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BACKGROUND OF EVOLUTION OF LANGUAGE OF GESTURES IN KERALA'S VEDIC

RECITATION STYLE
Mudras or hand gestures are used in Indian culture in widely

divergent areas ranging from Iconography to dance. The earliest extant description of mudras occur in Bharasta's NS, a text dealing with dance,

music and drama from the beginning of the Christian era, but it is likely
that they were mentioned half a rnillenium earlier in the Natasutras that existed in Paninis' time. Over the centuries m u d r a s have become a common feature of religious worship in Hinduism, Buddhism and Tantrism. Here the m u d r a is used as a meduim of communication with
the 'Unknown' .With the spread of Indian civilization, they travelled over

large parts of Asia.


The style of recitation of the Vedas by the Namputiries of Kerala

is a clear evidence which underline the tradition of the use of mudr-as in Kerala-theatre. The Namputiries use two sets of m u d r a s : - one to accompany the recitation of Rgveda and the other to accompany the chanting of Samaveda. (It is uncertain where Vedic mudras are older than

any of the others). Whatever be their origin, the Vedic mudras could not
have resulted from a simple adaptation of other varieties, since they

are characterised by a feature that is distinctively Vedic. Unlike other


mudrus which represent meaning, Vedic mudras represent sound also.

MUDRAS OF THE NAMP~TIRI RGVEDA


The rnudriis of the Nampfitiri R g v e d a a r e n o t s i m p l e representations of sound. They are used to represent the ends of words (pada) in the word-for-word recitation (padapiitha) of Rgveda. Their function

is to disambiguate the text in doubtful places. For example, the continuous


recitation (samhitdp~tha) R.V.3.56.1, na t d minnnti has for its pudapcilha nu/t/tLi/minanti. But the padapctha might have been na/ t&h/minanti. A ten year old pupil learns the samhitii and padapntha without knowing Sanskrit grammar and the rules of s a n d h i . S o he is taught the

appropriate mudm, which distinguishes between ta and tah. In other cases the pupil may have learned the rules of sandhi from practice, but
he does not know which are the words of Sanskrit language and which

are not. According to the modern historical point of view, the padapzfha
is an analysis of the samhitdpiilha, and the latter results from the former.

According to the traditional point of view, the samhita is eternal, and


the padapdtha is one of its modifications (vikdra).

Ambiguity may also be inherent in accentuation. The accents are expressed by the position of the entire hand (this parallels to some extent the position of the head, inculcated when the accents were taught for the first time).

Accent Udatta Anudgtta Svarita Pracaya

Position of the hand


UP

down up to the right to the left

In the movement of head, no distinction is made between the

svarita (the accent immediately following the uddtta) and the pracaya
(the "accumulated" accent of syllables neither immediately following a
svarita nor immediately preceding an udatta). As will be seen from the

descriptions, some of the mudriis correspond to the shape of the mouth

or vocal tract that produces the corresponding sound. For example, the mudrii for the vowel 'u' imitates the rounding of the lips that
characterises its pronounciation. Unlike dance m u d r z s , all Rgvedic

mudrcis are executed b y the right hand only. (If the form of the rnudra is
the same as in Kathakali, this can be noted even though the significance
is always different). This is because the mudrci can indicate different sub-

ject or object which one has accepted according to the content of the text. The kartarimukha rnudra is common to several persons, like kings.

The pataka i n the samyuta samiina state denotes a king. His name is
indicated by the kartarimukha mudrE. eg. Nala, RugmZngata etc.. Who the king is to be understood from the context.

LIST OF RG VEDA
I.

MUDRAS

Hrasvamudra - Mudrd for short (hrasva)syllables. All fingers are extended in all joints and all fingers except the thumb are i n apposition with each other.

Eg:-Devdsyd, AS&,

Ggygta

2.

Mnrdhanyamudrs - Mudra for retroflex (miirdhanya). Consonants,

. and la followed by short vowel or e. viz, !a, !ha, da, dha, na, . sa
R i n g f i n g e r f l e x e d a t metacarpophalangeal joint and f i r s t
interphalangeal joint, extended at last interphalangeal joint, all other fingers extended and separated from each other. Hand in supination.

Eg:- Raksa, ~ r i n iAila , (RV.10.95.18), Kgne (RV. 10. 155.1) The

same mudrn is used for syllables ending Sya or p a unless they


are accented with svarita. Eg:-Zirusya, K ~ n u s v a For syllables ending with sya or p a and marked with
svarita,the HrasvamudrZ is used. Eg:- Arnu~ya 3.

Ghosamudri - Mudrh for unaspirated consonants with a voice


( g h d ~ a )viz: , gha, jha, dha, dha, bha and ha.

All joints extended except metacarpophalangeal joints of little, ring and t h e middle fingers which are flexed. Hand in semipronation.
Eg:- Gha, Adhi, Tustumbha, Abhi, Nahi.

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4.

~ ~ r ~ h a v i s a r ~ a m-uMudrii drg for long (dirgha) syllables ending

i n visarga ( h ) ,and for syllables ending - na and - ni. The little, ring
and the middle fingers flexed at metacarpophalangeal and first interphalangeal joints, while the thumb rests on the outer surface of the middle phalanx of the ring and the middle fingers. Hand is in pronation, except for sarvanudutta, where it is in supination.

Eg:- Devah, Tayoh, Bahvih, Devih,Ratndni ,D h ~ t t a n a


5.

Udattamudra - M u d r ~ ifor syllables with uddtta accent. Thumb extended, all other fingers fixed at metacarpophalangeal and first interphalangeal while the last interphalangeal joints are kept extended. Hand in supination. Eg:- Vi, Adya, Pra, _Uta

6.

Tithimudra or Timudra - Mudrh for syllables ending in - ti and -

thi. The Ring and middle fingers kept in apposition, flexed at the
metacarpophalangeal joints and extended at other joints, tip of

the thumb resting on the tip of the ring and the middle fingers at
their inner surface. Other fingers are extended.

Eg:- Iti, Patani, Pathi

7.

SimudrH - M u d r d for syllables ending in si, se, sya a n d sva.


Index finger flexed at metacarpophalangeal and first interphalangeal joints; thumb rests upon the distal half of the

index finger at its outer surface. All other joints are extended.

Eg:- Asi, ~ t a s (RV. i 1.30.4), Devasya, Sahase,

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8.

Uk8ramudra - Mudrii for syllables ending in - U - Ring, middle and the index fingers flexed at metacarpophalangeal joints and kept
in apposition, tip of the thumb rests upon the inner surface of the

tip of the index finger. All other joints are extended. Hand is in

pronation.

Eg:- K z u , Vidu, V&, Apsu, Susthu .. (RV. 8.22.18)


9.
Svarapiirvakatakaramudrii - Mudrii for syllables ending in

-t

( t a k d r a ) preceded by a vowel ( s v a r a ) . Index finger flexed at the

metacarpophalangeal joint, tips of index and thumb fingers kept in apposition. All other joints are extended. Eg:- At, Tat, Yat
If the preceding vowel i s short, the hand i s in supination.

Eg:- Tat, Yat.

If the preceding vowel is long, the hand is pronation Eg:- At.


10. Hrasvavisargarnudra - Mudrd for short syllables ending in visarga. Tips of the index finger and the thumb are kept i n apposition, forming a ring that is opened at the sounding of the visarga.
Eg:- Sah, Agnih, Divah. 11. Akararnudra - Mudrii for all syllables ending in - a . The ring

finger is flexed at the rnetacarpophalangeal joint. All other joints are extended. Hand is in pronation. Eg:d,

Vrsu, ManasH.

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12. P r a t h a m a n t a m u d r g

- Mudrii

for syllables end in "first"

( p r a t h a m a ) . C o n s o n a n t s , v i z , - k and-!, o r e n d i n g in - t

immediately preceded by r. Same as Akaramudra but with the tip


of the thumb touching the root of the ring finger.

Eg:- Samrdt, Vit, Arviik, Avart (RV. 7.59.4)


13. ~ ~ l a v ~ a d i r g h a m u d - rMudrd 'a for long, palatal (tiilavyu)vowels,
viz, and Z unless they follow retroflex consonants (viz, fa, !ha,

da, dha, na, sa, l a )


The Ring, middle and the index fingers are flexed at

rnetacarpophalangeal and first interphalangeal joints, thumb rests on the outer surface of the middle phalanx of t h e index finger.
The little finger is extended in all joints. Eg:- adh hat!, ~ r v ? e t c .

14. Aikararnudra - Mudrii for ai. Same as ~ a l a v ~ a d ; r g h a m u d r 2 but ,

with the rotating movement of the tip of the little finger.

Eg:- Elavai, Yajadhyai


15. (Ssthyadirghamudrg - Mudrii for long, labial (bsthya) vowels, viz,
u, o and au. Same as Ukaramudra NO:^), but the little finger is
also in apposition with the other. Eg:- Vasii, Vasd, Indo, Uhhau

16. N a k a r a m u d r a

MudrZ f o r n . I n d e x f i n g e r f l e x e d a t t h e

metacarpophalangeal j o i n t with distal phalanx of the thumb resting on t h e other surface of the f i r s t phalanx of the index

finger. All .other fingers are extended. Eg: - Mahbn, Kavin, DevEn

17. Nakaramudra

M u d r i i for n and n . Middle finger flexed at

metacarpophalangeal joint, the tip of the thumb touching its first interphalangeal joint, at its inner surface.
Eg:- Pratyak, A k ~ a n Vanlah , (RV 10.79.7)

18. AnusvaamudrZi - Mudrli for short anusvilra. The ring, middle and
inedx fingers flexed at metacarpophalangeal joints. Thumb rests
on the outer surface of the middle phalanges of the middle and

index fingers. Little finger is extended at the metacarpophalangeal, and fixed at all other joints. Hand is in semipronation.
Eg:- Tam, Devam, Agnim, Puuohitam, Vibhum (RV 6.15.8)

19. ~ ? r g h a n u s v a r a m u d-r Mudrii ~ for long anusvhra. Anusv~ramudr5


in prone position. Eg:- Nrisatycihhyizm, Gacchatiim, Urvim.
20. AkarasticakamudrZi
-

MudriZ for initial a i n doubtful situation.

Same as D;rghavisargamudr~ (No.4). for a i and a u , with t h e index finger moving up and down. (viz - Aikaravisargamudrg) Eg:- Gopamaguh (RV. 10.6 1.10) with padapatha Gopam / (T/ agub/,
not gopam / E/ guh/.

21. M u d r d f o r r e p h a , v i k d r u , p r a k r t i a n d u t p a t t i - S a m e as Svarapfirvakatakiirarnudril ( n o . 9 ) , but w i t h a "pen-rolling" movement between the tips of the thumb and the index finger.
22. V i k B r a n i ~ e d h a m u d r Z- M u d r h u s e d w h e n a n e x p e c t e d

modification following a modification from retroflex to dental

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as marked by VikLramudra (no.21) does not take place. Same as MDrdhanyarnudrg NO.^), but the index finger moves slightly up and down. This mudrd is also used f o r p r a g r h y a words when the final
vowel is not subject to sandhi.

23. ~ r a s v ? k a r a ~ a m u d r - iMudrii i for shortening (hrasvikarapam) in


thepadapdtha. Same as Tiilavyadirghamudrii (No. l 3 ) , but the hand

makes a tilting movement in semi pronated position. 24. Urn-itimudrg - Mudr2 for urn iti in the padapatha.
The index finger is flexed at the first interphalangeal joint, its tip

resting on the phalanx o f the middle finger. The middle and the
ring fingers are slightly bent, the thumb and the little fingers

extended.

25. A v a g r a h a m u d r a - Mudrii for separation ( a v a g r a h a ) i n the


p a d a p a ' t h a of a c o m p o u n d w o r d i n t h e sumhiti?. S a m e a s TZilavyadirgharnudra (no: 13), but the hand is kept i n different

positions.

MUDRAS OF THE N A M P ~ T I R I SAMAVEDA


As seen for Rg Veda Kerala Brahmins used mudra f o r
chanting SZimaveda also. Some Samavedic mudriis are identical with
Rgvedic mudriis for vowels. In the Samaveda, however, they are used

sparingly. The proper domain for Samavedic mudrds is svara, the


musical phrases or motives of t h e chant. But there is one inherent

194

difficulty. Since the flow of melody in these chants is more continuous


than the flow of speech in recitation, the Samavedic mudriis are more

dynamic than those of Rgveda. They should be seen in movements, while t h e c h a n t i n g is h e a r d . Words a l o n e and picture a l o n e a r e both m i s l e a d i n g . A proper study can only be made w i t h the help of cinimatograpy. Here Ittj Ravi Namptitiri chanting the initial portion of the first chant of ~ a i r n i n i ~ Gramageyagana a with the accompaniment of rnudrus
is shown with the help of photographs.

These photographs also illustrate the gestures that accompany

the chanting by Itti Ravi Namputiri of the beginning of .JaiminYya Gramageyag2na 1 . I (

6:)

The chant begins with a sequence of fifteen svaras, sung to the

single syllable "0". The first three are not accompanied by mudras, b u t

merely counting the movement of the fingers. The remaining twelve


svurus consist of a sequence of elementary positions of the right hand.

The hand is held at three vertical levels: high (upari),middle


(madhyam) and low (adhah). It may be moved to the three horizontal

positions: right ( d a k j i n a ) , middle (rnadhya) or left (vu'mu). In each of these positions the hand may be held in one of four ways.

195

1. Malartti, "supine": in the upari position, the palm of the hand faces the chanter. 2.
Kamiltti, "prone": in the upari position, the hand faces the chanter. Uparistha or cericcu, "sideways": the edge of the little finger faces

3.

the onlooker. 4.
Matakki, "closed": the hand is held in a fist,which may be done

in any of the three preceding positions. Omitting the first three, the sequence of twelve svaras accompanying the chant of the initial "0"of J .G.G. 1 . I are described thus: (1) rnafakki, malartti, upari; ( 2 )mafakki, malartti, madhyam; ( 3 )malartti,
adhah; ( 4 ) malartti, upari; (5) malartti, madhyan; ( 6 ) malartti, adhab;

( 7 ) m a l a r t t i , m u d h y a m ; (8) k a m i l t t i , u p a r i ; ( 9 ) kamiltti, a d h a h ;
( 10) cericcu, kamiltti, daksina, upari; (1 1) cericcu, kamiltti, madhyum;
( 12) kamiltti, adhah.

The sequence of these mudrns constitutes a continous


movement pictured on Plates 7 A-F, 8 A-F. In 7A-C the hand, in supine position moves down but remain closed. In 7 D-F, still in the same position,

it moves down again but opens up in the process. Plate 8 A pictures the
hand going up again still open. Now begins a new, quicker downward

movement that is pictured in Plates 8 B-C, where the hand is in prone


position. Next the hand moves down again beginning in the sideways position ( c e r i c c u ) to the right ( d u k q i n a ) , but gradually turning and ending in the prone position (kamiltti). This is pictured on Plates 8D-F.

Thus ends the sequence of the mudrhs accompanying the syllable "0".

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The next syllable "gna" consists of the same twelve rnudriis

and is accompanied by the same sequence of m u d m s . Plate 8 F actually pictures the transition from the last movement of "o", prone and down, to the first movement of "gna", supine and closed. If the chant had ended with the last svura of the "o", the hand would have remained in the pure
kamiltti position, with the fingers extended.

Ssmavedic mudrds give importance to the position of hands like supination, pronation, closed, top, middle, bottom etc. Proximity of the mudriis is preferred here. This is one of the attributes of the rnudrfis
stated by Bharata also.33

However, the correlation between svaras and mudrds remain unexplained, and much more work is needed before we are in a position to arrive at an adequate understanding of the function of the mudriis of the Narnpiitiri SBrnaveda. From the above discussion it could be noted that the system of the mudriis in Kerala theatre also is a combination of Rgvedic mudrzs which give importance to the position of fingers and Samavedic mudriis
which give importance to the position of hands or proximity. In Kerala

Bharataniityam exactly follows the system of Vedic rnudrzs. In Kathakali and Ktiriyattom the rnudriis are more stylised.

RGVEDA MUDWS
PLATE 4

A.

Hrsvamudrii Miirdhany amudr3

B.
C.

GhosamudrSi

D.

Dirghavisargamudrii
UdattarnudrB

E.
F.

TithimudrZ

RGVEDA M U D U S
PLATE 5

RGVEDA M U D U S
PLATE 6

SAMAVEDA MUDRASFOR THE INITIAL '0'OF J.G.G.I.1


PLATE 7
A.

Matakki, malartti, upari


Matakki, malartti, madhyam

B.
C.

Malartti, adhah
MaEartti, upxi

D. E. F.

Malartti, madhym M a h a t t i , adhah

SAMAVEDA MUDRAS FOR THE INITIAL '0'OF J.G.G.I.1

PLATE 8
A.

Matakki, madhyaln

B.
C.

Kamiltti, upari
Kamiltti, adhah

D. E.

Cericcu, kamiltti, daksina, upari.

Cericcu, k d t t i , rnadhyam
Kamiltti, adhah.

F.

' i
I ., .

! ? ; =

?_.

._.
.c

COMPARISON OF VEDIC
VEDIC MUDMS

MUDMS WITH

THE MUDR&SUSED IN KOTIYATTOM AND KATHAKALI


REMARKS

MUDMS IN KDTIYA'OM
AND KATAKWI

1.

Hrasvamudr3

Hamsapaksa

If the thumb is extended away from the


fingers in the plane of the palm

2.

Ghb~amudra

Ardhacandra

In A r d h a c a n d r a , t h e l i t t l e , r i n g a n d
the middle fingers are also bent some what at the first and second interphalangeal joints

3.
4.

~ir~havisargamudr~
Udattamudra

No remarks

The thumb held straight touching the bent


index finger. Not used as such in theatre forms.

VEDIC MUDRAS

MUDRASIN KD~YATTOM
AND KATAKAGI

REMARKS

5.

Tithimudra

M~gakirsa

If the tip of the thumb rested on the first


interphalangeal joints of the ring and the middle fingers rather than the tips of the

fingers.
6.

Simudrii

Bhramara

In Bhramara the index finger is bent only

at the first interphalangeal joint. 7.

Ukiirarnudrii

~artarimukha

If the thumb rested on the outer edge of


the first interphalangeal joint of the index

finger rather than upon its tip.


8.

Hrasvavisargamudra

Mudriikhya

The opening of the ring formed by the thumb and the index finger is not an integral

part of Mudriikhya.
3

w M

COMPARISON OF VEDIC
VEDIC MUDMS

MUDMS WITH

THE M U D ~ USED S IN KUTIYATTOM AND KATHAKALI


REMARKS

MUDMS IN KUTIYATTOM
AND K A T A W I

9.

AkaramudrB

Pataka

If the ring finger were flexed at the


first interphalangeal joint rather than the metacaropophalangeal joint.

10.

~2lavyadirghamudrii ~~th~adirghamudra

No remarks If the tip of the thumb met the tips of all


the fingers.

11.

12.

Anusviiramudrii

In Musti . . the little, ring, middle and the in dex fingers are bent at all joints and
curled in toward the palm as in a fist.

200

This comparison is done by Mr.Clifford R.Jones. The comparison

drawn between Anusvararnudra of Rgv-edic reictation and Musti of the HLD according to Mr.Clifford R.Jones does not seem to be logical. If
this sort of comparison is to be accepted, there are many more gestures

which could be compared. For example, Nakaramudra of Rgveda - if the thumb is moved to the tip of the middle finger it would form Bhramara of the NS and the AD used in Kathakali, not mentioned in the HLD. ~rasvikaranamudri - Like Bana of the BRB with semi-pronation movement.

TANTRIC MUDRAS OF KERALA


As an extension of the Vedic mudrcis, the Tantric tradition of

Kerala also accepted a system of gestures. If Vedic mudriis were intended

to the correct implication of the meaning while chanting, the Tantric


mudras were used to please the deities at the time of worship. The mudrds

formed the medium to communicate with the proposed powers. The ultimate aim is to please the deity. That is why the word mudrd got its name which is really meaningful. As mentioned elsewhere in the thesis,
mudrd is

Tantric mudrds are highly symbolic. One mudrd can comunicate


a lot of meaings. Each mudrd is a complete perfect entity. By closely

examining the Tantric rnudrds one could see the pattern in which a rnudrd

20 1

is originated as said by

34

Bharata i.e. shape, nature, proximity etc. May

be, Bharata got the idea of the m u d r n s from the Tantric treatise of the
mudriis.

I n Indian theatre, in Krsnanattom .. the m u d r n s are used as

symbols but not upto the level of Tantric mudriis. In Bharatanatyarn the
mudrds are shortened and the rest of the nbhinaya is compensated by
Vdcika. But in Kd[iyattorn and Kathakali the mudrds developed into a

level which communicate any idea even without the help of Viicika i.e. the development of the language of gestures reached its peak. Here the Tantric mudrns and the mudrds of the H L D or those

used in Kerala theatre are compared and tabulated. The Tantric mudriis
are got from PBtmasamhitii which is a book about Vaispuvu Tantra.

NOMENCLATURE OF THE MUDMIN PATMASAMHITA

RECOMMENDED USE

SIMILAR MUDRA IN THE HLD/K.T.

RECOMMENDED USE

4. Brahmamudrii

To show Brahma

Aiijali

Not used as such

5. Rudramudrg

To show Rudra

sikhara (AD)

To live

6. Ganghudrii

To show the river Ganges

~artarimukha (Approx)

Not used as such

NOMENCLATURE OF THE

RECOMMENDED USE

MUDMIN PATMASAMHITA

SIMILAR MUDM IN THE HLD/K.T.

RECOMMENDED USE

10. ~ a h k h a m u d r ~

Conch

Aiijali and Sikhara (AD)

Conch

11. Padmamudra

The seats of Goddesses like ~aksrni etc.

Variation of Aiijali in samyuta form

Lotus and relatively large flowers.

12. Paiamudra

Nil

Bana (B.B)
C

Several uses in practice

0
V1

h ,

NOMENCLATURE OF THE

RECOMMENDED USE

MUDRA IN PATMAS AMHITA

SIMILAR MUDRA IN THE HLD/K.T.

RECOMMENDED USE

,@
,

13. Angubamudra

Nil

~ukatunda

Not used as such

.,

14. Mustimudra

To perform sacrifice

Musfi

Not used as such

15. KrOdarnudra

For h6ma

~rgakirsa

Not used as such

NOMENCLATURE OF THE M UDRA IN PATMASAMHITA

RECOMMENDED USE

SIMILAR MUDM IN THE HLD/K.T.

RECOMMENDED USE

19. Tatvarnudra

Nil

Mudrwya

Not used as such

20. ~ a iicipav~tamudr~ j

Nil

Mayfira (BRB)

Not used as such

2 1. &alpamudr8

Nil

TribGla (AD)

Not used as such