Abhinaya-darpana (English)

by Ananda Coomaraswamy | 1917 | 16,981 words | ISBN-13: 9788121500210

The English translation of the Abhinaya-darpana (“the mirror of gesture”) by Nandikeshvara: an encyclopedic manual of the art of gesticulation. It belongs to a wide range of literature known as Natya-shastra: the ancient Indian art of dramatic performance, theatrics, dance and music. The Abhinaya Darpana is an abridgement of the Bharatarnava, a m...

Chapter 13 - Twenty-four Combined Hands

Combined Hands (samyutta hastāni):

Twenty-four combined Hands are exhibited as follows:

  1. Añjali,
  2. Kapota,
  3. Karkaṭa,
  4. Svastika,
  5. Ḍola,
  6. Puṣpapuṭa,
  7. Utsaṅga,
  8. Śivaliṅga,
  9. Kaṭaka-vardhana,
  10. Kartarī-svastika,
  11. Śakaṭa,
  12. Śaṅkha,
  13. Cakra,
  14. Sampuṭa,
  15. Pāśa,
  16. Kīlaka,
  17. Matsya,
  18. Kūrma,
  19. Varāha,
  20. Garuḍa,
  21. Nāga-bandha,
  22. Khaṭvā,
  23. Bheruṇḍa,
  24. Avahittha.

According to another book: when two Single Hands are combined, that is a Combined Hand. Even though the origin and meaning remain the same, the patron deity always differs.

Añjali (salutation): two Patāka hands are joined palm to palm. Usage: saluting Deities, Elders (guru) or Brāhmaṇas—the hands being held on the head for Deities, before the face for Elders, and on the chest for Brāhmaṇas.

According to another text: same definition. The patron deity is Kṣetrapāla. Usage: bowing, obedience, clapping time, indicating the form of Siva, saying “What am I to do?”, meditation. (Plate VIII.)

Kapota (dove): the hands are joined at the side, base and top. Usage: taking oath, conversation with elders etc., humble acquiescence.

According to another book: the Añjali hands are separated. The patron deity is Citrasena. Usage: acquiescence, trees such as the coconut, areca-nut, etc., plantain flower, cold, nectar, receiving things, casket, citron.

Karkaṭa (crab): the fingers of the hands are interlocked, and the hands turned inwards or outwards.[1] Usage: group, stoutness, blowing the conch, stretching the limbs, bending the bough of a tree.

According to another book: in the Urṇa-nābha hand, the fingers of one hand are introduced into the interspaces of those of the other hand. Its patron deity is Viṣṇu. Usage: lamentation, yawning, breathing hard, crab, blowing the conch, cracking the fingers by women. (Plates IV a, extreme left, and XII e.)

Svastika (crossed): two Patāka hands held together at the wrists. Usage: crocodile, timid speech, dispute, praising.

Dola (swing)[2]: two Patāka hands placed on the thighs. Usage: beginning a Nāṭya.

According to another book: Patāka hands at the sides. The patron deity is Bharatī. Usage: infatuation, fainting, drunken indolence, welcoming the beloved (vilāsa), etc.

Puṣpapuṭa (flower-casket): Sarpa-śīrṣa hands are pressed together. Usage: offering lights (ārati), twilight water offering (sandhya argha dāna), flower-spells (mantra-puṣpa), children receiving fruits, etc.

According to another book: one Sarpa-śīrṣa hand by the side of the other. The patron deity is Kinnareśvara. Usage: offering and receiving flowers, com, fruits, or water.

Utsaṅga (embrace): Mṛga-śīrṣa hands held upon opposite arm-pits. Usage: embrace, modesty, armlet, education of children.

According to another book: Arāla hands held crosswise on the shoulders. The patron deity is Gautama. Usage: modesty, embrace, assent, cold, saying “Sādhu”, hiding the breasts, etc.

Śiva-liṅga (do.): Ardha-candra with the left hand, Śikhara with the right. Usage: Śiva-liṅga.

Kaṭaka-vardhana (link of increase): Kaṭaka-mukha hands with crossed wrists. Usage: coronation, ritual (pūja), marriage blessing.

According to another book: Kaṭaka hands are crossed. The patron deity is Yakṣa-rāja. Usage: deliberation (vicāra), the erotic flavour (śṛṅgara rasa), pacification, (the dances known as) Jakkiṇī naṭana and Daṇḍa lāsya, certainty.

Kartarī-svastika (crossed arrow-shafts): Kartarī-mukha hands are crossed. Usage: trees, the boughs of trees, the summit of a hill.

Śakaṭa (car): Bhramara hands with the thumb and middle finger extended. Usage: the gestures of Rākṣasas.

Śaṅkha (conch): the thumbs of Śikhara hands are joined, and the forefinger extended. Usage: conch.

Cakra (discus): Ardha-candra hands askew, the palms in contact. Usage: discus.

Sampuṭa (casket): the fingers of the Cakra hand are bent. Usage: concealing things, casket.

Pāśa (noose): the forefingers of the Sūci hand are bent and interlocked. Usage: enmity, noose, manacles. (Plate XII f.)

Kīlaka (bond): the little fingers of the Mṛga-śīrṣa hand are interlocked. Usage: affection, the conversation of lovers.

Matsya (fish): Patāka hands face downwards, the thumbs and little fingers extended.[3] Usage: fish. (Plate XIV c.)

Kūrma (tortoise): the ends of the fingers of the Cakra hand are bent, except the thumbs and little fingers. Usage: tortoise. (Plate XIV D.)

Varāha (boar): Mṛga-śīrṣa hands one upon the other (back to back), the thumbs and little fingers linked. Usage: boar.

Garuḍa: Ardha-candra hands arè held with palms askew, and the thumbs interlocked. Usage: Garuḍa. (Plate XIV E.)

Nāga-bandha (serpent-tie): Sarpa-śīrṣa hands are crossed. Usage: nāga-bandha, pairs of snakes, bower, Atharva Veda spells.

Khaṭvā (bed): the thumbs and forefingers of two Catura hands are left free. Usage: bed, etc. (Cf. Plate XIV b).

Bheruṇḍa: the wrists of Kapittha hands are joined. Usage: pair of Bheruṇḍas.

Avahittha (dissimulation): two Alapadma hands are held on the chest. Usage: erotic dances (sṛṅgāra naṭana), holding a play-ball, the breasts (Plates XI e, XIII d).

Such are the twenty-four Combined Hands in order.

Footnotes and references:


i. e. ‘clasped hands but the hands may also be flattened by extending the elbows, the fingers remaining interlocked, and this is used in stretching the arms over the head, a sign of amorous feeling frequently mentioned in literature and depicted in painting and sculpture (Plate IV A, extreme left).


Apparently identical with the Kaṭyavalambita hand of T. A. Gopinatha Rao, “Hindu Iconography,” Vol. I, pt. i, p. 16, and ibid., Pl. V, fig. 11.


The palm of one hand on the back of the other, the fingers along the fingers, and the two little fingers and thumbs moved to and fro.

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