In Hindu religion, people mutually exchange greetings or salutations with 'Namaste'. This form of exchanging greetings is done by bringing the two palms together to the chest level and by bowing the head while saying the word 'Namaste'. Namaskar is a Sattva predominant impression on the Hindu mind, an action that maintains the rich heritage of Hindu culture. Namaskar is a simple and beautiful act of expression of divine qualities like devotion, love, respect and humility that endows one with Divine energy.
Namaste or Namaskara. And it is the first part of the word that is the most important. “Nama” which is the same as “namah” as used in so many mantras including the panchakshara - “Om namahshivaya”. The larger, broader meaning of nama or namah is taken to be “I bow down to”, “I pay homage to” or “I venerate”. But this comes from the fact that “nama” is the coming together of two words - “Na”, which means “that which is not” and “ma” which means “mine” or “I”. So, the literal meaning of nama would be 'not I' or “not mine”. So, by saying “nama”, the implication is that by negating myself, by that I am nothing, I am acknowledging you are of prime importance. And thus, I pay homage you, bow down to you, revere you. When we say it to God, it also means I worship you. (“te” in namaste means “you” (I bow down to you) and “kara” in namaskara means “doing”.)
The real meeting between people is the meeting of their minds. When we greet another, we do so with namaste, which means, "may our minds meet," indicated by the folded palms placed before the chest. The bowing down of the head is a gracious form ofextending friendship in love and humility.
The spiritual meaning is even deeper. The life force, the divinity, the Self or the Lord in me is the same in all. Recognizing this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we salute with head bowed the Divinity in the person we meet. That is why sometimes, we close our eyes as we do namaste to a revered person or the Lord – as if to look within.
In our religion, Namaskara has been prescribed as a very important means of atonement. In the course of our daily life, we commit so many mistakes, so many faults and so many sins, knowingly as well as unknowingly. To wash away the sins arising therefrom, we are asked to do namaskara before God. Even in daily life, if somebody commits some mistake or some fault, we just tell him ‘Go and prostrate before that person or go and prostrate before God and apologise for your mistake.’ Thus, namaskara is considered as a method to wash off our sins.
In every religion, there is the concept of repentance and asking for God’s forgiveness. The only thing is that instead of Namaskara, they have other forms of bowing before God.
Thus, to free ourselves from the sins arising from the various wrong actions or mistakes or evil acts that we do, knowingly as well as unknowingly in the course of our daily life, we do namaskara before God.
Now, the question arises how namaskara is to be done.
Certain definite rules regarding namaskara have been prescribed in our religion. The mode of bowing varies from religion to religion. Some people just salute and that is namaskara for them. Some other people just stroke their chin at the two ends twice. Some others raise both their hands and offer that as namaskara. In Kerala, they touch the floor and then touch their head afterwards.
What is correct method of doing Namaskar to God?
'While paying obeisance to God, bring the palms together. After joining the hands one should bow and bring the head forward. While tilting the head forward, one should place the thumbs at the mid-brow region, i.e. at the point between the eyebrows and try to concentrate on the feet of the Deity. After that, instead of bringing the folded hands down immediately, they should be placed on the mid-chest region for a minute in such way that the wrists touch the chest; then only should the hands be brought down.
The fingers should not be stiff while bringing the palms together because this will lead to a decrease in Sattva component from the vital and mental sheaths and thus increase the raja component in them. By keeping the fingers relaxed, the subtlest Sattva component will get activated. With the strength of this energy, embodied souls are able to fight powerful distressing energies.
In the Namaskar posture, the joined fingers act as an antenna to assimilate the Chaitanya (Divine consciousness) or the Energy transmitted by a Deity. While joining the palms, the fingers must touch each other because leaving space between the fingers will result in accumulation of energy in that space. This energy will be immediately transmitted in various directions; therefore the seeker's body will lose the benefit of this potent energy.
After joining the palms, bow a little. This posture puts pressure on the navel and activates the five vital energies situated there. Activation of these vital energies in the body makes it sensitive to accepting sattvik frequencies. This later awakens the 'Atma shakti' (i.e. soul energy of an embodied soul). And later, Bhav is awakened. This enables the body to accept in large measures the Chaitanya emitted by the Deity.
After doing Namaskar, to completely imbibe the Chaitanya of the Deity (that has entered the hands by now), instead of bringing the folded hands down immediately, place them on the mid-chest region in such a way that the wrists touch the chest.
The 'Anahat chakra' is located at the centre of the chest. Akin to the Adnya chakra, the activity of the Anahat chakra is also to absorb the Sattva frequencies. By touching the wrists to the chest, the Anahat chakra is activated and it helps in absorbing more of the Sattva component.
By doing Namaskar in this manner, the Deity's Chaitanya is absorbed to a greater extent by the body, as compared to other methods of doing Namaskar. This gives maximum distress to negative energies. The negative energies that have manifested in a person are unable to touch their thumbs at the mid-brow region in Namaskar.
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.
There are different kinds of “namaskarams” or “Pranams” which include “sashtanga” (with eight limbs), “Panchanga” (with 5 limbs) and “Abhivadana”.
Our Sastras prescribe 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.
“Abhivadana” 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.
How does one do Namaskar to an individual of the same age group ?
When meeting someone of the same age-groupdo Namaskar by joining the fingers and placing tips of the thumbs on the Anahat chakra (at the centre of the chest). This type of Namaskarincreases the spiritual emotion of humility in the embodied soul. Sattva frequencies from the universe are attracted by the fingers (which act as an antenna) and are then transmitted to the entire body through the thumbs which have awakened the Anahat chakra. This activates the soul energy of the embodied soul. In addition, by doing Namaskar in this manner to each other, frequencies of blessings are also transmitted.
Why do we prostrate before parents and elders?
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.
Adi Sankara says in his Bhaja-Govinda-stotras:
Our Sastras say ‘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.
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.