Human hand evolution and hastas (continued)
In a previous post, we saw that there may be something very specific and unique about human hands, and how our hands and brains work together. We also looked at hand evolution, which evolved perhaps first for self-defense, and then for gesturing and communicating.
Our hands are incredible feats of nature - we are able to pick soft rose flower petals, play jump rope, embroider and crochet, and lift heavy weights. We can also feel with our hands - we are able to perceive the difference between hot tea and cold water, sandpaper and silk, a peach, and a nectarine. In fact, the Sanskrit word “Kar” (for hand) is also the word for “doing” or “making”. Hence, our hands are culturally and linguistically tied to creation, to the physical act of making things and making ideas through gestures.
Bharatanatyam is distinguished in the ways it precisely and systematically uses hand gestures for aesthetics and communication. The Abhinaya Darpana  describes and systematizes a large number of gestures (hastas) and symbols for the Devas (Gods), the planets, famous emperors, seven oceans, famous rivers, trees, animals, flying creatures, and water creatures. These hastas also give us an insight into the geography of India at the time of writing the texts, as there are references to local vegetation and animals; in this way, the study of the hastas is also an in-depth study of history and geography. Through Bharatanatyam and its use of hastas, history is being stored in our hands and dance.
Left: Original Roti (OG Roti) at Animal Help Foundation. Picture credit: Eva Marie Veroeveren
Right: A hasta prescribed in the Abhinaya Darpana  called "Madhya-Pataka" where the little finger of the Pataka is bent. This hasta is used to symbolize a dog.
The arts, conflict resolution, and leadership skills
For the Summer Skill Sessions as part of Emerging Women Leaders in Global Health Network (EDGE) in August 2023, I led a session on how the arts for conflict resolution and how these skills may be used to hone our leadership capabilities.
A link to the video is below, as are the slides:
Human hand evolution and hastas...
We use our hands for everything we do but rarely think about how our hands evolved. Indeed, the evolution of human hands could be the story of human evolution!
In the next several posts, I will explore what is so special about human hands, how scientists think our hands evolved for holding, throwing, and gesturing, and how our brains and hands work together. I will also link human hand evolution with hastas in Bharatanatyam, an art form that makes use of a large and distinct set of specific hand gestures (hastas) to communicate narrative and emotions.
My name is Sloka. I am a neuroscientist and dancer; you can find more about me here.