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Culture 101: The Fine Art of Namaste

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These days when 2 Indians guys meet, there are several ways to greet each other. The favourite ones will be by a firm handshake or a high five or on rare occasions, a hug. Namaste or vanakam (in Tamil) is often reserved for old uncles, old aunties, and visitors from India and the priest from the neighbourhood temple.

Tell Namaste or vanakam to your close buddies, you will get back a strange look and comments like “Nee epe nalavana avena” (when you became the good guy) or “Valkei le tradition erekela ana valekei ye tradition irekekudade” (You can have traditions in your life but traditions cannot be your whole life)

I know this because I have done the above before with my friends and hence the above comments (at that time, I was coming from a seminar in a temple where we said “vanakam” several times). Little they (and I) realised the significant of saying namaste / vanakam with both palms held together.

From About Hinduism:-

In Sanskrit the word is namah + te = namaste which means “I bow to you” – my greetings, salutations or prostration to you. The word ‘namaha’ can also be literally interpreted as “na ma” (not mine). It has a spiritual significance of negating or reducing one’s ego in the presence of another.

The last time I had everyone holding their palms together and bowed when they greeted you is when I was in Bangkok for a project.

Bowing down and greeting was the way of life there and it was not surprised though (Thais are naturally polite people) – it is a way life under Buddhism. I greeted the same way to the hotel receptionists, the hotel guests, the doorman, the security guard and as I walked towards to the client’s place, the friendly street hawkers. Certainly Thai’s way of greeting had a spiritual aura to it.

Once come back to Malaysia and out goes the vanakam and in comes firm handshake. Certainly I need to practice and make it as a habit to use the vanakam instead the usual handshake. Not so soon though.

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3 thoughts on “Culture 101: The Fine Art of Namaste”

  1. i heard from an elderly person that holding your palms together also means that you are not concealing anything (i.e. weapons) and symbolically showing to the other person(s) that you are sincere. His logic was, since a handshake only requires one hand, you have the other hand free to do anything (i.e. hold a knife or a gun)

    I guess there is some truth to that notion, though….

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