The Origin of Namaste
Namaste, the word is used all over the world and by many cultures. The meaning of Namaste is broken down to its original Sanskrit and cultural meaning. Its origin dates back the Indus civilization showing evidence from statues in Namaste posture.
In Sanskrit, the word is pronounced “na-ma-stay”:
“Nama” = bow, “as” = I, “te” = you
Namaste literally means “I bow to you”. To strike the Namaste pose you put palms together pointing upwards to your chin and bend your elbows inwards.
People often wonder when and where it is appropriate to use Namaste. Some cultures simply see it as a form of formal or informal greetings/good byes. Others see it as a deeper meaning spiritual greeting.
In addition to the multiple means there are different poses which hold differing meanings.
Different variations of Namaste hold slightly different meanings.
Pranama/Namaskar is a respectful form which directly means “bowing respectfully”, this is usually for showing respect to elders.
There are six types of Pranama which show different poses of touching the ground:
- Astanga (8 parts): Uses: knees, belly, chest, hands, elbows, chin, nose, and temple
- Shastanga (7 parts): Uses: Toes, knees, hands, chin, nose and temple
- Panchanga (5 parts): Uses: Knees, chest, chin, temple and forehead
- Dandavat: Uses: Forehead bowed down and touching the ground with your hand
- Abhinandana: Form of congratulations, bend forward with folded hands touching your chest
- Namaskar: Same as Namaste but hands touching forehead
The action of Namaste has symbolic meanings. During the Namaste you place your hands over the Third Eye then lower on top of the Heart Chakra.
The Third Eye Chakra: An invisible above the brow and allows you to see both inner and outer worlds. The inner world mostly refers to self-reflection and realization.
Heart Chakra (Anahata): It is the fourth primary Chakra point near the middle of your chest, near the heart. It is as a flame inside the heart. The Heart Chakra makes decisions from the heart, untainted by unfulfilled emotions or desires.
Cultural/Religious Meaning of Namaste
In Hinduism the word means “I bow to the divine in you”. It is used while in prayer, with eyes closed and a slight bow. This is done in order to look into the inner spirit. A variation of the word used is “Namaskar”, “kar” means “action” in Sanskrit. So Namaskar means the bowing action.
In parts of India it is a cultural norm to perform Charanasparsha. It is a form of feet touching, and is a sign of great respect towards an elder. People Charanasparsha when meeting an elderly person for the first time. This isn’t something you typically do in haste or passing.
In Buddhism Namaste is not only a greeting but a sign of respect. The action of bowing and holding the Namaste pose is a way to become more humble and to shed pride. You are acknowledging the divine withing someone.
It has a more spiritually meaning than just a simple greeting.
Sikhism originates from Northern India in the Punjab region. Sikhs speak Punjabi and a use their own form of greeting similar to Namaste called “Sat Sri Akal”. The word has a Sanskrit roots which loosely translate to “God is Truth”.
Much like the many uses of Namaste, Sat Sri Akal has both a spiritual and informal/formal meanings. Usually used as a greeting between Punjabi speaking people and Sikhs.
Western Yoga classes typically start off with the instructor saying Namaste at the start and finish of the session. As a result many people may compare the Namaste in Yoga as form of religious or spiritual meaning behind it.
Greetings are a good signal to see what a person’s birth place and cultural background is. For some Indian cultures, Namaste is simply used as a form of greeting and salutation.
As shown, there are a lot of differing meanings of Namaste which can get confusing. Knowing when to use Namaste and other greetings can sometimes be tricky because you don’t want to be insensitive or disrespecting to certain cultures. Here are a few pointers you can use to keep yourself politically correct:
- Show respect to elders by using Namaste/Namaskar if you are trying to show sincere gratitude. Be mindful of using Charanasparsha with elders. If the person is only a few years older than you then they may be more comfortable with a normal Namaste.
- Use Namaste to greet the person back because it is couterous and shows your trying to make an effort.
- A great way to connect to local new comers to your country. It comforts them when you greet them in their native language. Be careful when doing this; say it in a humbling manor to show you are making an effort.
Following Cultural Norm:
- If you visit a religious place like a temple or monetary use it in a respectful manner. You probably don’t need to use it in front of everyone you see. It can be used as a form of thank you if someone is helping you out.
- During a Yoga class the instructor may say it, if you are comfortable and know the instructor personally feel free to use it. This typically isn’t a form of idealism pressure, simply as a custom/norm.
Things to Keep in Mind
Whether you’re visiting a country or trying impress new locals, learning the meaning of Namaste helps. The meaning of Namaste is broad, most people who use it will not expect outsiders properly use it. Making an effort at least shows your trying, therefore, you should use it when it seems natural to do so.