When we in India meet someone, or when we greet guests, it is common to press our palms together, hold them close to the chest, fingers pointing up, and say Namaste. Depending on where in India we live, we may also say Namaskar, Namaskaram or Vanakkam. The gesture and the appropriate word are also often used in parting. This is a habit which we learn in childhood, and practice all through life.
But have you ever wondered why we do that? It’s a small gesture, but it has deep meaning.
The word namaste comes from the Sanskrit word namaha, which means paying respect. So when we say namaste, namaskar, namaskaram or vanakkam, what we are doing is paying our respects to the person we are greeting or parting from.
There’s also a deeper meaning to this. The word can be broken up into Nama Hus Te – meaning, ‘I Bow to the Divine in You’. By saying namaste to someone, we say, ‘I see God in you’. That’s a great way of beginning a conversation or maintaining a relationship, isn’t it? When we tell ourselves that God is in the other person, we automatically treat him or her with respect and love.
The gesture that goes with the word namaste is also important. Science has shown that there are a lot of nerve endings in the palms of the hands. So when we bring our palms together, energy flows strongly through the body, and that is good for us.
Sometimes namaste is said without the accompanying gesture, sometimes just the gesture is made. Both mean the same thing.
It’s not only in India that the practice of saying namaste exists. It is also done in many other parts of south-east Asia, where the influence of Indian culture was felt.