Hindu greetings ‘namaste’ is the symbolic notion offering respect to the soul within – the ‘atman’ and the God within – Brahman. Various symbols embody the notion of inner purity and considered sacred. Nama means bow,as means I, and te means you. Therefore, mamaste literally means "bow me you" or "I bow to you” signifying, I bow to the Self in you.
‘HANDS IN PRAYER’ is a sign of respect for the sacred or that which is dear to the heart. This form of exchanging greetings is performed by bringing the two palms together at the chest level and bowing down while uttering the word ‘namaste’, ‘namashkar’ or ‘namashkaram.’ After joining the hands one should bow and bring the head to tilt it forward. The thumbs are placed at the mid-brow region at the point between the eyebrows and the person attempts to concentrate on the divinity of the other person of a deity. This is the 3rd Eye Chakra.
Thereafter the hands are not let loose. The folded hands are placed on the mid-chest region for some time in such a way that the wrists touch the chest. Then the hands are to be brought down. During the joining of the palms the fingers should not be stiff as this will lead to a decrease in Sattva component from the vital and mental sheaths and thus increase the raja component in them.
Distressing energies are fought by keeping the fingers relaxed and the sattva component activated. This later awaken the ‘Atma shakti’ that the soul energy of an embodies soul. ‘Bhav’ is thus awakened. The namashkar posture of joining of fingers also acts as an ‘antenna’ invoking divine consciousness – Chaitanya or in the case of a temple the energy transmitted by a Deity. An awakened Bhav enables one to accpet in large measures the Chaitanya emitted in any spiritual or holy environment.
NAMASHKAR is a sattva predominant impression on any Hindu mind. It reflects a simple but rich act of expressing divine qualities of devotion, love, respect and humility. It endows a person with divine energy. ‘Nama’ or ‘Namah’ is also the opening invocation many mantras and devotional songs. This includes the panchakshara “Om Namahshivaya”. ‘Nama’ or ‘namah means “I bow down to”, “I pay homage to” or “I venerate”. The word ‘Nama’ is derived from two words. “Na” is a negating word meaning “that which is not” and “Ma” means ‘mine’ or ‘I’. So when literally interpreted ‘Namah’ means ‘not mine.
When a person says ‘namah’ by implication he is negating himself that he is but a nothing and the prime importance is given in acknowledgment to the other person. This is the meaning of the veneration. It all simply means “I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and ...I am in that place in me, we are One”
Often one hears other salutations instead of Namaste. On a spiritual plane Hindus believe that Brahman, the Supreme Soul exist in all animate and inanimate. Recognizing this can take many forms. Some prefer, Hare Om, Ram Ram, Hare Krishna Om Narayana, Shiva shiva etc and these again are recognizing that life in me and you are the same.
At a social level it is a consensus ad-idem; the meeting of minds. When a greeting is made then it follows that there is a desire that the minds meet. The physical act of folding the palms and placed before the chest is an act of grace to extend friendship and humility. The spiritual connotation behind all this is the salutation to the divinity in the person who is being met.
EYES: More than often even the eyes are closed so that the physical person is not seen as one does the namaste and the revered person is the all-pervading God himself. Closing of the eyes fir the few a seconds, symbolise recognition of the divinity within. Every religion or faith has its own method of repentance for asking God for forgiveness. There are various forms of bowing before God. Namaste requires to look within the divinity of the person offering and the person it is intended to. Namashkara before a deity or God is a prostration in acceptance of our faults and the washing away of our pabha and sins which is occurs knowingly or unknowingly.
The sixth of the seven chakras in Kundalini is ‘adnya chakra’ of emodied soul and settled in the space parallel to it at the back interior of the head. The openings of all the three channels converge in this space, namely the the Moon, the Central and the Sun channels. Due to the movement of these subtler frequencies in this space, the Central Channel is activated. As a consequence it facilitates the speedy transmission of these frequencies throughout the body, leading to purification of both the gross and subtle bodies at the same time. The ‘anahat chakra’ is located at the centre of the chest. The activity of the anahat chakra is also to absord the sattva frequencies. By touching the wrist to the chest, the anahat chakra is activitated and it helps in absorbing more of the sattva component.
This chakra is located in the centre of the chest. Like the adnya chakra, the activity of the anahat chakra is also to absord the sattva frequencies. By touching the wrists to the chest, the anahat chakra is activated and assists in absorbing more sattva component. It is said that doing the Namaskar completely imbibes the Chaitanya of the Deity and enters the the hands. Hence the folded hands are to be brought down to be placed on the mid-chest region. In this manner, the Deity’s Chaitanya is absorbed to a greater extent by the body in comparison to other methods of doing namashkar and dispelling negative energies.
INVOKING GODDESS LAKSHMI:
“Karagre vasate laksmih karanadhye Sarasvati
Karamule tu govindah prachate karadarsanam”
Meaning: Goddess Lakshmi is the symbol of wealth. Goddess Saraswati represents knowledge. Govinda is the God of Power.Hand is the symbol of human effort. So by placing the three divine powers on the tips, in the middle and at the base of the hand, this shloka suggests that all the divinity lies in human effort. Thus this shloka supports the need of human effort and self confidence.
PANCHANGANAMASKARA, SASHTANGANAMASKARA AND ABHIVADANA :
The “Sashatanga” is where one lies down flat on the stomach with eight limbs touching the ground. The eight limbs are chest, head, hands, feet, knees, body, mind, and speech. This namaskaram is generally done by men. Traditionally, women do only “panchanga” namaskaram and not the other two. A “panchanga” namaskaram is where one, generally, a woman kneels down with palms joined together or touching the feet of the revered one in front.
A woman does not do sashtanga namaskaram for the following reason. Our rule makers (makers of sastras) while making the rule that namaskara should be by lowering the body prostrate on the ground, eschewing every thought of self importance and finding the lowest level with the ground, they duly thought of the Universal Mother aspect (matrutwam) of Parasakthi (Ambal) which is a distinguishing divine principle in women, and took care not to imply any suggestion of lowering its importance. They ruled that the part of the body which sustains the growth of the foetus during pregnancy and the part that creates within itself the nourishment for the new born and feeds it should not be allowed to come in contact with the ground. If the torso should not touch the ground, then the shoulders have to be excluded so that the namaskara can conveniently performed. Thus, excluding the three angas, in their case it becomes panchanga. This also symbolises the need for women to have a "bending" nature. Bowing down itself means bending and it seems that the namaskara performed by women is real bow down.
is generally used to introduce oneself to elders, Guru and monks. In this form, one with the head bowed and the hands crossed, touches the feet and then takes the hands back to touch the left ear lobes with left hand and the right ear lobe with right hand. During this greeting, one introduces himself by saying the name, family lineage, tradition, gotram and the branch of veda he belongs and follows with a sashtanga namaskaram.
BLESSINGS – Parents, Groups and Deceaseds : Adi Sankara says in his Bhaja-Govinda-stotras says : ‘Do not do namaskara before one who does not give you his blessing.’ After all, namaskara is done before a person in order to get the latter’s blessing or asirvada, and not for just getting honour or giving honour to the other person. The person who receives the namaskara should bless the person who prostrates before him. This is how we have to get blessings from elders.”
Namaskar to the elders in the family is one way of surrendering to the God principle in them. When an embodied soul bows in Namaskar to an elder by surrendering to the God principle in him, at that time a sense of compassion is created in his body. This compassion percolates right up to his subtle body. At that time, energy of his mind is activated and in turn activates the five vital energies, which are located at the seat of the Manipur chakra (situated in the Naval region).
Transmission of these five vital energies all over the body then awakens the soul energy. With the strength of the soul energy, the Central channel gets activated and converts the expressed energy of spiritual emotion to the unexpressed energy of spiritual emotion. With the help of this unexpressed energy of spiritual emotion, the embodied soul, through the medium of elders, gains the required Deity's principle from the Universe.
Man stands on his feet. Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of respect for the age, maturity, nobility and divinity that our elders personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love for us and the sacrifices they have done for our welfare. It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition reflects the strong family ties, which has been one of India’s enduring strengths.
The good wishes (Sankalpa) and blessings (aashirvaada) of elders are highly valued in India. We prostrate to seek them. Good thoughts create positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have a tremendous strength. When we prostrate with humility and respect, we invoke the good wishes and blessings of elders, which flow in the form of positive energy to envelop us. This is why the posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables the entire body to receive the energy thus received.
Doing Namaskar to a dead body is actually doing Namaskar to the Godly momentum gained after accomplishment of its work in this world and which takes it towards God. This is also symbolic of expressing respect towards the subtle body of an embodied soul.
However, as per the saying, 'God exists where there is spiritual emotion', while doing Namaskar to a dead body if we have a spiritual emotion that we are doing Namaskar to the God principle in it, then the God principle in the dead body awakens and we receive God's blessings. This happens because the God principle is immortal and has no limitations that a physical body has.
Thus the act of namaskaram symbolises the humility and respect and melting of ego. Any action done with the right thought and feeling behind it, in turn, enhances and enriches that experience. Thus, the sashtanga and panchanga namaskarams are a great aid for nurturing and heightening the "tallest" inner quality of utter humility – that is, the "vinaya sampath". The great legacy of namaskara – kriya to which our tradition has bequeathed to us should not be allowed to decline and disappear.
By Yogi Ananda Saraswathi