ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

20. Namaste: I hail the god in you

Namaste, namaskar, namaskaram. These are the most common salutations and valedictions in India. These are both formal and conversational. In a land where social differences keep a distance between people, this is a greeting used for every situation.

You want to use “Namaste” wherever you are: in the street, at home, on a trip or during a reunion.

To sum it up, it means “I bow to you”; the forms namaskar or namaskaram stand for a more reverential salutation. Something like: “Salutations to you” or “I pay homage to you”.

It is derived from Sanskrit, where Namah means “bow”, “obeisance” and “te” stands for “to you”. These salutations are prescribed by the Veda (ancient religious texts, basics of Hinduism) between the five forms of standard greeting.

Sometimes Namah is interpreted as na ma, “not mine”, pointing out the spiritual meaning of this form, and involving a relative consideration of ourselves (impersonality). With this meaning, Namaste is similar to the Italian “Ciao”, that means “Sono il tuo schiavo”, “I am yours to command” or “At your service”. However, in India, you don’t submit to the other person: you embrace the mighty power of the universe that dwells in everything and everyone, even the man you are talking to.

When you use Namaste, you acknowledge the God in everyone, and not the supremacy of an individual. For this reason you won’t find greetings for each caste: Namaste indicated the natural equality of men before the Gods and extol their divine powers.

Despite this, Indian people take careful account of the social position. Special gestures are made to discern between people belonging to different steps of the hierarchical structure of the society (social ladder), and if you greet for first, you show honor and respect to someone who’s more “important” than you.

Namaskar and similar are pronounced while slightly bending the head, with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards. The hands joined stand for the uniqueness of the universe, which is made of spirit (right hand) and matter (left hand). It is a sort of reconnection between the cosmic self and the individual one.

If you meet a very important person, you need to raise your joined hands in front of your head. Before a God instead, you place your hands above it.

Gestures get more elaborate when you want to hail and honor the elderly, or maybe a priest, a monk or the holy men. Your parents as well require special attention. There are several forms of namaskar or pranam, and they include: sashtanga namaskaram, the total prostration (in which head, breast, hands and feet symbolically touch the ground together); abhivadana namaskaram (when you touch your master’s feet with your hands, head on the ground, and then turn and touch your ears); panchanga namaskaram (when you touch your feet and knees, and then you take your hands on the forehead).

There are many hindu variations you might encounter travelling across different states, or in specific religious rituals. But each of them is used to praise the god that dwells in oneself.

 

In Rajasthan, you greet with Ram Ram saa, where Rama is the name of an incarnation of Vishnu, defender of the cosmic order. In the regions worshipping Krishna (another Vishnu’s incarnation) you might hear Jay Shri Krishna or Hare Krishna. In Varanasi, where Shiva is particularly worshipped, you hear Mahadev. Another common greeting is the simple Om Shanti: you’ll hear a lot of sacred chants that end with that.

Between the non-Hindu, you will find similar greetings. Sikhs, for example, adopted the form Sat Shri Akal, name of a timeless god of all the truths. Muslims prefer the salutation Khuda hafiz, “May God protect you” – which is used even between Hindus and Christians.

In the streets, salutations are often followed by a gentle shake of the head, that adds warmth and kindness. It happens sometimes that the whole part of the pleasantries is left to the movements of the heads.

If you meet a stranger that smiles at you and shakes his head slightly, he means to say “Good morning”. Just answer the same way.

If you meet someone you know that does the same, things will take a bit more of time. “Hello, such a nice day, isn’t it? How are you? I’m fine, thanks. Oh, it’s getting late. I must go. Goodbye!”. And all this without saying a single word!

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