Himalayan Art Resources

Glossary: Hand Gestures & Mudras

Hand Gestures & Mudras Glossary | Hand Gestures Main Page | Glossary Main Page

Gestures in Alphabetical Order:

Blessing, or explication of the teaching: with the right hand raised to the level of the heart and the first finger and thumb touching and the three remaining fingers pointing upward. Alternately the gesture is sometimes depicted as simply the open palm facing out and the thumb and index finger do not touch. This is the hand gesture of Amoghsiddhi Buddha and also for many depictions of Tibetan teachers. Many depictions of Tibetan teachers have the right hand held up with the first finger and thumb touching to represent the spout of an initiation vase. The three up raised fingers represent the peacock feathers (see examples of an initiation vase).

Demon subduing gesture: with the two ring fingers interlocked at the level of the heart. Generally only found with the deity Bhutadamara Vajrapani. There are also different versions of the mudra based on varying descriptions in the Tantric commentary literature.

Display of Miracles: a gesture of Shakyamuni Buddha where the right arm is held out slightly to the side with the palm open and the extended fingers pointing upward.

Earth touching: originating with Shakyamuni Buddha, the right hand is extended across the knee withe fingers bent down touching the earth.

Embrace, or Embracing gesture: this is similar to the vajra embracing gesture except without the vajra and bell held in the right and left hands. Manjuvajra Namasangiti is commonly depicted with this gesture.

Essence of Enlightenment, or Vajra gesture: originating with Vairochana Buddha, the right hand grasps the upward pointing left index finger.

Flaming, or dakini gesture: arising from the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras, the first fingers and thumbs of the two hands are touching and thew palms are facing out. The gesture is performed at the forehead.

Generosity: associated with Ratnasambhava Buddha and then more commonly with the deity Green Tara. The right hand is placed across the right knee with the palm facing out and the fingers extended downward.

Humkara gesture: a special gesture associated exclusively with the wrathful deity Humkara. The gesture is not clearly described and can appear differently in painting and sculpture. It does however seem to be visually related to the Demon Subduing gesture.

Meditation: with the two hands placed in the lap, right over left, palms up. The Bon religion places the hands palm left over right.

Nagaraja gesture: exclusive to Nagaraja Buddha, the two hands are placed at the heart making a fist with the two index fingers pointing straight up.

Pointing (Wrathful) gesture: with the right or left hand making a pointing gesture with the index finger. This gesture is most often associated with the Indian mahasiddha Virupa.

Prayer, respectful (anjali) gesture: with the two hands joined together at the heart with the palms touching. In the Buddhist tradition the palms should be curved to create an open space with only the fingers, thumbs and heel of the palms touching.

Protection gesture: with the right arm resting on the right knee and the open hand with the palm facing out - slightly raised.

Teaching the Dharma: a gesture originating with Shakyamuni Buddha, the two hands are placed at the level of the heart with the thumb and index finger of each hand touching and the three outstretched fingers of each hand roughly making the shape of a circle - symbolizing the eight spoke wheel.

Vajra, or Essence of Enlightenment gesture: most commonly associated with Vairochana Buddha. The right index finger is pointing upwards at the level of the heart and the left hand fully encloses the right index finger.

Vajra embrace gesture: most commonly associated with the primordial Buddha Vajradhara and Heruka Vajrasattva, with the two hands crossed at the heart - often holding a vajra and bell.

Wrathful gesture: with the right or left hand making a pointing gesture with the index finger. This gesture is most often associated with the Indian mahasiddha Virupa.

Jeff Watt, July 29th, 2010 [updated 6-2017]