By Swami Harshananda
Abhivādana literally means ‘causing the benediction to be pronounced by the elders while respectfully facing them’.
Honoring one's superiors has contributed to the solidarity of the society. In the presence of a person worthy of honor, one is expected to rise from one’s seat and salute him. The act of standing from the seat is called as pratyut-thāna and the later salute is called as abhivādana. After facing him which means as abhi and introducing himself and bowing down to him, the superior is expected to pronounce benediction called as vādana.
While offering abhivādana, it is necessary to repeat one’s gotra (parental lineage) along with the name of the particular branch of the Veda traditionally studied in the family, and one’s own name. During this repetition he should touch his ears and bend his head down. After this he can bow down touching or not touching the feet of the superior.
In upasaṅgrahaṇa, another variety of abhivādana, one clasps the feet of the superior at the time of saluting. This is obligatory. Elaborate details have been given in the dharmaśāstras with regard to abhivādana. For instance, it can be nitya (obligatory every day), naimittika (occasional) or kāmya (done with certain rewards in view).
- Bowing down to one’s teacher and parents everyday comes under the first category.
- Saluting the elders on special occasions like after returning from a journey, belongs to the second.
- If one does at one’s own will for seeking knowledge or long life or bliss in heaven, it is classed under the third.
Detailed rules have also been given as to whom abhivādana can be offered or should not be offered, the rules being based on varna & jati, learning, status in society and age. It is noteworthy that salutation to women, except to one’s mother, should be offered without touching their feet.
The persons to whom abhivādana is offered should return it in a manner appropriate to their position and status.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore