“Charan” means “feet” and “sparsh” means “to touch”. Together they mean “to touch one’s feet”. It has been a tradition since time immemorial to touch the feet of one’s father and mother, teachers and elders. They in turn bless the person touching their feet by placing their hand on or over the prostrating person's head. Prostration is done daily, while meeting with elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals etc.
In the Atharva Veda, great importance has been given to the way a person greets others when meeting them. Through “charan sparsh”, an individual exhibits the respect one holds for the elderly, the wise, and those with ideals and an outstanding contribution to society. It is a way of accepting their superiority. This promotes humility in an individual and also makes the other person feel important. Thereby a person learns to be humble, courteous and respectful. The physical effort involved provides useful exercise and promotes vigor, enthusiasm and concern for others, rids tension and is motivating.
In the Mahabharata, the Yaksha asked Yudhishthir, “How can a person become great and powerful?”. Yudhishthir responded, “By devotedly touching the feet of the mother and father, teachers and elders and by serving them until they are content to give blessings that make a person great and powerful.”
Immediately preceding the war, the Pandavas sought the blessings of Bhishma, their elders and their teachers.
Prostrating before Parents
In life, one of the most difficult things to do is to repay the debt owed to one's parents. In the Manusmriti, it is said that the problems faced by parents during childbirth and upbringing cannot be repaid even in a hundred years. It is also explained that the father is like Prajaapati and the mother is like Earth. Serving them has been described as penance. One who serves parents in real earnest can be said to have respect for all religions in the world.
It is further stated that those householders who serve their parents regularly attain the three worlds. They achieve success everywhere. These people are blessed through glory and honor and find great contentment.
It is also stated that whoever respectfully greets elders and teachers is blessed with strength, knowledge, honor and long life.
Performing Charan Sparsh
The procedure for “charan sparsh” is explained in the Manusmriti:
|ब्रह्मराम्भेवसाने व पादौ ग्राह्यौ गुरौः सदा
संहत्य हस्तावध्येयं स हि ब्रम्हान्जलिः स्मृतः
|brahmrāmbhevasāne va padau grāhyau gurauḥ sadā|
hastāvadhyeyaṁ sa hi brahmānjaliḥ smṛtaḥ
|Before beginning to learn the Vedas, and after the learning is complete, the student must regularly greet and touch the feet of his teachers. This is Brahmanjali—an ideal offering to them. Drawing close to the teacher one must touch the right foot with the right hand and left foot with the left hand.|
One should never greet with single hand only:
|जन्मप्रभृति यत्किंचित सुकृतं समुपार्जितम
तत्सर्वं निष्फलं याति एकाहस्नाभिवादनात
|janmprabhṛti yatkiancita sukṛtaṁ samupārjitama|
tatsarvaṁ niṣphalaṁ yāti ekāhasnābhivādanāta||
|One should never greet with one hand only. This way all virtues earned over a lifetime are wasted. It is important that greetings must be conveyed with both hands and with humility and devotion.|
Scientific Benefit of Charan Sparsh
There is a scientific basis to “charan sparsh”. Since the human body is releasing vibrations and also receiving them from people who come close, touching the feet encourages flow of energy. And when elders touch the head of the person in blessing, energy is again exchanged between them. This exchange of energy gives one vigor, self-confidence and contentment. One experiences an inner glow. The blessings received after “charan sparsh” are like invisible armour. They motivate and give strength.
- Mahabharata, Vanaparva
- Manusmriti 2/228
- Manusmriti, 2/232
- Manusmriti, 2/121