The term mudra is derived from the root mud, “to please,” and in its upasana form is so called because it gives pleasure to the Devas. Devanam moda-da mudra tasmat tam yatnatascaret. It is said that there are 108, of which 55 are commonly used.(1)
The term means ritual gestures made with the hands in worship or positions of the body in yoga practice. Thus of the first class the matsya-(fish) mudra is formed in offering arghya by placing the right hand on the back of the left and extending, fish-like, on each side the two thumbs with the object that the conch which contains water may be regarded as an ocean with aquatic animals; and the yoni-mudra which presents that organ as a triangle formed by the thumbs, the two first fingers, and the two little fingers is shown with the object of invoking the Devi to come and take Her place before the worshipper, the yoni being considered to be Her pitha or yantra.
The upasana mudra is thus nothing but the outward expression of inner resolve which it at the same time intensifies. Mudras are employed in worship (arcana), japa, dhyana (q.v.), kamya-karma (rites done to effect particular objects), pratistha (q.v.), snana (bathing), avahana (welcoming), naivedya (offering of food), and visarjana, or dismissal of the Devata, Some mudras of hatha yoga are described sub voc, “Yoga”. The Gheranda-samhita (2) says that knowledge of the yoga rnudras grants all siddhis, and that their performance produces physical benefits such as stability, firmness, and cure of disease.
1. S’abda-kalpa-druma-e-sus voc mudra,and see chap.xi. Nirvana Tantra. As to the special sense of mudra in pancatattva. vide post sub voc.
2. Chapter III, verses 4, 8, 10.