In the West, people tend to greet each other with a handshake and a “hello” – gestures which have no other meaning except common courtesy. But when it comes to the Indian greeting known as the Namaste bow, this is a whole different story.
“The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra,” writes yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala in this article appearing in Yoga Journal. “The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.”
(The chakras he is referring to are alleged energy centers believed to have the ability to receive, assimilate and transmit an alleged universal life force energy known as prana.)
The word namaste is derived from “namah” which means “’bow,” “obeisance,” “reverential salutation” or “adoration” and “te” means “to you.”
This site, which documents Hindu customs, explains the meaning of the word as “I bow to thee” or “I honor the godhead within.”
“The gesture is a sign of respect and is used by men and women when meeting members of the same or opposite sex. It is similar to praying gesture performed before an image of a deity at a temple.”
Palkhivala describes the proper way to perform a Namaste bow: “ . . . [W]e place the hands together at the heart charka, close the eyes, and bow the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head, and then bringing the hands down to the heart.”
(The third eye is an alleged invisible eye which some believe provides sight beyond the realm of the natural and is associated with psychic powers.)
He continues: “We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart. One can do Namaste to oneself as a meditation technique to go deeper inside the heart chakra; when done with someone else, it is also a beautiful, albeit quick, meditation.”
While some say this bow is nothing more than the Indian version of “hello” – this might be true about the way some choose to use the greeting, but the greeting itself could never be compared to a standard greeting like “hello” which does not have – and never did have – any connection to a religious belief.