Namaste (नमस्ते), sometimes spoken as namaskar and namaskaram, is a customary, non-contact form of Hindu greeting. In the contemporary era, it is found on the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and among the Indian diaspora worldwide. The gesture (but not the term namaste for it) is widely used in the parts of Southeast Asia where Indian religions are strong. It is used both for greeting and leave-taking. Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called añjali mudrā; the standing posture incorporating it is pranamasana.
Western uses of namaste, as a slogan or spoken during physical fitness classes, are often perceived as an insensitive misappropriation of the greeting.
Etymology, meaning and origins
Namaste (Namas + te) is derived from Sanskrit and is a combination of the word namas and the second person dative pronoun in its enclitic form, te. The word namaḥ takes the sandhi form namas before the sound te.
The term namas is made of 2 words na meaning “not” and mamah meaning “i” or mine. It is therefore “not I”. This implies being open to the person being greeted and sometimes when “namaste” is said to God it refers to bowing or adoration. The subtle difference between bowing and openness is important. When greeting a peer or a stranger, “not I” accords respect to the other while maintaining self respect for oneself. When addressing god, “not I“ can be interpreted as bowing. However it is important to understand the distinction: “not I” is not bowing but according respect to the person being greeted. It is found in the Vedic literature. Namas-krita and related terms appear in the Hindu scripture Rigveda such as in the Vivaha Sukta, verse 10.85.22 in the sense of “worship, adore”, while Namaskara appears in the sense of “exclamatory adoration, homage, salutation and worship” in the Atharvaveda, the Taittiriya Samhita, and the Aitareya Brahmana. It is an expression of veneration, worship, reverence, an “offering of homage” and “adoration” in the Vedic literature and post-Vedic texts such as the Mahabharata. The phrase Namas-te appears with this meaning in Rigveda 8.75.10, Atharvaveda verse 6.13.2, Taittirya Samhita 188.8.131.52 and in numerous other instances in many early Hindu texts. It is also found in numerous ancient and medieval era sculpture and mandapa relief artwork in Hindu temples.
In the contemporary era, namaḥ means ‘bow’, ‘obeisance’, ‘reverential salutation’ or ‘adoration’ and te means ‘to you’ (singular dative case of ‘tvam’). Therefore, namaste literally means “bowing to you”. In Hinduism, it also has a spiritual import reflecting the belief that “the divine and self (atman, soul) is same in you and me”, and connotes “I bow to the divine in you”. According to sociologist Holly Oxhandler, it is a Hindu term which means “the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you”. In modern usage, though, namaste simply means “hello”.
A less common variant is used in the case of three or more people being addressed namely Namo vaḥ which is a combination of namaḥ and the enclitic second person plural pronoun vaḥ. The word namaḥ takes the sandhi form namo before the sound v. An even less common variant is used in the case of two people being addressed, namely, Namo vām, which is a combination of namaḥ and the enclitic second person dual pronoun vām.
In contemporary practice, namaste is rarely spoken, as it is extremely formal and other greetings are generally more suitable depending on context. Namaste has been misappropriated as a general greeting or slogan in the West, particularly in yoga-as-fitness classes
Excavations for Indus Valley Civilization have revealed many male and female terracotta figures in namaste posture. These archaeological findings are dated to be between 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE.
The modern yoga pose praṇāmāsana (प्रणामासन) consists of standing with the hands in añjali mudrā.
Anjali is Sanskrit for “divine offering“, “a gesture of reverence“, “benediction”, “salutation“, and is derived from anj, meaning “to honour or celebrate”.
Mudra means “seal” or “sign”. The meaning of the phrase is thus “salutation seal”.
The gesture is also known as hrdayanjali mudra meaning “reverence to the heart seal” (from hrd, meaning “heart”) and atmanjali mudra meaning “reverence to the self seal” (from atman, meaning “self”).
In the most common form of anjali mudra, the hands are held at the heart chakra with thumbs resting lightly against the sternum. The gesture may also be performed at the ajna or brow chakra with thumb tips resting against the “third eye” or at the crown chakra (above the head). In some yoga postures, the hands are placed in anjali mudra position to one side of the body or behind the back.
Anjali mudra is normally accompanied by a slight bowing of the head.
Anjali mudra has the same meaning as the Sanskrit greeting Namaste and can be performed while saying Namaste or Pranam, or in place of vocalizing the word.
The gesture is used for both greetings and farewells, but carries a deeper significance than a simple “hello” or “goodbye”. The joining together of the palms is said to provide connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain and represents unification. This yoking is symbolic of the practitioner’s connection with the divine in all things. Hence, anjali mudra honours both the self and the other.
Anjali mudra is performed as part of a physical yoga practice with an aim to achieving several benefits. It is a “centering pose” which, according to practitioners, helps to alleviate mental stress and anxiety and is therefore used to assist the practitioner in achieving focus and coming into a meditative state.
The physical execution of the pose helps to promote flexibility in the hands, wrists, fingers and arms.
Use in full-body asanas
While anjali mudra may be performed by itself from any seated or standing posture, the gesture is also incorporated into physical yoga practice as part of many full-body asanas, including:
- Anjaneyasana (lunge) – with arms overhead
- Hanumanasana (monkey pose)
- Malasana (garland pose)
- Matsyasana (fish pose) – an advanced variant
- Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend) – an advanced variant with hands behind the back
- Rajakapotasana (Pigeon Pose/King Pigeon Pose) – anjali mudra in Pigeon pose
- Tadasana/samasthiti (mountain pose) – a variant of the pose used during sun salutation sequences
- Utkatasana (chair pose, literally “fierce pose”), arms overhead
- Urdhva Hastasana (upward salute/extended mountain pose) – arms overhead
- Virabhadrasana I (warrior I) – arms overhead
- Vrikshasana (tree pose)
The gesture is widely used throughout the Indian subcontinent, parts of Asia and beyond where people of South and Southeast Asian origins have migrated. Namaste or namaskar is used as a respectful form of greeting, acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger. In some contexts, Namaste is used by one person to express gratitude for assistance offered or given, and to thank the other person for his or her generous kindness.
Namaskar is also part of the 16 upacharas used inside temples or any place of formal Puja (worship). Namaste in the context of deity worship, scholars conclude, has the same function as in greeting a guest or anyone else. It expresses politeness, courtesy, honor, and hospitality from one person to the other. It is used in goodbyes as well. This is sometimes expressed, in ancient Hindu scriptures such as Taittiriya Upanishad, as Atithi Devo Bhava (literally, treat the guest like a god).
Namaste is one of the six forms of pranama, and in parts of India these terms are used synonymously.
Since Namaste is a non-contact form of greeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested using the gesture as an alternative to hand shaking during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic as a means to prevent the spread of the virus.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia