Namaste: A Yogic Greeting

What does Namaste mean?

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In Hinduism, Namaste is a common spoken valediction or salutation originating in the Indian subcontinent. It is a customary greeting when individuals meet, and a valediction upon their parting.

A non-contact form of salutation is traditionally preferred in India and Nepal; Namaste is the most common form of such a salutation. When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. This gesture, called Anjali Mudra or Pranamasana, can also be performed wordlessly and carries the same meaning. .

Etymology Namaste is derived from Sanskrit and is a combination of two words, "Nama?" and "te". Nama? means 'bow', 'obeisance', 'reverential salutation' or 'adoration' and te means 'to you' (dative case of 'you').

Therefore, Namaste literally means "salutations to you". 'Namaskar' is derived from Sanskrit and is a combination of the two words, "Nama?" and "kaar". As noted above, "Nama?" is a salutation. "Kaar" means 'form' or 'shape' and refers to the phenomenon that the other entity (person) presents.

Thus, the older salutation essentially means "I salute [your] form", which implies an understanding that all beings in this existence are part of the surface phenomenology of Maya and that beyond the surface, so to say, all beings are part of Brahman, or the One ultimate essence that underlies, and is, all.

In the same light, 'Namah' originates from a benevolent unselfishness or admission ("salutation") of unity in One essence, and, therefore, 'Namaste' can also be interpreted (roughly) as a way of saying "Not-myself to you" (a benevolent expression of both respect and impersonality).

Another variation "Not for me,.. but for thee" gives the sense of doing 'in service' or 'in honor' of the person spoken to, removing any personal agenda of the speaker.

A Namaste greeting in South
India. Photo: Steve Evans.

In India and Nepal, Namaste is a friendly greeting in written communication, or generally between people when they meet.

When used at funerals to greet the guests, the verbal part is usually omitted. When the hand position is higher, it usually means reverence for worship.

Thus, the expression with hands placed on top of one's head is usually the sign of utmost reverence or respect.

Meanings and interpretation Pressing hands together with a smile to greet Namaste a common cultural practice in India As it is most commonly used, namaste is roughly equivalent to "greetings" or "good day", in English, implicitly with the connotation "to be well".

As opposed to shaking hands, kissing or embracing each other in other cultures, Namaste is a non-contact form of respectful greeting and can be used universally while meeting a person of different gender, age or social status.

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References and Further Reading
  • Cooper, J.C. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols: London, 1999.
  • Nambiar, A.K. Krishna. Namaste; It's Philosophy and Significance in Indian Culture: New Delhi, 1979.
  • Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Krishna The Supreme Personality of Godhead: Mumbai, 1996.
  • Rao, S.K. Ramachandra. Bharatiya Pranama Paddhati (Respectful Salutations in India): Bangalore, 1997.
  • Sivaramamurti, C. Nataraja in Art, Thought and Literature: New Delhi, 1994.
  • Sudhi, Padma. Symbols of Art, Religion and Philosophy: New Delhi, 1988.
  • Tresidder, Jack. The Hutchinson Dictionary of Symbols: Oxford, 1997.
  • Walker, Benjamin. Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man: London, 1977
  • Wikipedia, used used GDFL with minor edits
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