When Hands Express
The word hand gestures generally mean the figure works of the hand fingers. In the day to day human life, besides the oral language, the hand gesture language also plays a vital role. The oral languages of the people differ from place to place and country to country. Even the style of speaking of the same oral language also differs from one area to other. But the hand gesture language is same to all over the world.
The hand gesture language plays important role in the Indian classical dances, to interpret the meaning of the songs. Among the classical dances of the world, the Indian classical dances occupy an important place in the world which are intermingled and close to day to day life of the masses. The facial expressions and the hand gesture language used by the humans, all over the world are the same.
Single hand gestures
In the Indian classical dances, the hand gestures are generally divided into two major categories. One is single hand gestures and the other is double hand gestures. The number of gestures generally differs from text to text. In Bharatha Natyam the total number of single hand gestures is around 30 to 32. Meanwhile the total number of double hand gestures used in Bharatha Natyam is around 28 to 30. Anyhow two or three different types of hand gestures are illustrated under one name.
Both these single hand gestures and double hand gestures are further divided into two more categories. One is Ellil hands, (beauty hands, or grace hands). And the other is Thollil Hands (working hands) to illustrate the meaning of the songs. Ellil hands are used only in adavus (steps).
This category of Ellil gestures are only used in the Nirtha division of dance. That’s why these hands are often called Nirtha hands or Nirtha hasthas. These hands do not reveal any meaning but add beauty to the hands. More or less altogether 13 gestures are included in this category including some single hand gestures and some double hand gestures.
Double hand gestures
The gestures used for Abinaya (interpretation of the meaning of the song), are called Nirthya hasthas or Nirthya gestures. In this category, all the single and double hand gestures are used.
In Sanskrit, the gestures are called Hasthas. The single hand gestures are called Asamutha Hasthas and double hand gestures are called Samutha Hasthas. Yet the total number of gestures differs from text to text.
Each gesture has numerous usages. The use of each gesture is clearly described in various ancient texts. Yet in Bharatha Natyam and in other South Indian classical dances we still use these gestures with the same sense and effect with the same prescribed illustrations in texts.
Among all the Indian classical dance forms, Bharatha Natyam, Kathakali, Kuchupidi, Oddissi, and Mohini Attam use the hand gestures widely. But some dance forms only use a certain restricted number of hand gestures. Among all the India classical dance forms, Bharatha Natyam and Kuchupidi use the maximum number of hand gestures.
Normally the role of gestures is not clearly and firmly demarcated within a chosen limit. Practically the use or handling the hand gestures totally depended on the imaginative creativity of each individual artiste, and the personal ability of the artiste in the Nirthya aspect of dance.
Indian classical forms
In Kathakali the gestures are used on the basis of the ancient text Hastha Lakshana Deepika. Altogether more or less 24 fundamental gestures are used in Kathakali. Like most of the other Indian classical forms, in Kathakali the meaning of the songs, (moods and emotions) are illustrated, expressed and interpreted through facial expressions and hand gestures (hasthas).
In Odissi, like Bharatha Natyam, hasthas or hand gestures are used in pure Nirtha and Nirthya. Abinaya Darpana is an ancient Sanskirit text believed to have been written by Nanthikeswarar.
This is the main source for the dancers to learn about the hand gestures. Beside this, various treatises are available to provide valuable information regarding the hand gestures. Like Bharatha Natyam and Kathakali, Oddissi also derives its hand gesture source from Abhinaya Darpanam and Abinaya Chandrika.
The Andhra Pradesh classical dance form Kuchupidi which, has its close links with Tamil Nadu classical dance form Bharath Natyam. Hence both these classical dance forms use the hand gestures extensively in Nirtha and Nirthya. Kuchupidi is a drama based classical dance form, which uses more realistic and dramatic expressions in the dance. Hence it extensively uses more facial expressions and hand gestures.
Mohini Attam which is another attractive classical dance form. It is a fusion dance form of Bharatha Natyam and Kathakali. It also uses the same hand gestures to a great extent. Meanwhile many times various varieties of folk dances are used in numerous traditional hand gestures to interpret the meaning of the songs.
Another division of hand gestures is called sculptural gestures. These sculptural hasthas or sculptural gestures look almost similar to dance gestures. But essentially and basically the use of the sculptural gestures differs from the dance gestures to certain extent. These hand gestures are often referred to as Kai Ammaithi in Tamil.
The Hindu temple towers are always decorated with sculptures and sculptural gestures. These hand gestures are used to interpret the meaning of the religious epics. Meanwhile, in dance, the poses and abhinaya are used to interpret the meaning of the songs through gestures. The sculptural gestures are carved in stones or made out of the combined mixture of cement, but sometimes the shapes are quite different from the natural dance hand gestures. (Dr Subashini Pathmanathan-dailynews)