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Outbreak 2020: Also Use Vanakkam Instead of Hand Shake


The many ways of communicating using our hands – the Western hand shake and the Indians of putting both palms together and saying vanakkam or namaste. The Japanese would just do without any hands by bowing in deep respect. Image source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately since a hand shake needs the touching of the hands, this unfortunately facilitates the human to human virus transmission. Remember the first Malaysian who got coronavirus after some business meeting in Singapore? He may have been hand shaking too many people and somehow got infected with coronavirus instead.

The 2019-nCoV virus situation as at 8th February 2020 remains grave with 814 dead, 2,920 recovered and 37,591 confirmed cases. Malaysia saw an increase of confirmed cases to 16 as at todate. Singapore is even worse with 40 confirmed cases, raising the Dorscon level to Yellow and triggering panic purchase at the supermarkets.

So the Deputy Health Minister had suggested Malaysians to instead use “Salam Malaysia which is a gesture by placing one hand over the chest. Frankly speaking, it is a logic suggestion and it is something that all Malaysians would be familiar with. Hopefully Malaysians don’t get confused with another set of “salam” which is similar to hand shaking but uses both hands.

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Interestingly the Indians have done something similar, practised for thousands of years which is called vanakkam or namaste which requires one to put both palms of the hand together. You can find this influence strongly in Thailand and some regions of Indonesia. I still remember many years ago when I was in Bangkok for a project, all the people that I met used the same gesture of putting their palms together and instead of saying vanakkam or namaste, said sawadikap.

What is Vanakkam means in the first place?

In Sanskrit, the word is namah (to bow) and te (you), meaning “I bow to you”. In other words, it means 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.


And in Thai, the same gesture means this:-

The wai gesture originated in Buddhism and has similar origins as namaste in Hinduism. It was basically a yogic posture of the palms and signifies the equal meeting of the two palms. It means that the other party is treated as equal human being


But then saying vanakkam or namaste with putting both palms together also has special purpose other than just giving respectable greetings. In ancient India, it is to show the person that you are meeting that you don’t hold any hidden weapons in your hands.

This is also to avoid any contamination as hands would often be dirty (unlike these days where we have hand wash in every house, restaurants and hotels) and it may not be clean enough to hold each other’s hands.

Then there is this scientific reason:-

It is the Tamil culture to greet the guest by welcoming with respect. It is also a form of Yoga called Anjali Mudra. We all know that tips of the fingers are the energy-releasing points, when we join your palms together, our fingers and nerve circuits of the brain are linked together which brings a feeling of calmness, also the greeting person image will register in the guest’s brain easily.

Also in yoga each finger represents certain energy where the little finger represents Tamas or dullness, the ring finger represents Rajas or activity, the middle finger represents Sattva or refinement, the index finger is the individual soul or jivatma and the thumb is the Paramatma or the ultimate soul, these are the reasons behind the Vanakkam gesture.


In Malaysia, it is quite common to see 2 Indians to meet up and saying vanakkam or namaste although in formal business meetings or at workplace, it is getting more common to see them to shake hands instead. Hand shake takes precedent when the same Indian meets up a non Indian who may not familiar with the gesture of putting both palms together and saying vanakkam or namaste.

But the advise by the Deputy Health Minister not only is a prudent one but also a logical one, considering any vaccine for this kind of coronavirus will take years to be developed, tested (first with monkeys and then humans) and then approved to be released to the general public. And there is an issue of manufacturing and distribution.

In the meantime, please always ensure we wash our hands, keep our personal items clean, stop touching our faces & others to minimise possible transmission and remain humble in greeting others with vanakkam or namaste or Salam Malaysia.

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