Questions Regarding the Word Mudra: A Preliminary Survey of Gestures on Indian Icons and their Designation

Fig. 13: Śiva as Lord of Dance (Natarāja)
11th century
India: Tamil Nadu
32 ¾ x 24 x 11 ½ in (83.2 x 61.0 x 29.2 cm).

Norton Simon Art Foundation.

His left front arm is thrown across the front of his body in gaja hasta, like the trunk of an elephant. This dancing figure accompanies himself with ankle-bells and a small drum in his back right hand. His front right hand, with its thumb separated, forms the classic dance gesture half-moon hand, ardha-candra hasta. Note well, the crescent moon in his headdress. Coomaraswamy, in The Mirror of Gesture, reproduces, Plate VII, a detail of a hand on a similar sculpture with the caption "r.h. ardha-candra making abhaya mudrā;" and his Plate I is a photograph of a similar Shiva in the Madras Musum, captioned simply "second right hand in abhaya mudrā." On all these sculptures, the front right hand is in nearly the same pose as the photograph in Coomaraswmy's Plate XV showing an unnamed female dancer demonstrating, his caption says, "both hands ardha-candra, for pataka," whatever that is supposed to mean; the thumb is extended so it is not pataka. See my figure 6 (of Coomaraswamy's plate X, corrected) for the difference between ardha-candra and pataka. Even more, Coomaraswamy's very own book tells us, page 29, as I have quoted in Part 4, that "ardha-candra (half-moon) hand originates from the desire of Śiva for ornaments, of which the moon is one." In spite of all this, Coomaraswamy offers us "abhaya mudrā."