In Hindu religion, people mutually exchange greetings or salutations with ‘Namaste’. This form of exchanging greetings is done by bringing the two palms together to the chest level and by bowing the head while saying the word ‘Namaste’. Namaskar is a Sattva predominant impression on the Hindu mind, an action that maintains the rich heritage of Hindu culture. Namaskar is a simple and beautiful act of expression of divine qualities like devotion, love, respect and humility that endows one with Divine energy.
Namaste or Namaskara. And it is the first part of the word that is the most important. “Nama” which is the same as “namah” as used in so many mantras including the panchakshara – “Om namahshivaya”. The larger, broader meaning of nama or namah is taken to be “I bow down to”, “I pay homage to” or “I venerate”. But this comes from the fact that “nama” is the coming together of two words – “Na”, which means“that which is not” and “ma” which means “mine” or “I”. So, the literal meaning of nama would be ‘not I’ or “not mine”. So, by saying “nama”, the implication is that by negating myself, by that I am nothing, I am acknowledging you are of prime importance. And thus, I pay homage you, bow down to you, revere you. When we say it to God, it also means I worship you. (“te” in namaste means “you” (I bow down to you) and “kara” in namaskara means “doing”.)
The real meeting between people is the meeting of their minds. When we greet 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 ofextending friendship in love and humility.
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.
In our religion, Namaskara has been prescribed as a very important means of atonement. In the course of our daily life, we commit so many mistakes, so many faults and so many sins, knowingly as well as unknowingly. To wash away the sins arising therefrom, we are asked to do namaskara before God. Even in daily life, if somebody commits some mistake or some fault, we just tell him ‘Go and prostrate before that person or go and prostrate before God and apologise for your mistake.’ Thus, namaskara is considered as a method to wash off our sins.
In every religion, there is the concept of repentance and asking for God’s forgiveness. The only thing is that instead of Namaskara, they have other forms of bowing before God.
Thus, to free ourselves from the sins arising from the various wrong actions or mistakes or evil acts that we do, knowingly as well as unknowingly in the course of our daily life, we do namaskara before God.
Now, the question arises how namaskara is to be done.
Certain definite rules regarding namaskara have been prescribed in our religion. The mode of bowing varies from religion to religion. Some people just salute and that is namaskara for them. Some other people just stroke their chin at the two ends twice. Some others raise both their hands and offer that as namaskara. In Kerala, they touch the floor and then touch their head afterwards.
Meaning: Goddess Lakshmi is the symbol of wealth.Goddess Saraswati represents knowledge.Govinda is the God of Power.Hand is the symbol of human effort. So by placing the three divine powers on the tips, in the middle and at the base of the hand, this shloka suggests that all the divinity lies in human effort. Thus this shloka supports the need of human effort and self confidence.There are different kinds of “namaskarams” or “Pranams” which include “sashtanga” (with eight limbs), “Panchanga” (with 5 limbs) and “Abhivadana”.
Our Sastras prescribe Panchanganamaskara, Sashtanganamaskara and Abhivadana
The “Sashatanga” is where one lies down flat on the stomach with eight limbs touching the ground. The eight limbs are chest, head, hands, feet, knees, body, mind, and speech. This namaskaram is generally done by men.Traditionally, women do only “panchanga” namaskaram and not the other two.A “panchanga” namaskaram is where one, generally, a woman kneels down with palms joined together or touching the feet of the revered one in front. A woman does not do sashtanga namaskaram for the following reason. Our rule makers (makers of sastras) while making the rule that namaskara should be by lowering the body prostrate on the ground, eschewing every thought of self importance and finding the lowest level with the ground, they duly thought of the Universal Mother aspect (matrutwam) of Parasakthi (Ambal) which is a distinguishing divine principle in women, and took care not to imply any suggestion of lowering its importance. They ruled that the part of the body which sustains the growth of the foetus during pregnancy and the part that creates within itself the nourishment for the new born and feeds it should not be allowed to come in contact with the ground. If the torso should not touch the ground, then the shoulders have to be excluded so that the namaskara can conveniently performed. Thus, excluding the three angas, in their case it becomes panchanga. This also symbolises the need for women to have a “bending” nature. Bowing down itself means bending and it seems that the namaskara performed by women is real bow down.
“Abhivadana” is generally used to introduce oneself to elders, Guru and monks. In this form, one with the head bowed and the hands crossed, touches the feet and then takes the hands back to touch the left ear lobes with left hand and the right ear lobe with right hand. During this greeting, one introduces himself by saying the name, family lineage, tradition, gotram and the branch of veda he belongs and follows with a sashtanga namaskaram.
How does one do Namaskar to an individual of the same age group ?
When meeting someone of the same age-groupdo Namaskar by joining the fingers and placing tips of the thumbs on the Anahat chakra (at the centre of the chest). This type of Namaskarincreases the spiritual emotion of humility in the embodied soul. Sattva frequencies from the universe are attracted by the fingers (which act as an antenna) and are then transmitted to the entire body through the thumbs which have awakened the Anahat chakra. This activates the soul energy of the embodied soul. In addition, by doing Namaskar in this manner to each other, frequencies of blessings are also transmitted.
Why do we prostrate before parents and elders?
‘Namaskar to the elders in the family is one way of surrendering to the God principle in them. When an embodied soul bows in Namaskar to an elder by surrendering to the God principle in him, at that time a sense of compassion is created in his body. This compassion percolates right upto his subtle body. At that time, energy of his mind is activated and in turn activates the five vital energies, which are located at the seat of the Manipur chakra (situated in the Naval region). Transmission of these five vital energies all over the body then awakens the soul energy. With the strength of the soul energy, the Central channel gets activated and converts the expressed energy of spiritual emotion to the unexpressed energy of spiritual emotion. With the help of this unexpressed energy of spiritual emotion, the embodied soul, through the medium of elders, gains the required Deity’s principle from the Universe.
Man stands on his feet. Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of respect for the age, maturity, nobility and divinity that our elders personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love for us and the sacrifices they have done for our welfare. It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition reflects the strong family ties, which has been one of India’s enduring strengths.
The good wishes (Sankalpa) and blessings (aashirvaada) of elders are highly valued in India. We prostrate to seek them. Good thoughts create positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have a tremendous strength. When we prostrate with humility and respect, we invoke the good wishes and blessings of elders, which flow in the form of positive energy to envelop us. This is why the posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables the entire body to receive the energy thus received.
Adi Sankara says in his Bhaja-Govinda-stotras:
Our Sastras say ‘Do not do namaskara before one who does not give you his blessing.’ After all, namaskara is done before a person in order to get the latter’s blessing or asirvada, and not for just getting honour or giving honour to the other person. The person who receives the namaskara should bless the person who prostrates before him. This is how we have to get blessings from elders.
Doing Namaskar to a dead body is actually doing Namaskar to the Godly momentum gained after accomplishment of its work in this world and which takes it towards God. This is also symbolic of expressing respect towards the subtle body of an embodied soul.
However, as per the saying, ‘God exists where there is spiritual emotion’, while doing Namaskar to a dead body if we have a spiritual emotion that we are doing Namaskar to the God principle in it, then the God principle in the dead body awakens and we receive God’s blessings. This happens because the God principle is immortal and has no limitations that a physical body has.
Thus the act of namaskaram symbolises the humility and respect and melting of ego. Any action done with the right thought and feeling behind it, in turn, enhances and enriches that experience. Thus, the sashtanga and panchanga namaskarams are a great aid for nurturing and heightening the “tallest” inner quality of utter humility – that is, the “vinaya sampath”. The great legacy of namaskara – kriya to which our tradition has bequeathed to us should not be allowed to decline and disappear.