The Language of Gesture

H. A. Rose
1919 Folklore  
has recently contributed to the Verslagen en Mededeelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenscliappent Afd. Letterkunde, Se Reeks, Diet iv., 1 a valuable note (in English) on the Sign of the Spread Hand or " Five-finger token " (Pancangulika) in Pali Literature. This sign seems to have originated in gesture, and though few races are so dependent on that mode of expression as not to be able to converse without it, like the Bubis of West Africa who cannot talk in the dark, as among them "
more » ... among them " language depends so much on gesture," * few races exist who use nothing but the tongue to communicate ideas. Gesture, elaborately conventionalised, plays a great part in Indian iconography. 3 And such conventions must be of great antiquity, as is gesture i*self. In a curious passage of the Jatakas* the Great Being meets the lady Amara and thought, " Whether she be wed or not I do not know: I will ask her by hand gesture, and if she be wise she will understand." So standing afar off he clenched hi: fist. She understood that he was asking whether she had a husband, and spread out her hand-to signify that she was married. It would appear then that the original meaning of the open hand was freedom or liberty. But in Persia the clenched hand denote" besides austerity or violence, clo3e-fistedness, just as the spread hand signifies open handed* ness. 6 The spread hand, however, may express a very different sentiment in modern India, where gesture is still much used. Thus, in the Western Punjab, at least in two districts ot it, some of the gestures are peculiar, although, as in Europe a nod of the head means " yes," or " come," and a shake " denial-' A backward nod means inquiry, a click with a toss of the head means " no," jerking the fingers means " I do not know " 5 His diagram M is queried as a Kartari-Hasta,hwl it strongly suggests the side pieces of the katfir. ' J The Arts ani Crafts of India and Ceylon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, I9J3i pi. 9, p. 31. 'See, for instance, pi. 5 at p. 31 of Coomaraswamy, op. at. In plates 3 and 4 he figures two distinct forms of the vitarka mudra, which are. I believe, still commonly used in India, though their precise significances are not known to me, * See " With the Five Fingers," by Samarendranath Gupta, in Modern Keviet»t Calcutta, 1913, vii. p. 169.
doi:10.1080/0015587x.1919.9719112 fatcat:abgfok7rwfgp5e2ufa5xcv2cnu