Why do we do namaste?
Indians greet each other with namaste. The two palms are placed together in front of the chest and the head bows whilst saying the word namaste. This greeting is for all – people younger than us, of our own age, those older than us, friends and even strangers.
There are five forms of formal traditional greeting enjoined in the shastras of which namaskaara, is one. This is understood as prostration but it actually refers to paying homage as we do today when we greet each other with a namaste!
Why do we namaste?
Namaste could be just a casual or formal greeting, a cultural convention or an act of worship. However there is much more to it than meets the eye. In Sanskrit namah + te = namaste. It means – I bow to you – my greetings, salutations or prostration to you.
Namah can also be literally interpreted as na ma (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one’s ego in the presence of another. The real meeting between people is the meeting of their minds. When we greet one another, we do so with namaste, which means, “may our minds meet,” indicated by the folded palms placed before the chest. The bowing down of the head is a gracious form of extending friendship with love an humility.
The placing of hands on the head and offering namaste is for gods, placing them on the forehead is for gurus, and placing them on the chest is for all people.
The spiritual meaning is even deeper. The life force, the divinity, the Self or the Lord in me is the same in all. Recognizing this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed the Divinity in the person we meet. That is why sometimes, we close our eyes as we do namaste to a revered person or the Lord – as if to look within. The gesture is often accompanied by words like “Ram Ram”, “Jai Shri Krishna”, “Namo Narayana”, “Jai Siya Ram”, “Om Shanti”, etc. – indicating the recognition of this divinity.
When we know this significance, our greeting does not remain just a superficial gesture or word but paves the way for a deeper communion with another in an atmosphere of love and respect.