Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

56 What Is the Hindu Way of Greeting?§


Four business partners welcome distant team members to a video chat. Hindus press our palms together to honor the divine in the person we are greeting. It is both hello & goodbye.§


For Hindus, the greeting of choice is namaste (or namaskar). The two hands are pressed together and held near the heart with the head gently bowed as one says, “Namaste.” It is both a spoken greeting and a gesture—a mantra and a mudra. The prayerful hand position is called anjali, from the root anj, “to adorn, honor or celebrate.” In our Saiva community, we also say, with folded hands, “Vanakkam,” “Namah Sivaya” or “Aum Sivaya.” The meaning is similar. The hands held in union signify the oneness of an apparently dual cosmos, the bringing together of spirit and matter, or the self meeting the Self. It is said that the right hand represents the higher nature or that which is divine in us, while the left hand represents the lower, worldly nature. In Sanskrit namas means “bow, obeisance, reverential salutation.” It comes from the root nam, which carries meanings of bending, bowing, humbly submitting and becoming silent. Te means “to you.” Thus namaste means “I bow to you.” The namaste gesture gently reminds us that we can see God everywhere and in every human being we meet. It is saying, silently, “I see the Deity in us both, and bow before It. I acknowledge the holiness of even this simple meeting. I cannot separate that which is spiritual in us from that which is human and ordinary.” This beautiful custom opens our heart to see that person’s good qualities. We remember to treat him or her with respect and love. It would be difficult to offend or feel animosity toward anyone that you greet as God. Namaste can also be used to say farewell. An even deeper veneration is expressed by bringing the fingers of the joined palms to the brow, the site of the mystic third eye. A third form of namaste brings the palms above the head. This salutation is reserved for God and the holiest of satgurus.§


GURUDEVA: The mudra is called anjali. It is a devotional gesture made equally before a Deity, holy person, friend or momentary acquaintance. Holding the hands together connects the right side of the body with the left, and brings the nerve and nadi currents into poised balance, into a consciousness of the sushumna, awakening the third eye within the greeter to worship God in the greeted.§