In the tapestry of Indian classical dance, every movement holds meaning beyond its physicality. The art of Bharatanatyam, with its intricate footwork, expressive eyes, and captivating poses, is a testament to this profound philosophy. Among its many elements, hand gestures, known as “Mudras,” stand as a captivating language of their own. In this journey of exploration, we delve into the world of Bharatanatyam’s hand gestures, understanding their significance, historical references, and the stories they weave.

The Elegance of Expression: Decoding Hastas

Hastas in Bharatanatyam are also commonly called Mudras. “Mudra” is a term that is more relevant according to Shilpa and Agama Sastras, whereas “Hasta” broadens the representation of Bharatanatyam(Bharata Kalai Kotpaadu(Tamil) – by Dr Padma Subrahmanyam).

The hand gestures in Bharatanatyam, are not just embellishments but integral components that convey emotions, stories, and ideas. In this dance form, the hands act as the canvas where the artist paints tales, creating a dialogue with the audience that transcends verbal language. Each Mudra/Hasta carries a distinct symbolism, drawing from Indian culture, mythology, and life itself.

An Ancient Language in Motion: Historical Roots of Mudras/Hastas.

To unravel the essence, we journey back in time to the roots of Bharatanatyam. This classical dance form traces its origins to the Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian text on the performing arts written by sage Bharata Muni. The Natya Shastra is a treasure trove of knowledge, providing guidelines for every aspect of performing arts, including dance and Mudras. It lays the foundation for the use of Mudras as a means of expression.

 The historical significance of Mudras/Hastas goes beyond dance. They have been a part of Indian culture for centuries, finding their way into various aspects of life, from religious rituals to meditation practices. Even in ancient Indian sculptures, one can find depictions of deities and figures displaying Mudras, emphasizing their cultural and spiritual relevance.

 The Alphabet of Emotions: Commonly Used Mudras/Hastas

Hastas are broadly classified as Nritta and Abhinaya Hastas. Abhinaya Hastas are subdivided into Asamyutha and Samyutha Hastas. Some examples of Asamyutha Hastas for beginners are given below.

  1. Anjali  (Prayer Gesture)

Perhaps one of the most recognizable Mudras, Anjali Mudra is a gesture of respect and greeting. Palms pressed together at the heart centre, fingers pointing upward, symbolizes unity, humility, and reverence.

  1. Pataka (Flag Gesture)

This Mudra is characterized by the palm held straight with fingers extended and slightly separated. Pataka represents various elements like a flag, a leaf, or a sword. It often signifies valour, victory, or announcing a message.

  1. Tripataka (Three Parts Gestures)

In Tripataka, the ring finger is bent and touches the thumb, creating three sections. This Mudra represents objects like a bow, a snake, or a branch. It embodies concepts of power, movement, and transformation.

  1. Ardha Chandra (Half Moon Gesture)

As the name suggests, the hand resembles a half-moon. It signifies concepts related to time, aesthetics, and feminine energy. It’s often used to depict scenes involving nature and grace.

  1. Hamsasya (Swan Beak Gesture)

With the thumb representing the swan’s head, this Mudra is used to convey messages of love, separation, or the arrival of a message-bearer. It finds relevance in romantic and narrative pieces.


There are many more mudras mentioned in Abhinaya Darpanam.

The Tales They Tell: Symbolism and Interpretation

Hand gestures transcend the physical and delve into the realm of symbolism. 

“Yatho Hasta Sthatho Dhrishti” – where the hand goes the eyes follow. This is an example to mention how crucial the role of Hastas in Dance is. Wherever the hand moves, the dancer’s eyes follow it. It becomes an important technique to hold the attention of the audience by navigating these gestures of the hand. The combination of Mudras with facial expressions, body postures, and footwork creates a holistic narrative that resonates with the audience. For instance, the Hastas (hand gestures) can depict emotions like anger, joy, sorrow, and more, while the Sanchari Bhavas (transitory emotions) weave intricate emotional landscapes.


Each Mudra holds a story, often rooted in mythology. For example, the “Gajamukha Mudra,” where the thumb touches the index finger, represents an elephant’s trunk. It symbolizes the story of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, and is often used to invoke his blessings and protection.

The Evolution of Mudras: Traditional to Contemporary

 While the essence of Mudras remains deeply rooted in tradition, Bharatanatyam has evolved. Modern interpretations have introduced contemporary elements and narratives into this ancient dance form. This blend of tradition and innovation has expanded the scope of Mudras, allowing artists to convey a wide array of emotions and ideas.

In contemporary Bharatanatyam, Mudras have not only retained their cultural significance but have also gained a global appeal. Dancers from around the world are captivated by the beauty and expressiveness of these hand gestures, leading to a diverse and enriching artistic exchange.

Learning the Language: Nurturing the Art of Mudras

Mastering Mudras is a journey that requires dedication, practice, and understanding. Bharatanatyam dancers undergo rigorous training to perfect the execution of each gesture, ensuring that its intended meaning is conveyed effortlessly.

 Aspiring dancers immerse themselves in the study of Mudras, learning their names, meanings, and the stories they encapsulate. This process involves not only physical practice but also intellectual and emotional engagement with the art form.

Conclusion: When Hands Speak, Hearts Listen

In the intricate dance of Bharatanatyam, the hands are not mere appendages but vessels of expression. Mudras breathe life into stories, evoke emotions, and bridge the gap between performer and audience. As we witness the hands gracefully transition from one gesture to another, we witness the transformation of art into emotion, of movement into meaning. In every Mudra, in every movement, lies a story waiting to be told—a timeless narrative woven through the language of movement.