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Namaste: The Indian Way of Greeting

written by: Atula Gupta • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 1/21/2013

In India the usual way of greeting is not a handshake or a hello but a Namaste. Learn more about the word, its origin and the gesture accompanying it.

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    Say Namaste in India

    People across the globe have varied ways of greeting friends, acquaintances and strangers when they meet. It might be an ola, a hello, a handshake or in case of India, a namaste.

    The word and the gesture

    Namaste by SouthSputnik Namaste or namaskar is a word that is accompanied by a gesture in which both palms are pressed together close to the heart accompanied by a slight bow of the head, facing the person you are greeting. It depends whether you just want to say the word, accompany it with the gesture or just do the hand gesture.

    The pronunciation of the word can be broken into two parts. The first ‘nama’- as you say ‘nama’ and the second ‘ste’ as in ‘stay’. Thus it is nam-a-ste. If you choose to say namaskar instead, the pronunciation is ‘nam’ as in ‘nam’, ‘as’ as in ‘us’ and ‘kar’ as in ‘car’. The word thus becomes nam-as-kar.


    The words namaste and namaskar have their roots to the Sanskrit language and are as ancient as the country and its culture. In Sanskrit, ‘Namah’ or ‘Namas’ means bow, salutation, or paying obeisance and ‘Te’ means ‘to you’. Thus the word's meaning automatically becomes clear as ‘I bow to you’ or ‘I pay my obeisance to you.’

    The greeting is a mark of respect, unlike a hi which portrays more of a casual friendly salutation. Most Vedic texts and Sanskrit shlokas (verses) in reverence to the different Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon have a word ‘namah’ or ‘namaste’ beginning or ending the verse and conveying salutation to the different Lords.

    Namaste encompasses the complete essence of Indian culture in which respecting a fellow human being is considered as important as praying to the Lord. It is like saying that finally we are all part of the divine being and therefore ‘I pay my respect to you as I will to the Almighty.’ Namaste thus becomes a more divine or a spiritual gesture than a human one.

    While shaking hands can deliver your strength to the person you are greeting, a namaste inadvertently shows lessened sense of ego and self-centeredness, and requires humility.


    The Dalai Lama by rajkumar1220 A politician, spiritual leader or a movie star greets hundreds with a simple gesture of namaste, usually the hands raised above his head, conveying the greeting to all. In temples or while praying the hands are raised to the forehead, which according to Hindus is the place for the mystical third eye.

    The gesture is used in classical dance forms and in Yoga too, to calibrate one's energy to a single point.

    An interesting thing about the word is, that unlike a hi or a hello you can also end your speeches or public talks with a namaste or begin and end a letter with the word.

    Modern Namaste

    In modern times namaste has become a symbol of India. Pick any travel brochure or see a television ad on India and you will be instantly greeted with a smiling Indian face, doing a namaste. It conveys India’s hospitality and spiritual connection like no other greeting.

    Although young India is not alien to a handshake with the word hi or hello, which certainly helps in portraying the global connect of all countries, a namaste still finds its place in the ethical land.

    Moving beyond the boundaries of being a Hindu greeting, the word also binds the diversities of all Indians. That is because when a gesture is made to show your humiltiy and respect toward another human being, it certainly demands a reciprocation in the same positive way.

    Image Credit

    Flickr photos by SouthSputnik and rajkumar1220