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Hello and Goodbye
Namaste, Namaskar, Namaskaram all are words that can be used interchangeably. Its use is common and widespread all over the Indian subcontinent, especially among the Hindus. These are words used for greeting at the time of meeting and parting.
Some of the counter parts of ‘namaste’ in other cultures and countries are 'Gassho' (Japanese), ‘Sat Sri Akaal’ (Sikhism), ‘Hello’ (Western), ‘Assalaamu alaykum’ (Muslim). The gesture made with the last two is different from the rest.
The word ‘namaste’ is a combination of two Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language) words ‘nama’ and ‘te’. ‘Nama’ means ‘to bow, to pay obeisance, adoration’ and ‘te’ meaning ‘to you’ and is pronounced as ‘Nama-a-stay’. The literal translation comes out as ‘bow to you’. The interpretation of the word namaste which every Indian teaches his children is that by wishing namaste we acknowledge the other as an equal; we bow to the spirit in him. It is considered to be an ego neutralizer, where you bow to the spirit in that other. Depending on the level the hands in front offers additional meaning; the higher the hands go, the higher the amount of reverence shown. In yogic postures the hands are joined above the heading, paying reverence to the almighty.
‘Namaste’ is used as a greeting for both formal as well as informal functions and meetings. It is used both for greeting and parting. It can be made to elders and youngsters, all alike. It is a gesture of love and respect. Besides holding both hands close to the chest, a slight bow is also made while greeting namaste. The word is spoken and the gesture is made simultaneously. Even joining the hands alone and not speaking the word connotes the greeting.
‘Namaste’ is a part of the daily protocol. It is well recognized in traditional dance forms of India, yoga postures and religious rituals. For a tourist visiting India this is one of the first words that has to be learned and understood. It helps break barriers, and even a passerby responds to it with equal respect.
Pronunciation: The ‘t’ in ‘Namaste’ is not pronounced as in ‘stay’, but is pronounced very softly. The exact pronunciation can be checked at http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/namaste.
For more information on the word and its meanings, you can take a look at these additional sites:
Click on the link for a downloadable Word doc that provides a list of other Greetings and Salutaions commonly practiced in Hindi