Mudras, a divine communication
Barata Natyam is an ancestral art and dance which was, according to literature, a divine communication tool between Gods and men.
Dancers used to practice Barata Natyam in temples, along with dance masters and musicians.
Nowadays, dancers are still giving flesh to deities and, through their movements and emotions, are telling stories relating to each God. Barata Natyam art is total in the way that the whole body is engaged in the dance.
Face is expressing emotions; hands are telling a story in itself while feet are beating time.
We decided to share some of Barata Natyam dancers’ secrets: mudras. The Tamil word means “seal”, representing hands’ power in sealing the ritual action. Each mudra has many meanings. We don’t claim to give you a complete list of all meanings, just the fairest description we can give of each mudra along with some of their meanings.
One-hand mudras are called Asamyuta (Asa§yuta) Hasta and there are 28 of them. We can count 23 mudras with both hands, the Samyuta Hasta. Our first articles will deal with one-hand mudras.
Patàka literally means flag.
This gesture is made by raising the hand, fingers well-knit, as in a stop sign.
Pataka gesture has many meanings, but the principal is that it represents the beginning of the performance.
Still, its meanings can be:
- A prohibited thing
- The world
- The wind
- The door
- The night
- The horse
The word Tripatàka means “triple-flag”. Dancers use Patàka as the basis and then fold the ring finger.
Tripatàka’s gesture can mean the crown, the tree or Indra, the God.
Other meanings are:
- The pigeon
- Oil lamp
- The arrow
- The union
- Ketaki flower
This third movement is complementary to the two others.
The “half-flag” is made by folding the little finger after folding the ring finger in the Tripatàka.
Its meanings are:
- The fog
- River’s banks
- The knife
- Two people
- Animal’s horn
We especially want to thank Krithiga Ravichandran who teaches at Amma Samuga Seva Maiyam in Muthialpet for posing, allowing us to illustrate this article and the followings.