Meaning of Namaste

Namaste is a popular greeting in India, Nepal and countries where Hindu population are in large numbers. Like Arabic ‘Salam Aleikum’ or Spanish ‘Adios’, ‘Namaste’ crosses the boundaries of language and region. Irrespective of your location inside India or Nepal, people will know your intentions are not bad if you join your hands and greet them by saying ‘Namaste‘.

Indian Sadhu performing Namaste
Indian Sadhu performing Namaste

What does Namaste mean?

Namaste is the corruption of a Sanskrit greeting. In Sanskrit, it is a combination of three words.

Namah” which means ‘bow’,

Ast” is a grammatical case of ‘I’ and finally

Te” which is rendered into English as “you.”

So it literally Namaste translates as “I bow to you.” In ancient India, it was used to show one’s respect to the addressee. The effect of that old tradition still influences the way ‘Namaste’ is used in contemporary India.

Usage in modern India

Mostly this way of greeting is used by the by the children or young people to greet those who are older. It’s rarely used between friends and people of the same age; with these groups preferring English “Hi!” or “Hello!” Also, when older people greet children or young people, they usually ask “How are you?” It’s rare to find an old person who will greet a child with a Namaste.

Traditional Namaste
Common form of Namaste

Foreigners and Namaste

However, it’s different with foreigners. They are not expected to be familiar with the customs or the culture of India, so they can use ‘Namaste’ when meeting anyone. Rather than making fun of foreigners, Indians will most likely appreciate the effort and reply with a “Namaste.” The US President Barack Obama greeted Indians with a Namaste when he came to India few of years ago, and it went down well with the Indians.

Namaste at any time

Unlike English, where there are special greetings for the morning, afternoon and evening; Namaste can be used at any time of the day, or night. You will often hear children greeting relatives or older people with a Namaste even when they meet them at night.

Types of Namaste

A more traditional way of Namaste
A more traditional way of Namaste

There are two popular ways to say Namaste. A more modern way is to bow a little and just say it. It’s mostly used in the cities. A more traditional way is to place your hands together near your chest, close your eyes, bow a little (not like the Japanese!) and then say Namaste. The latter is a little old fashioned and extremely formal. You may find Indian air-hostesses, or employees at a big hotel greeting you in this manner but outside you will be hard pressed to find someone who closes his eyes while greeting.

There is still a third way to say Namaste. It’s formal in another way. Here after greeting, a person touches the feet of the addressee to show their respect. It’s never used among friends, or people of the same age. You will not encounter it in any hotel. Nonetheless, children greet their parents, grandparents and other relatives this way. Children are expected not to overdo it, as it may appear slavish.

Next time you see your Indian friend; don’t be shy to greet them in Namaste.

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41 thoughts on “Meaning of Namaste

  1. I have a few Indian friends as well as friends more involved in spiritual areas. Namaste is being used more and more in Western cultures – for me, it’s a really soothing word and greeeting too which is why it brings a feeling of joy to my ears.

    But what is the pronounciation? Is it nar-mast-a or something different when properly spoken?

  2. Namaste Shalu,

    I generally start with Hi but your article inspire me to say namaste.Must say really i nice post,i also greet my elders namaste which i dont see my friends do.

    Anyways i want to wish you great success for this blog as you are writing on India and making people aware of indian culture.

    Thank You
    shorya Bist
    From Youthofest

  3. Hi Shalu,

    Namaste is one of the popular term which is used by children to show respect to elder person. But in cities it’s now eradicating slowly. In villages you still find many people who use it, however in UP and Bihar you find people who says “Pranam”.

  4. I came in touch with using the word Namaste when I used to practice Yoga years ago.

    I always thought it could be used as a way to say “Good-bye” also, but I guess I got that wrong.

    Thanks for the post Shalu!

    • Hi Ileane
      The Namaste posture is used extensively in Yoga. Its a common practice. Namaste means to bow and give respect. I am glad you did Yoga. I hope you will continue again.
      Best wishes to you.

  5. Wow, what a very informative post! I thought before that namaste is used by everybody all the time. I’m glad that as a foreigner I can namaste anyone anytime during the day. Looking forward to do that when I’m in India next year.

  6. Hello Shalu,
    This term is basically used to respect to others.It seems that you have command on many articles.I am form India and i mean how much importance this word has.
    Thanks for this section.I would like to read more article By you.

  7. Thank you for clarifying what ‘Namaste’ really means Shalu. I’ve seen some Indian friends who do that and I also imitate them, and shame on me for not actually knowing what the respectful gesture is supposed to mean. Thank you very much.

  8. Hello Shalu! Namaste! This is amazing, enlightening us about the real meaning of the Indian gesture of homage. Now I get to use it to greet Indians in my town without being too silly not knowing what it really means.

  9. I am pleased to listen to that Namaste is being used in the USA as well. It’s a indication of heated interaction between the two excellent countries around the globe. Thank you for your opinion Eileen.

  10. Hi Shalu, it’s really fascinating what you find on the web. I was just browsing and found your blog. I’ve been greeting clients with “namaste” but never actually found out what the real meaning is. I really appreciate you sharing this with us.

  11. Hi Shalu,
    Namaste is a manner in which we display our sense of respect while greeting elders. I must thank you, for writing such a fine article on “namaste” as the niche. It’s really nice to hear that people of West also have started using this term. Thanks for the share.

  12. You have really understood the meaning of Namaste in the great way…this is the really a nice explanation for the Namaste word which is broadly used in India for gives to respect to elders as well as others.

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