallavastripatakashcha Mrigasheershahoyasthathaah

Punah Sarpashirasamjanjo Vardhamanakarithyapi

Araala Oornanaabhascha Mukhulah Katakamukhah

Chaturvimshathirithyathe Karaashastranjasamathaah ||


The following Mudras were found in Hasta Lakshana Deepika

1. Pataka: Flag
It signifies the sun, the king, elephant, lion, ox, crocodile, decoration, creeper, flag, wave, path, patalam (the mythical word below the earth), the earth, the buttocks, boll, palace, evening, afternoon, cloud, anthill, thigh, servant, foot, wheel, seat, lightening, get tower, coldness, vehicle, severity, curved, door, pillow, trench, bolt, day, going, tongue, forehead, body, noise, messenger, sand bank, tender leaves. There are 36 double hand and 10 single hand symbols using this mudra.

2. Mudrakhya:
It signifies increase, movement, heaven, the ocean, death, the sacred thread worn by the brahmins. Truth, mind, thought, desire, self, knowledge, creation, life, displeasure, negative etc. There are 13 double hand and 12 single hand symbols using this mudra.

3. Kataka:Golden bangle:
It signifies, Vishnu, Krishna, Balaram, Arrow, Gold, Silver, a female demon, sleep, main woman, goddess Laxmi, Vina, star, blue lotus, ghost like crown. News about, flower, mirror, woman, sacrifice, a little, fragrance. There are 20 double hand and 9 single hand symbols using this mudra.

4. Musti: Fist
This Gesture denotes, Salvation, beauty, goodness, ghost, binding, status, ankle, deity in charge of death, mud, medicinal herb, swing, charity, mining, sacrifice, heat, scatter to give birth, synonyms of shame, minister, permission, victory, we, one, to steal, related to food. There are 25 double hand and 15 single hand symbols using this mudra. In “Mushti”, when the small finger is straightened, we get the “Baana” mudra, using which we can show symbols like oppose, stop, coming, future etc.

5. Kartarimukha: Scissor’s sharp point
It shows, seen, weariness, brahmin, the forehead of an elephant, house, purity, bank, density, dynasty, hunger, to hear, to say, pregnancy, symbol of summing up, plural, human being, face, verbal expressions, child, mangoes. There are 16 double hand and 10 single hand symbols using this mudra.

6. Sukatunda: Parrot’s beak
It shows angle – hook, bird. There are 3 double hand and 10 single hand symbols using this mudra.

7. Kapittha: Fruit of a tree
Is used for, the tale of peacock, to drink, to touch, to fold, outside, back. There are 10 double hand symbols using this mudra.

8. Hamsapaksa: Swan’s wing
It signifies the moon, year, god of love, dwellers of the heaven, mountain valley, relatives, stone, the chest, breast, cloth, lie, people, to beat, to come, salutation, to bathe, sandal, to follow, to protect, shoulder, check, hair, blessing, fish, to worship, tortoise, sword anger, I, white axe, flames to call. There are 11 double hand and 42 single hand symbols using this mudra. The symbol of “addressing” someone is shown using the Hamsapaksham mudra.

9. Sikhara: Peak
This gesture signifies – to walk, legs, eyes, path. To search, ears, to drink. There are 3 double hand and 8 single hand symbols using this mudra.

10. Hamsasya: Swan’s beak
It signifies glance, dust, white, blue, red, mercy, pity, group of hairs, beginning of rain, hair, threefold of abdomen. There are 8 double hand and 4 single hand symbols using this mudra.

11. Anjali: Folded hands in Salutation
Is used for, heavy rain, omitting, fire, horse, harsh noise, light, earring, heat, anxiety, always, river, bath, flow, blood, branch, anger. There are 15 double hand and 2 single hand symbols using this mudra.

12. Ardhacandra: Half moon
It signifies, if so, for what, distress, sky, memory, grasp, hair of man, smile, what etc. There are 9 double hand and 4 single hand symbols using this mudra.

13. Mukura:Mirror
This mukura is used for – a large canine tooth, separation, the hip, the veda, brother, pillar, etc. There are 11 double hand and 9 single hand symbols using this mudra.

14. Bhramara: Beetle
It signifies – wing, song, water, umbrella, ears of an elephant, Gandharva, to come into existence, fear, to cry. There are 5 double hand and 4 single hand symbols using this mudra.

15. Sucimukha: Needle’s sharp point
It signifies Divided, jump, fall, month, eyebrow, split, Tail, dead body, knowledge, witness, etc. There are 10 double hand and 16 single hand symbols using this mudra.

16. Pallava: Sprout
It signifies the vajrayudha, peak, ear of cows, length of eyes, buffalo, horn of animals, distance, smoke, etc. There are 8 double hand and 6 single hand symbols using this mudra.

17. Tripataka: Flag with three colours
It is used to show, sunset, to denote, to address, drinking, to beg. There are 6 double hand symbols using this mudra.

18. Mrugasirsa: Deer’s head
This gesture shows, deer, the supreme being. There are 2 double hand symbols using this mudra.

19. Sarpasirsa: Serpent’s head
It is used to show poison, serpent, hood. There are 9 double hand symbols using this mudra. It is also used to show sprinkling, clapping hands, breaking the skull of an elephant, cherishing, giving water to God and message to wrestlers.

20. Vardhamanaka: Seedling
It is used to show, chain of gems, the elbow joint (knee), a huge drum, well etc. There are 6 double hand and 3 single hand symbols using this mudra.

21. Arala: Curved
This gesture shows ignorant, tree, bud and sprout. There are 5 double hand symbols using this mudra.

22. Urnanabha: Spider
Shows horse, fruit, tiger, lotus, butter, snow etc. There are 7 double hand symbols using this mudra.

23. Mukula: Bud
It signifies, fox, monkey, to forget, fading.

24. Katakamukha: Opening in a link
It signifies. Grab, servant, a short mean, releasing the arrow, to tie etc. There are 6 double hand symbols using this mudra.

There are 2 types of Mudras:

1. Samaana Mudras– Same mudras:
This means that the same mudra is used to show both the symbols “time “and “near”.

2. Misra Mudra– Mixed Mudras
This means that some symbols are shown using two different mudras in both hands. There are 68 misra mudras. For Example, to show Indra, the Mudra ‘shikharam’ is held in one hand and ‘mushti’ in the other. For ‘Sivan’, the mudras used are ‘mrigasheersham’ and ‘hamsapaksham’.

Mudras or hand gestures are used in Indian culture in widely divergent areas ranging from Iconography to dance.

Hasta Lakshana Deepika, a timeless masterpiece illustrates the intricate art of Hasta Lakshana, the study of hand gestures, in the domain of classical dance and drama. This text, serves as a medium for guiding practitioners and enthusiasts alike through the alluring world of mudras, revealing their intense impact and storytelling capability. With roots greatly embedded in Indian culture and spirituality, it provides a deep insight into the language of gestures, promoting a deeper connection between performers, audiences, and the rich traditions of Indian performing arts through intricate hand movements, enriching the visual and narrative aspects of these art forms. “Hasta Lakshana Deepika” remains an invaluable source of wisdom and inspiration, preserving the essence of a magnificent artistic heritage and is an indispensable resource for artists, ensuring the preservation and authenticity of our cultural heritage for generations to come.

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