Namaste: The Evolved Trend in the Pandemic World
In a diverse country like India, Namaste is a term most are familiar with, it is considered as a greeting or salutation in the Hindu culture. However, what is not known to most is that the meaning of the term has a deep, spiritual significance embedded in it which appears in many forms of usage.
The word Namaste is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘namah’ (to bow) and ‘te’ (you), meaning ‘I bow to you’.
Namaste and its common variants namaskar, namaskaara, and namaskaram, is a formal traditional greeting mentioned in the Vedas. It is an expression of veneration, worship, reverence, and an "offering of homage" in the Vedic literature and post-Vedic texts such as the Mahabharata. The usage of this hand gesture occurs in many contexts and is significantly meaningful in all of them.
Namaste is used as a salutation by bringing the palms close to the chest, fingers pointing upwards, slightly bowing the head, and uttering ‘Namaskar’ or ‘Namaste’.
This is not just a mere superficial gesture but is performed out of deep respect, humility, and adoration for the other person. It is used as a way to communicate both arrival and valediction. The greeting acknowledges and recognizes the honor in the person before one and translates it to meanings such as:
“I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy,” and “My soul recognizes your soul.”
It is used as a greeting for family, friends, or strangers by both young and the old, and is used in many parts of the world.
The Bhakti (devotion)
Namaste as a gesture is also used to show our devotion, love, and adoration to the Almighty. Namaskar is also part of the 16 upacharas used inside temples or any place of formal worship. Namaste in the context of deity worship can be in the form of a prayer, greeting, offering, or obeisance.
While greeting someone, this gesture is sometimes accompanied by chanting the names of Hindu Gods such as “Ram Ram”, “Jai Shri Krishna”, “Namo Narayana”, etc, which is a way of honoring the god in the person we meet. “Namaha removes all egos and one bow down to the God, creator within others,” said International relations expert, Dr. Bharti Chhibber. The gesture recognizes the belief that the life force, the divinity, the Self, or God in me is the same in all.
It is also sometimes used at the start or end of the day, before eating, or before an important job to offer our prayers and gratitude to the Almighty.
Namaste as a gesture holds a lot of significance in Yoga which transcends beyond our country and the Hindu culture. Namaste is often referred to as the Anjali Mudra in Yoga by meeting of palms together and bringing it close to the chest.
Mudras are basic hand gestures used in Yoga that activates the flow of energy within the body. Mudras are often used in rituals and classical forms of dance to articulate emotions.
Anjali is a Sanskrit word which means “salutation” or “to offer” and mudra means “seal” or “gesture”, thus translating to “salutation seal” in English. This is a gesture one must have often seen accompanied by the saying “Namaste” at the beginning or end of Yoga classes and is used across Southeast Asia.
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The gesture may also be performed at the ajna or brow chakra with thumb tips resting against the "third eye". The gesture carries a deeper significance than a greeting. The joining of the palms is said to provide a connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain and represents unification.
Namaskar or Anjali Mudra is also used as one of the poses for Pranamasana (prayer position) to offer our prayers and respect to a deity or elder. It is also used in conjunction with other asanas such as Surya Namaskar, Hanumanasana, Utkatasana, Tadasana, and many more. Anjali mudra performed as part of these postures has several health benefits.
Practicing it promotes flexibility in the wrists, fingers, and arm joints and is also said to stimulate the heart chakra. It also has a significant impact on our mental health by alleviating stress and anxiety, improving focus during meditation, and promotes tranquillity and mindfulness within oneself. Dr. Bharti Chhibber, an International relations expert said,
“Scientifically, in 'Namaskar' which is Anjali Mudra, various pressure points in palms and fingers are pressed which acts as a healing power in various health problems”.
Namaste has a deep spiritual significance in Indian culture with a beautiful translation,
The divine light in me bows to the divine light within you.
Namaste recognizes the life force and divine spirit that exists within us all and that we are one and the same. The word ‘namas’ also means “not mine” which means that the soul of each being is not owned by them. The Vedas preach that there is nothing in this world which is claimed as personal to anybody, and thus when we say Namaste it is the necessary rejection of ego and ‘I’.
Spiritually, Namaste preaches that we devote ourselves to inclusiveness, awareness, and wholeness rather than egoism. The word ‘ma’ in Nama denotes spiritual death and when it is rendered invalid, it is symbolic of immortality. Thus, Namaste speaks at different levels of mental, physical, verbal, and spiritual.
Diversity of Namaste
While Namaste is a word one might often come across in Northern India, its usage transcends beyond the Hindu culture, regional language, and country. This gesture is widely used across Southeast Asia as a sign of respect and greeting in countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Laos, Indonesia, and Burma. The gesture is also widely used by East Asian Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, and amongst yoga practitioners and adherents of similar traditions. ‘Gassho’ is a similar act of greeting or departing used in Japan, Korea, and China by bringing the palms together in a prayerful manner with a deep bow.
Due to India’s diversity, *Namaste is spoken differently in various cultures, regions, and languages. In Telugu, it is called Namaskaramulu, while in Kannada it is spoken Namaskaragalu. In Tamil, it is called Vanakkam and Namaskaram in Malayalam. Towards the East, it is called Nomoshkar in Bengali and Nomoskar in Assamese. Not just Hindus, but Sikhs also greet people by folding their hands, however, their greeting is called ‘Sat Sri Akal’.
Power of a contactless connection during COVID-19
While doing Namaste there is no physical contact between the two individuals, which is said to have a logical reason behind it. It is believed that by keeping our palms close, we keep our energy protected as opposed to handshakes or hugs where we touch the other person and absorb their energy which may transfer negative energy.
This negative energy can be both in the form of spirituality as karmic energy, or as physical energy in the form of germs and diseases. Such beliefs have led to a recent surge in the popular usage of Namaste as a form of greeting worldwide. A number of prominent world leaders have adopted this gesture in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic where physical distancing norms are being recommended to avoid infection.
A number of articles talking about India’s Namaste going global have reached the headlines. A Times of India article (2020) reported that after US President Donald Trump’s return from India’s tour in February, he said in a public interview that he did not shake any hands in India, all he did was simply a Namaste! Images of Donald Trump and Prince Charles opting to use this greeting over a handshake have also gone viral.
Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed to the public that they should avoid shaking hands and instead try the Indian greeting, a Namaste to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
In the UK, Prince Charles, who recently recovered from the COVID-19 infection, was captured by the press arriving at a red carpet event. In the nick of time, he avoided shaking hands with the people who were present at the venue to receive him and did a quick Namaste instead.
According to an article published by Money Control, pictures of various leaders greeting each other with Namaste have surfaced. French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife used namaste gesture to welcome Spain's King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia as they arrived in Paris, France. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands performed namaste greeting to Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, and Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Airlangga Hartarto upon arrival at Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. There are many such examples around the globe where the traditional Hindu greeting has gone viral!
Namaste as a gesture has always remained significantly deep and relevant throughout ages in Hindu and other cultures, especially now in the age of a pandemic. This contactless gesture is not only just a greeting but a unification of the souls and acknowledgment of the oneness and divinity within all of us. After all, in the Yogic tradition, it is not the physical contact that makes one realize the connection between them. The true connection between individuals is much subtler in the form of emotions and spirit.
Edited by Annanya Chaturvedi