Everything to Know About The Indian Salutation 'Namaste'

An employee at Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi doing Namaste
An employee at Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi doing 'Namaste' | © Saptarshi Biswas/Wiki Commons
Richa Jain

Namaste! This is one word that you would often hear in India, and must therefore understand and learn by heart if you’re planning a visit to the country.

Well, not just in India, it is spoken in nearby countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and some other south and southeastern parts of Asia as well. This respectful gesture of greeting people in the Hindu custom has different spiritual meanings and significance you should know about.

An older women in Nepal doing the gesture of Namaste

Also spoken as Namaskar or Namaskaram, this gesture is used to welcome guests or relatives, as well as for acknowledging strangers, and works both as salutation and valediction. The gesture is said to express honor, courtesy, politeness, hospitality and gratitude to the other person. Apart from being used as a greeting, it is also a part of the 16 Upacharas that are used during formal worship in a temple or some other religious place. When it comes to worshipping a deity, then Namaste signifies ‘greeting the God’.

Namaste is part of the daily procedure in India. Hence you would often get to see this gesture in various Indian classical dance forms, in everyday religious rituals and yoga postures. If you practice this gesture in India, then it would be helpful for you in establishing a connect with people here, and forming a great bond.

The Yoga pose Surya Namaskar

Meaning of the word ‘Namaste’

Derived from the Sanskrit language, Namaste is formed by joining two words, namas and te. ‘Namas’ means ‘bow’, ‘adorations’, ‘obeisance’ and ‘salutation’; and ‘te’ means ‘to you’. Therefore, the literal meaning of Namaste is ‘bowing to you’.

A sculpture doing Namaste in a Hindu temple

How to say Namaste

While saying Namaste in the traditional style, you must bow slightly and press both the hands together, with fingers pointing upward, thumbs on the inside near the chest and palm touching – it is called Pranamasana (The Prayer Pose) or Anjali Mudra. Nowadays, Namaste can be said without the bow as well, but when you say it with the bow, it makes the greeting more formal and respectful, especially when you say it to an elder or an important person.

A sadhu (saint) bowing and doing Namaste

Spiritual implication of Namaste

According to the Hindu customs, Namaste has a spiritual meaning too. Hindus believe that ‘the divine and soul is the same in everybody’. So when you say Namaste to someone, it implies ‘I bow to the divine in you’. This gesture is also associated with the Brow Chakra, i.e. the mind center or the third eye. Therefore, when you meet someone in person, you do not just meet a physical being, but you meet their mind too. And then when you say Namaste by bowing your head and joining your hands, the gesture implies ‘may our minds meet’. This is a great way of expressing your love, respect and friendship to the person whom you meet.

An idol in the Namaste gesture

Regional versions of Namaste

India is a hugely diverse country. Hence, Namaste is spoken differently in various cultures and languages. In Telugu, it is called Namaskaramulu, while in Kannada it is spoken as Namaskara or Namaskaragalu. Vanakkam is how you say it in Tamil and Namaskaram in Malayalam. In East India, it is called Nomoshkar in Bengali and Nomoskar in Assamese. Not just Hindus, but Sikhs also greet people by folding their hands, however, their greeting is called ‘Sat Sri Akal’.

People doing Namaste in a monastery
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