December 31, 2017 – the red-letter day in Tamil Nadu politics will henceforth be known as ‘The Day Thailavar Joined Politics‘. As Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, popularly known as the legend that is Rajinikanth, took to the stage at Raghavendra Mandapam in Chennai on Sunday to make the announcement, he stood tall and rebellious against the cheer of his fans in the audience, his right hand was raised in a yogic symbol – one that we’ll be seeing a lot of as Rajini works towards his promise of a spiritual political government.
A day later, a stately Rajinikanth sat in a pure white kurta, announcing his website “www.rajinimandram.org” to help his fans and followers coordinate politically under a painting of the same hasta-mudra emerging from a lotus encircled by a snake and set against a midnight blue-black background. The gesture is simple – the middle and ring fingers folded inwards with the thumb covering the nail-tips, while the index and little fingers stand straight. Many would remember it from his 2002 film Baba, which was actually a flop. Though the symbol went on to be used very frequently and popularly by Rajinikanth followers over the years, it’s interesting to note that the Superstar would choose a such a symbol from a film that didn’t do that well at the Box Office as his party symbol. That is, till one delves a little deeper.
That Rajinikanth is a spiritual person is a well-known fact. He has had several spiritual gurus over the decades and is said to have been influenced by teachers such as Sri Guru Babaji (popularly known as Mahavatar Babaji, with whom this symbol is also said to be associated) and Sri Raghavendrar. This symbol is a reflection of his spiritual and yogic leanings. The symbol of the lotus (India’s national flower) as one for purity of the body, mind and speech is well known; though one could make the connect with the BJP logo as well, since some have said that the actor could be part of the NDA. The snake circle can stand for rebirth, transformation, immortality and healing. But it’s the hasta-mudra that piques one’s interest. A careful look at the mudra would remind many of the Devil’s Horn hand gesture at rock concerts, but closer home, it’s actually reminiscent of the Apana Mudra, which aligns itself perfectly with Rajinikanth’s push for spiritual politics.
The actor-turned-politician said on Sunday, “The government has to be changed, the system has to be changed” and what better way to support this movement than with a symbol that stands for ‘detoxification and purification’ of the body, and his case Tamil Nadu politics, which he said “have shamed people… In the name of democracy, politicians are robbing us of our own money and our own land. We need to bring a change from the base. Truth, work and growth will be the three mantras of our party.”
The Apana yogic mudra is an extremely important one for the holistic health of the body as it combines the Vaayu Mudra (the bent middle finger) and the Prithvi Mudra (the bent ring finger) that help rejuvinate the body and, thus, decrease the chance of ailments caused by the fire and pitta elements of the body – effectively meaning waste and toxins. This is why practising the Apana Mudra is said to give relief from constipation, anuria, flatulence and piles. Such is said to be the power of this mudra that if one has a heart attack, making this mudra can even aid in preventing death.
This can be seen as an allegory for the kind of effect Rajinikanth hopes to bring about in state politics as he prepares to fight each and every assembly seat from Tamil Nadu in 2019.
But the yogic connotations of this mudra aside, in classical Indian dance, this mudra is akin to the Simhamukha, or Lion Face Mudra, which can yet again be representative of the larger-than-life persona that Rajinikanth holds.
The same Apana Mudra – with the fingers outstretched – when used in the classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi, symbolises the Lion, the king of the jungle, the brave and also one that will never back down from a fight to protect his pride. All qualities that are reminiscent of Rajini’s speech from Sunday: “I don’t want party cadres. I want guardians who can fight for people’s rights. And I’m just a people’s representative, who will oversee this army of guardians.” In the gestural lexicon of dance according to Abhinaya Darpana, this represents the lion-faced Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu (when held in combination with the Tripataka mudra on the right hand). The Narasimha avatar is known as a “great protector of his devotees”.
The same symbol also finds a Buddhist connect with the Karana Mudra, as has been seen in several paintings depicting Lord Buddha. It’s said that mudra has the power to remove negative energy and ward off evil.
Travel half the world to the other side and you will find a very similar symbol – that of the Devil’s Horn. As mentioned previously, heavy metal fans would make the connection with 1970s rock star Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath, who made it quite popular. Though he claimed that his grandmother used the apoptotic gesture to ward off evil (an interpretation often used in Italian and Mediterranean cultures as akin to the ‘evil eye’), over the decades it has been adopted by many. Most notably, by Gene Simmons of KISS, who even filed a petition for the trademark on the hand gesture in June 2017, but later abandoned it after a lot of public protest.
As it happens, the now ‘Rajini symbol’ traverses many cultures, and yet a single thread of ‘cleansing, purity and power’ runs through them all. For Rajinikanth fans, that could be indication enough of the political turmoil that Thailavar is expected to bring to the state of Tamil Nadu.