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Jyothi Venkatachalam

During my last 2 ½ years of writing on Indian dance for Khaas Baat publication, I have had a few dedicated readers who either call me or at least make it a point to acknowledge and compliment me for a column. Last time, some suggested that as there are many children in Florida who are learning Bharatanatyam, an article on mudras (hand gestures) and its usage would be helpful for students and their parents. Hence, I’m introducing this particular topic. I will be mentioning at least a few common usages for each gesture if not all. This topic will be covered in four issues.

To understand Bharatanatyam better and reach out to the audience, we use language through the expressive gestures of the hands. This has been one of the most ancient or oldest forms of communication. It is sure that these gestures played an important role in the evolution of human language.

In dancing, each mudra or symbol of the hands is credited with divine origin. We Indians are proof to this because all over the world we remind one another about the divinity in each one of us by greeting each one with the folded hands or ’anjali hasta’

According to Nadikesvara’s Abhinayadarpanam, there are two major varieties of hasta mudra or gestures of the hands. They are:

Asamyukata Hasta (single-handed gestures)

Samyukta Hasta (gestures with both the hands combined)

Asamyukta Hastas: There are 28 single-handed gestures. However, six new ones were added later on. Today, we shall learn about seven of them:

1. Pataka: The hand in which the thumb is bent and the fingers are extended. This mudra is used to show the beginning of a dance, dark clouds, forest, night, river, abode of the Gods, horse, wave, entering a street, touching things, knocking the door, taking an oath, broom, Palmyra leaf (which was used as paper in ancient days), shield, month, year, rainy day, moonlight, strong heat, sweeping, forbidden things, cutting, wind, walking prowess and offering to the gods.

2. Tripataka: From Pataka mudra, the ring finger is bent. This mudra is used to show a crown, tree, Lord Indra, flame rising from a lamp, pigeon, cheeks, decorations drawn on a face, arrow and turning.

3. Ardhapataka: From the Tripataka mudra, the little finger is bent. This mudra is used to show bank of a river and stream, small knife, flag, sprouts (tender leaves), board, tower and horn.

4. Kartarimukha: From the Ardhapataka mudra, the fore and middle finger are spread out like a scissor. This mudra is used to show separation of a man and a woman, opposite, rolling, corner of the eye, lightning, death, falling, sleeping alone and weeping.

5. Mayura: The ring finger touches the thumb and the other fingers are extended. This mudra is used to show a peacock, creeper, bird, vomiting, removing hair and sprinkling water from a river while praying, wiping away tears, sacred treatises, and curls on the forehead, tilaka (ornamental mark on the forehead) and a famous thing.

6. Ardhachandra: From the Pataka mudra, the thumb is stretched out. This mudra is used to show the phase of the moon on the eighth day of the dark fortnight, a hand seizing the throat, spear, plate from which you eat, origin, waist, thought, telling oneself, mirror, showing the feet, carrying a child and meditation.

7. Arala: From the Pataka mudra, the pointer finger is bent. This mudra is used to show drinking poison or nectar, strong wind, wiping the sweat of the brow, showing aversion toward evil people.

To be continued.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at


Lavanya Dinesh

In the first part, we looked at some of the ingredients that constitute the raga which is exclusive only to the Indian classical music system. We are now going to delve into the origins of the raaga as well as its categorization and classification.

Graama/Moorchana – tried out by knowledgeable musical pioneers in the ninth century. This system rests upon the note and scale of the voice or sound of the musician. There are 3 graamas and 21 in use. Janya-janaka raaga classification denotes a parent raaga facilitating the emergence of a melodic offspring. Thaat classification is the most commonly used theory by practitioners of Hindustani classical music. There are 10 widely accepted thaats in use, out of which most ragas performed by musicians today are derived. They are Bilawal, Kalyan, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Kaafi, Kamaaj, Aasavari, Poorvi, Marwa and Todi thaats. Raaga-Raagini system – this is the most interesting theory with origins in ancient Hindu texts and treatises as also the beautiful and myriad manifestations of the Almighty. Raags in Indian music are personified, considered sacred and given demi-god status and are thus categorized into human-like groups and assigned familial relationships to one another. Raaga-raagini draws a parallel between the dynamic and the static, conveys the balance of male and female in nature. The six principal male ragas are Bhairav, Malkauns, Hindol, Deepak, Shree and Megh. They in turn have their female counterparts, raaginis namely Bhairavi, Dhanashree, Gauri, Maalvi, Triveni, Desi, Vibhas, Kalyaani, Kaushiki, Gandhaari and numerous others. There are many other offspring known as Putra ragas.

Rasa – sentiments, moods and emotions that ragas convey are central to understanding how a particular raaga can stir up unique feelings and create a certain atmosphere. The emotional quality is referred to as ‘rasa.’ Bharata Muni, a sage who lived about 2,000 years ago authored the much celebrated and revered text on Indian music, dance, drama and other performing arts called ‘Naatya Shaastra.’ This treatise enumerates 9 rasas or emotions called Nava Rasas. They are Shringara (love/eroticism), Haasya (mirth/humor), Karuna (compassion/pathos), Raudra (anger/terror), Veera (valor/courage), Bhayanaka (fear), Bheebatsa (disgust / grotesque), Adbhuta (wonder / amazement) and Shaanta (peace/serenity). For example, Raaga Bhoopali evokes Shaanta rasa while raaga Sarang conveys Veera rasa. Raaga Bhageshree is full of sensual, romatic references of Shringara, Marwa conveys Viraha rasa (an offshoot of shringaara) denoting longing and restlessness of separation from the beloved. The latter two rasas have inspired several compositions in various ragas with Lord Krishna, Radha and Gopikas as central themes.

There are seasonal ragas like Basanth heralding spring, Malhaar performed in the rainy season and many others.

Prahara – An adherence to the time theory in Hindustani classical music is integral to any vocal or instrumental performance even today. There are eight time-cycle divisions in a single day, each of which is known as a prahara. Each chunk of time, day or night, is allotted certain ragas.

Pahara 1, 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.: Hindol, Bhairav, Bilawal, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Lalit, etc.

Prahara 2, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Aasavari, Todi, etc.

Prahara 3, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Sarang family of ragas.

Prahara 4, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Multani.

Prahara 5, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Shree, Purya Shanashree, Kalyaan family of ragas, etc.

Prahara 6, 9 pm to 12 am: Marwa, Poorya, Bhageshree, etc.

Prahara 7, 12 am to 3 am: Malkauns and Kanada family of ragas.

Prahara 8, 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.: Raagas taken from 7th and 1st prahara are performed.

Raagas adopted from South Indian classical music into the Hindustani music repertoire need not follow strict time theories. Some of these are Hamsadhwani, Charukeshi, Salag varali, etc.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music. Lavanya regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the US. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at

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