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‘.
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.
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
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.