Mudra and the Modern World

in Article
Published on: 10 October 2018

Lokeshwari Dasgupta

A Kathak dancer currently posted in Beijing by ICCR as a classical dance teacher cum performer. Lokeshwari Dasgupta was trained in Kathak by her mother, Surangama Lala Dasgupta. She has an MPhil in Women Studies from Jadavpur University.

When I refer to the ‘modern world’, I largely mean the last 30–40 years. To understand the characteristics of the modern world, one has to develop a deep sociological understanding of the evolution of society. However, in this article, I will discuss the relationship between mudras and the present. The term ‘modern’ encompasses not only the sociological aspects of our lives, but also the economic, political, environmental, and cultural. This discussion, however, will focus on daily living, as well as the cultural and sociological aspects of human life.


Mudras are an ancient part of Indian culture; they form an integral part of classical dances, yoga, and religious practices in India. Most cultures in the world today have survived for several centuries and generations. In my opinion, classical cultures have the capacity to adapt to new developments and change with time. Thus, I would argue that contemporary cultures are also classical. In fact, mythological narratives disseminated through these classical art forms continue to attract audiences, independent of the era. Thus, classical cultures never actually die.


Now, let’s come to the mudras. It is clear that they are very important to classical dance, yoga, and religious rituals in India. Yoga, as we know, is an activity that is popular across the world. Currently, it is considered one of the best ways to stay healthy and is even recommended during recovery from physical ailments. In yoga, practitioners use their fingers and the fingertips to create mudras while practising various yoga positions and asanas. Thus, when we practise yoga, we utilise mudras.


For various reasons, creating mudras is easiest for those from the Indian subcontinent. Physiologically, our fingers are flexible and are well suited for it. After that comes other Asian countries like China, Thailand, etc. On the other hand, they are harder for Westerners to master. However, through dedicated practice, it is possible for them to understand it, either from trying yoga, or while learning Indian dances. They are usually fascinated by the fact that it is possible to create such beautiful images with just one’s hands and fingers. Moreover, the ability to communicate with the help of mudras is indeed a special advantage.


In our modern age, where we mostly use our fingers to type or handle a mouse—it is indeed a welcome change to be able to create a flower or a bird with one’s fingers. Thus, for me, as a classical dancer and historian, the use of mudras in daily life is indeed important. Mudras should not be bound to the learning of Indian classical dance alone. After all, it gives us the power to communicate not only with others, but also with our own selves. Today, few meditate, introspect, or explore their creativity. The entire system, the wretched rat-race where one is always hurrying to get ahead, is quite counterproductive.


Using mudras in our daily lives would be a simple, yet noteworthy, way to relax. It is innovative and practical, and could provide some much-needed recreation. It has the power to recreate a blooming flower even if we don’t have the time to see a real flower blooming; or perhaps, while creating a flying bird, it will tempt us to look up at the sky above and spot a real flying bird. In other words, mudras bring back aesthetics and creativity into our lives and also reconnects us with our feelings and souls. Thus, this beautiful part of our traditional culture inspires us to go beyond our mechanical world and opens new vistas in our lives.