A mudra is a symbolic gesture usually made with the hand or fingers. Along with asanas (seated postures), they are employed in the yoga meditation practice of Hinduism. Each mudra has a specific quality that is said to be imparted to the practitioner, and they are a central part of Hindu iconography. With the onset of Buddhism, many mudra practices were absorbed into the culture.
The Abhaya "No-fear" Mudra represents protection, peace, benevolence, and dispelling of fear. In the Theravada it is usually made with the right hand raised to the shoulder's height, the arm bent and the palm facing outward with the fingers upright and joined and the left hand hanging down on the right side of the body while standing. This gesture was used by the Buddha when attacked by an elephant, subduing it as shown in several frescoes and scripts.
The Bhumisparsa "Earth-touching" Mudra literally represents the Buddha as taking the earth as witness. It represents the moment when Buddha took the earth as testimony when he had resolved the problem of cessation of suffering while he was under the papal tree at Bodh-Gaya. The right hand touches the ground with the fingertips near the right knee extended or with only the index pointing down touching the ground with the left hand commonly resting on the lap with the palm facing up.
The Dharmachakra Mudra represents a central moment in the life of Buddha when he preached his first sermon after his Enlightenment, in Deer Park in Sarnath. Gautama Buddha is generally only shown making this Mudra, save Maitreya as the dispenser of the Law. This Mudra position represents the turning of the wheel of the Dharma. Dharmacakra Mudra is formed when two hands close together in front of the chest in Vitarka having the right palm forward and the left palm upward, sometimes facing the chest.
The Dhyana Mudra is the gesture of meditation, of the concentration of the Good Law and the Sangha. The two hands are placed on the lap, right hand on left with fingers fully stretched and the palms facing upwards, forming a triangle, symbolic of the spiritual fire or the Triratna, the three jewels. This Mudra is used in representations of the Buddha Sakyamuni and the Buddha Amitabha.
The Varda Mudra signifies offering, welcome, charity, giving, compassion and sincerity. It is nearly always used with the left hand for those whom devote oneself to human salvation. It can be made with the arm crooked the palm offered slightly turned up or in the case of the arm facing down the palm presented with the fingers upright or slightly bent. The Varda Mudra is rarely seen without using another mudra used by the right hand, typically with the Abhaya Mudra. It is often confused with the Vitarka Mudra, which it closely resembles.
The Vajra Mudra is the gesture of knowledge. It is made making a fist with the right hand, index extending upward, and the left hand also making a fist and enclosing the index.
The Vitarka Mudra is the gesture of discussion and transmission of Buddhist teaching. It is done by joining the tips of the thumb and the index together, and keeping the other fingers straight very much like Abhaya and Varada Mudras but with the thumbs touching the index fingers. This mudra has a great number of variants in Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia.