Namaste. Even if you do not use it yourself, you have probably heard it said many times. The young say it to the old and the old say it to each other. Even VIPs use it to greet the masses. What does it really mean? Is it as simple as a mere ‘hello’? Not quite! The ancient salutation and valediction so often exchanged as part of many Indian customs has a wealth of meaning, one that makes its usage incredibly impactful.
In today’s incredibly busy world, we greet people with a quick ‘hello, how are you?’ without really giving much thought. Once the niceties are hurriedly dispensed with, we move on to more important matters. But namaste is different. It is a salutation, of course, but it goes much deeper than just acknowledging someone’s presence. By saying it, you are humbling yourself and showing the other respect, no matter if it is a parent, an uncle or an acquaintance with whom you share nothing but small talk.
Namaste is one of those layered words. It is a respectful salutation but it also has spiritual connotations. In fact, the literal meaning is ‘I bow to you’. Namah means bow and te means you. If you dig deeper, you will find that it acknowledges and bows to the divine in the other person just as the divine resides in oneself. By saying namaste, our sense of ego is taken down and we accept and recognize that we are bowing to the divine. Our façade is stripped so that only our souls remain and connect even if for just a brief moment. It is an incredible exchange!
Actions speak louder than words
Namaste can be uttered by itself but the depth of meaning is enhanced many times over when you accompany it with a gesture that is as simple as it is powerful. Rooted in the brow chakra or the third eye, the arms bend at the elbows and the palms meet each other in the anjali mudra, where anjali means to offer and mudra means to seal. The head dips forward to meet the tips of the fingers and as you say namaste, you are acknowledging a meeting of two minds. This beautiful gesture has even more meaning in yoga. The spiritual heart, envisioned as a flower in the center of the chest, is encouraged to open through anjali mudra.
From the north to the south
Namaste is a custom that is practiced almost all over the country, usually by those of the Hindu faith. If you are in Tamil Nadu, you would say vanakkam and if you are in Andhra Pradesh, Telengana or other Telegu-speaking regions, you would say namaskara. Come to Assam and it is nomoskar; head down towards West Bengal and it is nomoshkar. No matter its regional variances, however, the heart of it remains the same!
Acknowledging another person’s essence is not something many of us do today. The fast-paced nature of our lives leaves us with little time to stop and exchange pleasantries let alone appreciate another’s physical, mental and divine state! But, maybe the next time you greet someone or bid them farewell, you will think of an ancient custom, one that goes beyond a mere salutation and valediction and embodies humility and spirituality. Maybe you will choose to create a connection through a namaste.
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