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The storyteller's bag of tools

In the video above you see Preeti use a mixed bag of facial expressions and hand gestures ("mudras").

Now let's break this down: you'll find a series of short video clips below, in which Preeti demonstrates each gesture and the facial expressions she's chosen to use.


For each one, she includes the name in Sanskrit (the classical language of India) and some further examples and applications.

Meet the mudras

First we'll look at hand gestures. Every culture uses its hands for expression. Preeti grew up learning Indian classical dance (bharatanatyam) in South India where gestures are classified in minute detail. Each gesture has specific meanings and applications.

Kurmam (tortoise)

Mrgasirsham  (animal head)

Taamrachoodam (cocks comb)

Facial expressions

In Indian dance and theatre, the face is a key tool for communicating emotion—Indian dancers and actors train for years to perfect their control of their facial muscles!


There are many techniques to isolate the movements of the face, which are classified as "bheda" (BAY-dah). Indian classical performer uses these in combination to create an emotional mood under what is called "saatvika abhinaya" (SAAT-vika ab-in-EYE-a).


In particular, watch these short demo videos to see how Preeti manipulates different aspects of facial expression (eyes, lips, eyebrows etc.) to create the emotional effect.

Bhayaanakam (fear)

Haasyam (laughter)

Breaking down the performance 

There's a lot going on in Indian classical dance, even in a short performance such as "Three Friends." In the video below Preeti talks you through how she's using the classical gestural vocabulary to tell the story.

Ask Preeti

As you've seen by now, bharatanatyam uses a lot of hand gestures. Some of them can look quite similar. So which gestures should be used when?

On a sunny afternoon, we took our video camera into the garden to ask Preeti...

(If you have questions for Preeti send them to

What are the new gestures in this story?

A gesture to represent both an antelope's hoofprints and...a computer???

How do you make a tortoise out of two hands?

Think you're an expert already? Try this quiz!


Now it's your turn. We challenge you to create a story inspired by the Hare in the Moon. You can take as your starting point the hare....or the moon...or anything.


Record a video of yourself performing your story (no longer than two minutes).


The story could be totally new—made up by you. Or it could be a story from your own culture. The only rules are that you MUST:

  • Use the MRGASIRSHAM ("animal head") gesture at least once

  • Use facial expression BHAYAANAKAM (fear)

Remember that the gestures have multiple applications—you could even invent a new meaning for the gesture.

Send your videos (via a link to YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram or equivalent) to us at We'll publish as many as we can on this site!

Collaborators (Mal & BhuKo)
Mal Three Friends

Meet our global collaborators...

Mal is a much sought-after collaborator for choreographers around the world both as a percussionist and composer. In this video he talks through his creative process—how he came up with themes and textures to support Preeti's storytelling.

Mal lives in the East Village of Manhattan with his partner Judy and a large collection of percussion instruments from around the world. You can groove to more of his sounds on SoundCloud here.

Bhumenjoy is a multi-talented illustrator and animator based in Manipur, in the far North East of India. He's worked with Preeti on many previous projects, and also works with major corporations as a commercial animator.


In 2008 Bhumenjoy directed a feature-length animated feature film called "Tiger Head", based on an epic tale from his native Manipur (see trailer here). His website is

Bhumenjoy Konsam, Illustrator

Manipur, India

Mal Stein, Composer

New York, USA

Our learning partners

FA Learn Interactive.png

We loved collaborating with online learning experts Learn Interactive on this project. If you're an artist or an arts organization looking to create online learning content in these challenging times, contact Learn Interactive who'll be delighted to discuss your project!

The TORTOISE in stories from around the world

Now that you've seen the tortoise in this Indian story, as one of the Three Friends. Let's see how other cultures express their creativity representing this slow and well-defended creature in their own stories and legends. Send us your image of a tortoise (or a turtle) and we'll add it to the site.

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