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Mudras are ritual hand gestures. Classical Indian dance Bharat Natyam has a vocabulary of hundreds of these, but though they mainly play a narrative role in the dance as performed in public today,  clearly they once served as a universal sign language in this region of such a variety of cultural forms.

The repertoire of symbolic movement includes hundreds of poses, expressions and gestures.  They are divided into: simple (one-handed), composite, double (one hand mirrors the other) and complementary (each hand does something different.)

Some are static; others require movement to complete the sense.  Some few are reserved for special purposes such as healing or tantric ritual practices that include Hindu worship and Buddhist ritual-practice [sadhanas].  

The use of "magical" gesture is undoubtedly very ancient, and the mudras form an intrinsic part of worship that serves to provide a kinaesthetic expression and reinforcement of the mind's engagement in visualization, as well as a locus and channel for spiritual energy. 

In a practice, a ritual or sadhana, they also can provide cues to coordinate the congregation or participants.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols

~ fig. 17 from Beyer's The Cult of  Tara (155)   Moustache not essential







These gestures also stand for the Offering Goddesses that each bear one of the eight auspicious symbols:

  1. The Supreme Knot (Skt: shri vatsya) often called 'endless,' or 'eternal.' The horizontal pairs of fingers make the crossing threads.

   2.  The Golden Wheel (suvarna chakra) - here is our foundation and the palm of Buddha's hands showed a wheel

   3.  The Lotus (padma kunjara) - petals spread out from the bud

   4.  The Victory Banner (kundha vaja) - the pole and a cylindrical shape with finial 

   5.  Twirling Parasol (sitata patra) or white parasol (sita patra) - the handle and the spread shade

   6.  Treasure Flask (nidhi ghata) - the palms curve to form a container

   7.  Right-turning conch shell (shankha varta) - notice the negative space between the hands

   8.  Pair of Fish (kanaka matsya) - their noses meet


The Eight Sensory Offerings 

We can make the traditional offerings of a ritual of symbolic or mental worship using gestures to stand for actual physical acts of generosity.  Usually, the mudras work to enhance or underscore the acts of generosity.  Some believe they have an actual effect on the environment in a way that is similar to mantras.

The traditional offering mudras are

  1. argham -- water to refresh the mouth (Pouring a beaker.)
  2. padyam -- water to refresh the feet (A basin.)
  3. pushpam -- flowers for delighting the eyes (Two blossoms.)
  4. dhupam -- incense for clearing and perfuming the air (Sticks of incense.)
  5. alokam --  light to brighten the space (Two waving lamp wicks.)
  6. ghande -- scented washing water (Parting a cloth.)
  7. nevityeh -- refreshment (The universal sign that indicates a display set out.)
  8. shabda -- music to delight (Clashing a pair of cymbals.)


*The Sanskrit word mudra has more than one meaning.  In a ritual or tantric context it may indicate a divine manifestation that is,  a symbolic form or embodiment as for example, one's consort, but it may also mean an attitude or an approach to an idea or state.

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