How G Venu created Mudra notations for three of Kerala’s dance forms Kathakali, Mohiniyattam and Kudiyattam.

The hand gestures(Mudra) used in Mohiniyaṭṭam are mostly drawn from the Hastalakṣaṇadipika, an authoritative text on the subject in Kerala. But, each dance form has brought about its own minor alterations in the pattern and presentation of these hastamudras to suit its own special needs. It would be seen that Mohiniyaṭṭam has accepted the basic mudras like Patakam, Mudrakhyam, Kaṭakam etc. – twenty-four of them – detailed in Hastalakṣaṇadipika. Over and above these, some mudras form other classical texts like Balaramabharatam and Abhinaya Darppaṇam find a place in Mohiniyaṭṭam dance.

The following mudras depicted are based on a notation system devised by G. Venu for delineating the mudras of Kathakali, Mohiniyattam and Kutiyattam. This notation system was first published in the year 1968 as ‘Alphabet of gestures in Kathakali’.  

G Venu

The movements and methods of using these mudras and their usages are added in detail and the signs needed to understand it should be known. Let’s start with them.

System of Notation

Alphabet of basic mudra-s illustrates the three views of the hand (hasta)

 For instance, see the below figure

  1. In this frontal view of the hand, the palm is held vertically outwards; the cross inside the palm is just to indicate the line on it so that the position of the palm is well indicated.
  2. When the palm is held inwards, showing the exterior portion of the palm, the absence of the cross is a sufficient indication of the position of the palm.
  3. Profile view of the hand.

Alphabet representing the twentyfour basic mudras


Symbols denoting the different directions of the palm. These symbols are generally of help in portraying every mudra.

These symbols have been shown in certain places in a slanting position. It is to indicate that the dancer must hold his palm in a similar slanting position in those contexts.


The movement of the palm with the wrist as the pivotal base.

Assisted by Sreekanth Janardhanan

Photo Courtesy: Natanakairali Archives

Nirmala Paniker

Guru Nirmala Paniker is a danseuse, choreographer and researcher of repute. She established Natanakaisiki, the dance research and training wing of Natanakairali.

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