In the Vedic tradition, hand analysis falls in the category of Samudrika Shastra, a Sanskrit term that translates roughly as "knowledge of [body] features." This tradition assumes that every natural or acquired bodily mark encodes its owner's psychology and destiny. Elevation, depression, elongation, diminution, and other marks become relevant. Traditional stories in India thus abound with descriptions of rare auspicious markings found on the bodies of memorable people. As proof, legends about the Rama and Krishna Avataras, Gautama the Buddha, and Mahavira the Tirthankara conform to this tradition. Indeed, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains share this ancient Samudrika Shastra tradition. Not to be outdone, fragments of it pop up in other cultures as well. Phrenology and face reading evoke its principles. Modern body groupings such as ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph also mimic the ancient Samudrika Shastra's impulse.
Hasta Samudrika Shastra
Features analyzed in Samudrika Shastra may belong to any part of the physique. Those marks found on the human hand, however, form a specialized study known within the Vedic tradition as Hasta Samudrika Shastra. Praised in antiquity, Hasta Samudrika Shastra confines itself to the hand because Hasta means "hand." Thought to be more expressive than even the face, the human hand thus becomes a Darpana, a mirror, that reflects its owner's nature and fate.
Hasta Samudrika Shastra thus serves as a sanctioned collection of ancient rules for hand analysis. Its doctrine describes the art of knowing both character and fortune from the hand. Perpetuated by initiated members of special clans, wardens of long-established methods, this knowledge travels orally to those thought worthy recipients.Although manuscripts play a role in that transmission, the written word alone forms too fragile a thread to sustain the warp and woof of a durable, robust Hasta Samudrika Shastra.
This tradition, like other sacred Vedic traditions, therefore relies on living teachers to teach worthy students who, in turn, teach new pupils in an unbroken mentor-disciple chain that spans many generations. Along the way, manuscripts work as loose outlines for teachers to follow, fill in, expand, and clarify for their students.
In oversimplified terms, many think of Hasta Samudrika Shastra as Indian palmistry. But to think of it thus is to impoverish this sacred tradition, to shear it of its roots, to pluck its foliage. It is to strip it of its life and self-expression. Like all growth that sprouts from the Vedic tradition's nutrient soil, Hasta Samudrika Shastra throbs with the sap of the sublime life vision expounded by the Rishis, the Vedic mystics of old, who populate ancient humanity's unwritten history.
Samudrika Shastra and Jyotisha
A unique trait of both Samudrika and Hasta Samudrika Shastra is its pervasive link to Jyotisha Shastra, a Sanskrit term for Vedic astronomy and astrology. Shariraka Shastra (Body Knowledge) is the title of but one representative classical Sanskrit work. It holds a large section devoted to Hasta Samudrika Shastra. As implied by its name, the manuscript outlines interpretation of general physique; however, most of its verses deal with the hand. The work specifically describes slightly more than one hundred and fifty lines that may appear on the right or left hand. What surprises most Westerners about the manuscript, however, is its format, which is so typical of classical Hasta Samudrika Shastra manuscripts. The treatise, like others, describes elements of Jyotisha which, to this day, remains an inextricable theme in genuine, classical Indian hand analysis.
Some relevant Vedic treatises mingle hand analysis and Jyotisha to the extent that a Western student is hard-pressed to decide if the manuscript deals chiefly with Hasta Samudrika or Jyotisha Shastra. Even the hint of a faint equivalent disturbs many modern Western hand analysts, who devote themselves to erasing all astrological references such as "Jupiter finger" or "Mount of Venus" from their tradition. They do so to make it more acceptable to present-day science.
True practitioners of Hasta Samudrika Shastra take the opposite approach. They revel in including Jyotisha in their hand analysis methods. Without Jyotisha, they view Hasta Samudrika as over-pruned, cut away from its Jyotishical trunk. For a handful of Westerners to assert that Jyotisha contaminates hand analysis is akin to allopathic doctors declaring meridians pollute acupuncture because of their esoteric Taoist roots. If gypsies were the vehicle for palmistry's entry into the West, if gypsies indeed were the itinerant Indian clans historians believe them to have been, then astrological references in Western palmistry may be vestiges of a common ancient astrology-based tradition of hand analysis. Much like acupuncture, such a system has a right to thrive within the context of its own principles, irrespective of fashionable opinions.
Hearing that Hasta Samudrika Shastra integrates parts of Jyotisha Shastra is one thing, knowing the extent of this alliance is another matter even for those Westerners keen on Jyotisha. Skilled Samudrikas, professionals who practice the art of body and hand analysis to divine character and destiny, use dense technical matter like the fifteen tithis (lunar phases) of shuklapaksha (the moon's bright fortnight) and krishnapaksha (the moon's dark fortnight), Chandra Nadi (the lunar pulse) and Surya Nadi (the solar pulse), the twelve Rashis (zodiacal constellations), the twenty-seven nakshatras (lunar asterisms), and other purely jyotishical components and procedures. The integration quickly overwhelms casual students who lack the benefit of years of training and practice. Like many classical Indian traditions, learning and doing Hasta Samudrika Shastra needs effort, time, and patience.