Identifying Suchi and Tarjani

People have been pointing fingers for long and the inferences from them seem to be infinite. Imagine trying to infer intent from a pointed forefinger of a stone sculpture ! Yes, ideed, a pleasant chat on one such, lead to a wonderful lesson on Iconography. Take a look at these beautiful door guardians from Thakkolam ( thanks to kathie for bringing them up for discussion and Arvind and Varalaaru.com team for photographs and Mrs Subhashini for the sketches)


There are myriad of hand poses, but today the question is centered on two different hand postures – Hasta mudras, which look very similar – the Suchi and Tarjani.

We turn to Elements of Hindu Iconography by Sri Gopinath Rao for assistance.

“Suchi-hasta has been misunderstood by some Sanskrit scholars to mean the hand that carries a suchl or needle. ……………………….. But, like the Tarjani hasta, the Suchl-hasta, also denotes a hand-pose, in which the projected forefinger points to an object below, whereas in the tarjani-hasta the forefinger has to point upwards, as if the owner of the hand is warning or scolding another”

Let us take a closer look at the two door guardians.

Its really sad that such magnificent masterpieces in stone cannot be cleaned and maintained properly – infact one of the doorguardians seems to be pointing at the cockroaches troubling him while the other seems to point away from the ungainly intruders.

This seems a positive identification of the Tarjani hasta. How about the famed doorguardians of the Tanjore Big temple?

The distinction when comparing them to the sketches, seems a bit vague.

Are they pointing or warning or both?

We head back to the book to refer – Suchi hasta where the forefinger points to an object below

Let us try this on some classic examples.

The famed Kalarimurthy of Kodumbalur Moovar Koil.

Positively Suchi !

How about the famed Sculptural Monalisa – Darasuram Gajasamharamurthy?

Again its Suchi.

Now comes the trickier parts. These two exhibits from the V&A Museum London.

Obviously both are in the process of giving a discourse and we cannot take it as a threatening or warning gesture. Returning to refer again from the book, this interesting mention caught my eye. The description is of the famed Umasahita panel from Ellora


“Siva is herein holding in one of his left hands the upper part of the garment of his consort and keeps one of his right hands in the suchi pose and the other appears to be carrying a book. He is evidently giving out to Uma one of the puranas…….”

Now, the hand is evidently not pointing downwards. Now is Siva warning or scolding or just pointing out to his consort? Why is he holding her garment – maybe she is not attentive and he is….