By Swami Harshananda
Namaskāra literally means ‘obeisance’.
Greeting one another, especially when one meets others for the first time in the day, is a common phenomenon of courtesy in all the societies. According to the religious and cultural traditions, as enshrined in the āgamas, the dharmaśāstras and the purāṇas, this greeting can assume several forms. ‘Namaskāra’ is the most common and general term used for such forms of showing respect or reverence.
Origin of the word Namaskāra
Derived from the root-verb ‘nam,’ which means ‘to bend’, the word ‘namaskāra’ connotes bending before one’s superiors in humility, to show respect. It may also mean ‘not mine’ ‘but thine,’ reflecting an attitude of total surrender. Several varieties of namaskāra have been mentioned in the scriptural works like:
- Abhivādana - In abhivādana, a person keeps his hands covering the ears and recites his name along with other details concerning his gotra and pravara or lineage, the Veda to which he belongs, the sutra work, the dictates of which are being followed in his family and so on.
- Aṅjali - In añjali, the two palms of the hand are joined in a mood of supplication.
- Praṇāma - Praṇāma is a special form of reverential salutation and prostration before the image of a deity in a temple, one’s guru, a sanyāsin one’s parents and highly venerated persons. This praṇāma can be ‘aṣṭāṅga’ or ‘pañcāṅga.
Other Modes of Namaskāra
There is another method of namaskāra wherein the person joins the palms of his hands and places them on his own head. This is resorted to when the salutation is casual and the object or person for whom it is meant, is not regarded as very holy. Some of the purāṇas extol the praṇāma properly done as equal to an Aśvamedha sacrifice. The number of praṇāmas to be done in a temple may vary from 3 to 48.
Namaskāra in Temple
Another aspect of reverence in a temple connected with praṇāma is pradakṣiṇa or circum-ambulation. It is going round the deity or the garbhagṛha keeping it always on the right. The number of such circum-ambulations to various deities is:
Namaskāra to Elders
- Na means not, Mah means mine.
- The person should be a dvija or belonging to the first three castes.
- Guru means spiritual preceptor.
- Sanyāsin means monk.
- Aṣṭāṅga means done with eight limbs viz, the two feet, the two knees, the two arms, the chest and the head touching the ground.
- Pañcāṅga’ means done with five limbs, viz, the two knees, the two hands and the head touching the ground.
- Garbhagṛha means sanctum.
- Surya means Sun-god.
- Svasti means auspiciousness.
- It means ‘May you live long!’
- Vardhasva means ‘May you be prosperous’
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore