Vishnudharmottara Purana (Art and Architecture)

by Bhagyashree Sarma | 2021 | 59,457 words

This page relates ‘(d): Hand Gestures for Dashavatara’ of the study on the elements of Art and Architecture according to the Vishnudharmottara Purana: an ancient text whose third book deals with various artisan themes such as Architecture, Painting, Dance, Grammar, etc. Many chapters are devoted to Hindu Temple architecture and the iconography of Deities and their installation rites and ceremonies.

2.2. (d): Hand Gestures for Daśāvatāra

The concept of daśāvatāra was commenced after Vedic period. In the Puranic literature, a great discussion about the ten incarnations of lord Viṣṇu is found in a detailed way. Different purāṇas viz., Garuḍapurāṇa[1] , Padmapurāṇa[2] , Liṅgapurāṇa[3] etc. talk about the ten incarnations of lord Viṣṇu. The word daśāvatāra is made with two Sanskrit words daśa i.e., ten[4] and avatāra i.e., incarnation[5] . In Hinduism, lord Viṣṇu is worshiped as the preserver of the entire world. Hindu mythology states that-to protect the entire world from evil lord Viṣṇu takes different forms or incarnations. In the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā also, it is stated that to establish religion and to destroy the wicked, lord Viṣṇu menifests in every age.[6]

Moreover, in the Hindu scriptures, different stories are found, related to lord Viṣṇu, where we find the magnanimity of different incarnations of lord Viṣṇu. Moreover, a great influence of these ten incarnations of lord Viṣṇu seems to fall in the field of Dance also. In every classical Dance form of India, the Daśāvatāranṛtya is seen to perform in a graceful way. The gestures and postures used in Daśāvatāranṛtya are suggestive of the forms of incarnations.

The ten incarnations of Lord Viṣṇu are—

  1. Matsya,
  2. Kūrma,
  3. Varāha,
  4. Narasiṃha,
  5. Vāmaṇa,
  6. Paraśurāma,
  7. Śrīrāma,
  8. Halirāma or Balarāma,
  9. Kṛṣṇa and
  10. Kalkī.[7]

But in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the mention of Kalkī avatāra is not found. Point to be noted hare is that, though in different ancient treatises, the Kṛṣṇa avatāra is included in the list of ten incarnations of lord Viṣṇu, Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, the two Vaishnava saint of Assam seem to accept the Buddha avatāra instead of Kṛṣṇa avatāra.[8] The hand gestures used for the ten incarnations of lord Viṣṇu are discussed here.

1) Matsya avatāra:

The word Matsyāvatāra stands for the incarnation of fish of lord Viṣṇu. So, it is an authentic reason to create a shape of fish with hands to show this āvatāra. According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the ardhacandrahasta indicates the Matsyāvatāra.[9] Point to be noted here is that, only the single hand in ardhacandra does not look like a fish and it does not justify the name of this hasta. But according to the Abhinayadarpaṇa, to show the Matsyāvatāra, one hand is placed on the back of another in patākahasta and the thumbs are spread-out[10] and it literary makes the shape of a fish.

2) Kūrma avatāra:

The word kūrma means tortoise[11]. According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, to show the kūrma avatāra, the patāka hand should be curved downward.[12] But according to the Abhinayadarpaṇa, to show the kūrma avatāra, the hands should be in cakrahasta. The cakrahasta is made with two ardhacandra hands which are kept across its other. So, to make the hand gesture of kūrma avatāra, the dancer should bend the tips of thumb and little fingers in cakrahasta.[13]

3) Varāha avatāra:

The varāha kind of incarnation of lord Viṣṇu denotes that avatāra, when lord Viṣṇu transforms to the shape of a varāha i.e., a boar[14] . In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa varāha avatāra is suggested to show with the śikharahasta where the little finger is extended.[15] But the Abhinayadarpaṇa suggests to keep both hands in mṛgaśīrṣahasta and place above another and the thumb of one hand meets that of the other.[16] Point to be noted here is that as said in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, if the little finger is extended in śikharahasta, this hand gesture is looked like as it is of mṛgaśīrṣahasta. So, from this point of view, it can be said that the suggestion of the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa and the Abhinayadarpaṇa regarding the hastamudrā of Varāha avatāra is quite similar.

4) Narasiṃha avatāra:

The term Narasiṃha is the union of two Sanskrit words viz., nara and siṃha. Nara means man and siṃha means lion. So, this incarnation of lord Viṣṇu shows his form of half man and half lion. It is the most furious incarnation of lord Viṣṇu. According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, to denote Narasiṃha avatāra, both of the hands are separately joined in aḥkāra mudrā.[17] Aḥkāra mudrā is nothing but a particular kind of mukula hasta.[18] But in the Abhinayadarpaṇa, it is suggested that-to show the incarnation of Narasiṃha, the dancer should make the tripatākahasata with right hand and with left hand the dancer should make the siṃhamukhahasta.[19]

5) Vāmaṇa avatāra:

The word Vāmaṇa means dwarf.[20] In this incarnation, lord Viṣṇu holds the form of a dwarf Brahmacārī. The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa states that- Vāmana avatāra is identified with oṃ mudrā.[21] In oṃ mudrā the index finger is crocked on the extended left thumb.[22] But According to the Abhinayadarpaṇa, the hand gesture for Vāmaṇa avatāra is made with muṣṭi hasta. The left hand should hold the muṣṭi hand up and the right hand also holds muṣṭi hand downwards.[23]

6) Paraśurāma avatāra:

In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the kapittahasta is suggested to be used to identify the Paraśurāma avatāra of lord Viṣṇu.[24] In the Abhinayadarpaṇa, we find the guideline of making hastamudrā for this avatāra as-the left hand should place in the waist and the ardhapatākahasta is held by the right hand.[25]

7) Halirāma avatāra:

In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the term Balarāma is used to denote the Halirāma avatāra. According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, Balarāma or Halirāma avatāra is identified with the patākahasta.[26] The Abhinayadarpaṇa also accepts the patākahasta to denote the gesture of Halirāma avatāra with right hand and the left hand should hold the muṣṭi posture.[27]

8) Śrīrāma avatāra:

In the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the word Dāśarathī is used to indicate the incarnation of Śrīrāma. The term dāśarathī means the son of Dāśaratha i.e., Rāma.[28] According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, Dāśarathī i.e., the incarnation of Rāma is recognized with the two joined śikhara hands.[29] But in the Abhinayadarpaṇa, it is suggested that-to show the incarnation of Śrīrāma, the artist should hold the kapitthahasta by right hand and śikharahasta by left hand. The view point of the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa is totally different from the Abhinayadarpaṇa in this context.

9) Kṛṣṇa avatāra: According to the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the Kṛṣṇa avatāra is portrayed with patāka hand.[30] But the view point of the Abhinayadarpaṇa is totally different from the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa in this context. According to the Abhinayadarpaṇa, to manifest the Kṛṣṇa avatāra, the dancer should hold the mṛgaśīrṣa posture with both hands and both hands should be kept like facing each other.[31]

10) Kalkī avatāra:

The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa does not talk about the Kalkī avatāra of lord Viṣṇu. In the Abhinayadarpaṇa, the Kalkī avatāra is portrayed with a patāka hand held by the right hand and tripatāka hand by the left one.[32]

Footnotes and references:


Garuḍapurāṇam, Vol.1, 86.10-11


Padmapurāṇa, part.7, 66.51


Liṅgapurāṇa, part.2, 48.32-32


V.S Apte, The Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.247


Ibid., p.59


[...] Śrīmadbhagavadgītā, 4.7-8


Abhinayadarpaṇa, 216-225


Nāmgoṣā, 3


[...] Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32 p.91


karap opari nyasto yatra hastastvadhomukha /
kiñcitprasāritāṅguṣṭhakaniṣṭo matsyanāmakaḥ/ Abhinayadarpaṇa, 196


V.S Apte, The Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.157


[...] Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32, p.91


kuñcit gr guli cakre tyakt gu akani haka / kūrmahastaḥ sa vijñeyaḥ kūrmārthe viniyujyate/ Abhinayadarpaṇa, 197


V.S Apte, The Student’s Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.492


[...] Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32 p.90


mṛgaśīrṣe tvanyatare svopayerkaḥ sthite yadi/ kaniṣṭhāṅguṣṭhayoryogādvarāhakara īritaḥ/ Abhinayadarpaṇa, 198


aḥ kāro pṛthaglagno nṛsiṃhaḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32.p.91


[...] Ibid., 3.32.p.91


[...] Abhinayadarpaṇa, 219


Monier Monier Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p.941


[...] Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32.p.91


[...] Ibid., 3.32.p.90


rdhv dho dh tamu ibhy savy ny bhy yadi sthita / sa vāmanāvatārasya hasta ityabhidhīyate// Abhinayadarpaṇa, 220


[...] Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32 p.90


[...] Abhinayadarpaṇa, 221


tripatāko baladevaḥ/ Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32 p.90


[...] Abhinayadarpaṇa, 223


[...] Śabdakalpadruma, Vol.2, p.706


[...] Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.32 p.91


[...] Ibid.,3.32 p.90


[...] Abhinayadarpaṇa, 224


[...] Ibid.,225

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