The complex combination of people groups, languages, traditions and beliefs that makes up the Indian community may look like one eclectic mob. Yet this baffling community with all its differences is united by one common phrase, Namaste. Every Indian is taught to greet others by saying Namaste or Namaskaram at his/her mother’s knees. This Indian greeting is accompanied with the joining of both palms at the chest level and a slight bow. It is used to address young and old alike and is one of the few customs practiced uniformly throughout the Indian sub continent.
Namaste is made of two Sanskrit words, ‘Namas’ which means to bow and ‘te’ which means to you. The greeting goes beyond a casual hello and serves as a mark of deep respect and humility. Namaste is equally employed in formal and informal conversations in India. It is a greeting to welcome gatherings and also address elders and acquaintances. Interestingly, Namaste can also be used to end a conversation or speech. Indian dance forms also use this sign and traditional dancers address the audience with Namaste before and after performances.
Each Indian state uses the same gesture of greeting, but Namaste is translated in local regional languages. For example, in Tamil Nadu ‘Vanakkam’ is the word used for Namaste, accompanied with the pressing of hands and bow.
There are two other versions of the same greeting in use across India. One is where the palms pressed against each other are raised to the face. This is common in places of worship and conveys a deep devotion and piety along with respect and humility. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians use the pressing of palms and bow while at worship as a mark of reverence.
In the other version, the folded palms are raised above the head. This is generally done by politicians and those addressing mass gatherings as a means of conveying a respectful greeting to all.
Namaste is now widely known all through the globe and it is common even for Westerners to address Indians using this salutation. Nepal and some other Asian countries also use the same gesture of greeting.
India has gone through a serious of cultural adjustments through centuries and now handshakes are a very common form of greeting. However the Indian salutation Namaste is one practice that has defied changes and continues to be the heart and soul of Indian culture.
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