Updated: January 24, 2013 19:46 IST

Decoding the mudras

K. Pradeep
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Mudraakhyam by Sreedevi Rajan.
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Mudraakhyam by Sreedevi Rajan.

Mudraakhyam, written by Mohiniyattam exponent Sreedevi Rajan, is a reference book for practitioners of the dance form.

To enjoy and value classical dance, it is imperative that one understands the meaning of mudras or hand gestures and the movements. Using the two palms and 10 fingers the dancer creates a whole universe, and sometimes communicates more effectively than words. Mudraakhyam is a reference guide that describes in detail all the mudras used in Mohiniyattam.

Sreedevi Rajan, daughter of Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and doyenne of Mohiniyattam Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, has written the book. She has over five decades of experience as a Mohiniyattam performer and teacher. “This is perhaps the culmination of my lifelong ambition. All that I picked up from my parents, my own research, teaching experience and, of course, passion for the art find representation in this work,” says Sreedevi.

The original reference guide for Mohiniyattam is the Hasthalakshanadeepika. Most of the mudras used are derived from this seminal work. But like any language or art form, mudras have evolved. This, according to Sreedevi , has been the need for such a guide. She has documented all the traditional mudras and their usage and translated them into English, thus making it accessible to dancers inside and outside the country who might not be familiar with Malayalam.

What this book primarily attempts to do is describe all the existing mudras or gestures with their usage in Malayalam slokas. These slokas are classified into single hand mudras, double hand mudras and different mudras in each hand. Sreedevi then transliterates the Malayalam slokas and also arranges them in alphabetical order (according to the Malayalam alphabet) and translates them. “I have also incorporated some of those I have created and also attributed new usage to some of the existing ones. For instance, there are certain characters that do not have a specific identity. There are no defining mudras. I have tried to introduce mudras for more than 20 characters such as Ahalya, Mandodari or Kumbakarnan.”

The highpoint of this book is the use of photographs of all the hasthamudras or hand gestures along with detailed descriptions. Dancer Smitha Rajan, Sreedevi’s daughter, has demonstrated the mudras.

This visual dictionary or guide to Mohiniyattam with proper phonetic script that enhances the transliteration, photographs, explanation and the shlokas, makes it an ideal handbook for a Mohiniyattam practitioner.

Mudraakhyam: A Visual Dictionary on Mohiniyattam Hand Gestures

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