Growing up in India, most of us have greeted others with chants of ‘namaste Aunty, namaste Uncle’ . Well, who doesn’t remember being prodded and poked by parents and grandparents, to greet friends around you with a loud ‘namaste’? It was part of our growing up; woven into our lives, a huge part of our culture and thankfully, it is one of the few ‘things’ that still continues to exist. Ingrained into our very being, ‘namaste’ was heard and seen (the folded hands gesture) on road, rail and air travels. The ‘Air India man’ standing with his hands folded in a ‘namaste’, is recognised both, by the old and the young, irrespective of whether they have flown or not.
I had absolutely no idea what this powerful word meant when I was growing up, but, I did know its correct usage. However, ever since I started frequenting the yoga sessions in the western world, I discovered that it translates to: ‘ I bow to the divine in thee’, which is rather nice but to be honest, to us children growing up in India, it was just something we said and did, simply because we had to.
It is a powerful set of letters, demonstrating the fact, that the ‘doer’ is well-brought up. Do note that ‘namaste’ was specifically reserved for family and friends older than us (by quite a few years!), though you would find your parents’ generation folding hands in ‘namaste’ to their peers too. Then, as the years rolled on, the use of ‘namaste’ began to undergo a change too. Aunties and Uncles who wanted to exude a certain ‘cool modern quotient’ (read neighbours, friends, and of course, relatives), often preferred to be greeted with a ‘hello, how are you?’ instead…
Namaste, isn’t how all of India greets…
Not all of India shouts out a ‘namaste’ in a greeting. For instance, in the part of North India that I come from, for the elders in the family, there is a very special word, ‘pranam’, which again was accompanied with folded hands. Though, the boys (I know it sounds sexist, even as I write, but that wasn’t how it was at all!) in the family touched the feet of the elders and said out ‘Charan Sparsh‘. My grandmother explained to me that little girls were goddesses and hence didn’t ever touch anyone’s feet. This ‘charan sparsh’ signifies ‘I touch your feet to get your blessings’ and this was my most favourite greeting growing up, in fact, I still like the sound, the meaning and the gestures associated with it.
Folks from Gujarat greet each other with a ‘Jai Shri Krishna’, and on social media, you would notice that, it’s only a ‘JSK‘. If you hear ‘Pairee-Pauna‘, then you are probably next to people from the state of Punjab. Tamilians will greet each other with a ‘Vanakkam‘. A lot of different parts of India, have various versions of the ‘namaste’. I suppose what I am trying to point out here is the fact, that namaste and its variations have been around in India for hundreds of years.
Namaste – Shaken but…
The world was shaking hands to greet, so, how could we Indians be left behind? While I was growing up, ‘shaking hands’ with strangers became a ‘natural’ way to greet, thus finding a place in our culture within our societies. Folding hands and saying ‘namaste’ continued to exist in parallel with the ‘shaking hands’ action, and most of us quite effortlessly switch between a ‘hello’, a brisk handshake and a ‘namaste’ as and when the situation demands.
While some Indians were themselves forgetting this gesture, the western yogis, found a deeper meaning to the namaste; Every time you fold your hands in prayer and bring them together to your sternum, you are actually practising the ‘Anjali Mudra’. Who knew!
I am a self-appointed ambassador for spreading the joy of ‘namaste’. It is something I visualise doing, when my name is called out to receive an award…I will walk with my head held high, hands in a ‘namaste’, oozing my ‘Indian-ness’. Jokes apart, sticking to your roots whilst learning from the world all that is new, is what keeps us grounded as well as progressive. Knowing when to do a ‘namaste’ and when to simply shake hands (or give a hug or a kiss), is something, I would like my next generation to understand too.
Greet with a ‘Namaste’ or even say a goodbye with it; Take pride in your culture, Be Notjustashopper!