Hindu Mudras in Egyptian and Sumerian Statues


Picture: Egyptian Statue

What is a Mudra? Mudra is the hand gesture or the finger position. Gods or saintly persons who practise meditation or Yoga use Mudras. The Mudras are sacred, mysterious and magical. They can attract or distract people. They express lot of things. They are meaningful. They can give you certain powers.

The word Mudra is derived from two Sanskrit words: MODHANATH and DRAVANATH. The meaning is that which makes the Devas happy and that which gets rid of the sins. More over it fulfils the desires of the people who  practise them. The Sanskrit sloka says:

Modhanath sarva devanam

Dravanath papa santhathe:

Thasmath mudrethi sa kyatha

Sarva kamartha sadhani

Mudra Vidhanam, a book published by Ramakrishna Mutt lists 137 Mudras practised by the Hindus. Buddhists and Jains have added some more. So there are at least 150 recognised Mudras. But naturally the permutation and combination of hand and finger positions can give us hundreds of different Mudras. If one notices the hand and finger positions of Hindu Gods and Goddesses or the statues of the Buddha, one can easily learn about them.

Why did the Hindu Gods or the Buddha who was born a Hindu use them? The reason is they can give the practisers some power. Even in the modern culture, showing middle finger in western countries is rude. Recently a singer and a foot ball player were condemned for the rude gestures. So hand gestures are powerful.

Picture: Dharmachakra Mudra

In the classical dance called Bharatanatyam, there are lot of Mudras called Karanas. They are used to express feelings and give different messages. The books about Mudras are in Sanskrit. There are 108 different Mudras shown on the tower of Chidambaram temple where the Lord of Dance Nataraja/Shiva appears in his dancing form. The dance Mudras are different from Yoga Mudras. The Tantric Mudras are different from these two categories.

Mudras have been used by the Hindus for thousands of years. Egyptians and Sumerians have learnt them from the Hindus. The most famous Mudra is the Chin Mudra of Lord Dakshinamurthy (Shiva). Abhaya Mudra shown by all the Hindu Gods and saints is also famous. Chin Mudra gives one the divine wisdom. Abhaya Mudra gives us the message, “Why fear when I am here?”. Though Hindus invented them, Buddha was the one who mastered them. Every Buddha statue shows a different type of Mudra. Now the Buddhists have been talking about them in the meditation classes more than the Hindus.

Mudras in Egypt and Babylonia

If anyone has an eye for different gestures, one can notice the Egyptian and Sumerian Gods show different gestures. ( See the accompanying pictures).

Babylonian gods touches their shoulders with crossed hands. This is called Kavacham Mudra. This protects one like a shield. Other gods and goddesses show one hand touching the heart (chest). It is called Jnana Mudra. We are told that Lord Rama liked this very much.

Picture: Abu Temple Votive figures (Sumerian), 3000 BC

Lower hand facing up, usually on one lap is called Vara (boon) mudra. Hindu gods show Abhaya Mudra with one hand and Vara Mudra with another hand meaning “You don’t need to fear, I will give you the boons you ask for”.

Mudras affect the flow of energy in the body. By positioning the hands and fingers in a particular position one can channelize the energy. Jain Thirthankaras , Indus valley Statues and Egyptian Pharaohs keep their hanging hands straight. They resemble one another establishing some connection in the past. This Mudra is called Kayotsarga Mudra.


Picture: Egyptian Goddess Isis and god Horus


Hand on hand on the lap is called Buddha Mudra. We find it in Jain and Buddha statues.

Hindus use Mudras in the Puja, Meditation, Yoga Sadhana (Practice), Yagas (Fire Ceremonies) and Naivedhyam (food offerings). There are different types of Mudras for different Gods. Anna, a great Sanskrit scholar, has listed 137 Mudras under 12 different categories in his book Mudra Vidhanam (Ramakrishna Mutt Publication) .This is authentic. But several websites give us different types of Mudras with different interpretations without attributing the sources. So one wonders whether there is any basis for such interpretations.

Hindu Mudras in Egyptian and Sumerian Statues


Brahmins who do the daily ritual of Sandhyavandhana use Mudras and Nyasam. Brahmins do see the sun though the finger hole (not to damage the eye). Nyasam is touching different parts of body like head, mouth and heart with the right hand. Priests who do Siva Puja use lot of Mudras.  Those who want to learn about the Mudras should learn it from those who practise it instead of the websites and books. Websites and Books are only guides, and not Gurus.

Picture : Chidambaram temple 108 dance karanas

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Pictures of Jain Tirthankara and the Buddha