Hands – The Power of Two





Last night was filled with an intense discussion between two architects and myself about the authority of attributing value to any art-form. Though the discussion was centered around the visual arts and the complex opinions that are polarised into “art for art’s sake” on one side and the idea of “form follows function” on the other, my take-away viz. a vis 45 Days of Dance Stories was questioning what aspects of dance makes up the architectural tools that hold the passion, emotion and expression together. What are the dancers tools?


The immediate architectural component that came to mind were the “Mudras” in Classical Indian Dance, outlined in the Natya Shastra and utilised across the 8  classical dance forms ( Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohinattyam, Odissi and Sattriya ) and the folk dances across the Indian sub-continent and extending into Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.


So what exactly is a mudra ? Simply put it is a hand-gesture. Crafted without leniency, the mudra is fixed in it’s prescribed form, much like a doorway, and similar to it’s analogous counterpart the function of the mudra is prescribed in full. A key component in the visual, aesthetic and technical structures of the dance-forms, the mudra is strong and diverse.


A great example of this diversity is seen in the mudra – Tripataka. As with all the mudras, their usage is detailed within the Natya Shastra and it is from there that we know that this particular mudra can be used to signify a tree, a crown ( hence a king), application of vermillion on the forehead, a pigeon, flames of a fire, Lord Indra’s weapon and the Ketaki flower to name a few. These uses of the Tripataka-Mudra give the building blocks of creating a narrative as well as characters within the performance. They are structural components that are crucial to the dance-forms and are as much tools of communication as they are of emotive expression.


Taking the mudra a step forward it is worth thinking about hand-gestures that are typical of a culture and how they have come into everyday usage as well as their meaning. From the chin-flick to the horned-fingers – the meaning the gesture represents can be the same or varied depending on the country and place you find yourself in. As this post winds up, my thought for today goes beyond dance and performance, but to our bodies and our hands, and their power of gesticulation. So, my question is – what is your go to hand-gesture?






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