Ever since it was disclosed that one of the precautions against being infected with swine flu was to avoid shaking hands, I have made it a point to avoid shaking anybody’s hand. That’s also because it is being increasingly accepted that it’s best not to be too touchy-touchy if you want to avoid getting any sort of germs transferred. Nowadays, the big talk is about the importance of hand-washing, especially in this part of the world, where the hands are used for everything. So, the traditional Nepali greeting of putting both palms together and saying ‘Namaste’ has taken on a new dimension.
Not that ‘Namaste’ was any less important, and any less significant, at any other point in time. It has always been one of the gentlest, and politest, forms of greeting anybody. It’s elegant, too. In fact, the meaning of the word itself says a lot about the culture here. ‘Namaste’ is a word derived from the ancient Sanskrit script, according to which it means, ‘I bow to the divine in you’. In a country where the culture dictates that guests are to be regarded as gods, it is apt that our greeting should be in sync with that dictum.
When you are traveling to Nepal, you’ll probably first experience this greeting when boarding your plane, when the pretty air hostess welcomes with a warm smile and a graceful ‘Namaste’. You’ll probably return the greeting similarly, and continue to repeat the process at different times during your stay here. You can’t help it, since it’s the kind of greeting that calls for an equally gracious response, and none is more gracious than a ‘Namaste’! Anyway, aside from that, it’s a fine way to start absorbing some of the ancient culture of Nepal. A ‘Namaste’, accompanied with a smile, will take you miles. At the least, it will endear you to the locals you come across, and make you more welcome anywhere you go. A proper ‘Namaste’ can unlock many doors, and open hearts, too. So, go ahead, practice a couple of ‘Namaste’s’ even before you embark on your journey to this Himalayan country!
Leave the strong and hearty handshake behind, although nowadays, you’ll meet plenty of folks out here who’ll prefer to push their hand forward to receive one. A sign of the times, but all said and done, they’ll still be likely to give you a ‘Namaste’ before doing so. So deeply ingrained are Nepalis in the culture of their land. A ‘Namaste’ is not only used for greeting and welcoming, it’s also used for farewells, and for demonstrating your gratitude too. A ‘dhnayabad’ (thank you) accompanied by a ‘Namaste’ gesture is sure to be pretty well appreciated. An all-in-one-greeting, that’s what a ‘Namaste’ is. Whatever the case may be—greeting, welcoming, goodbye, or demonstrating thanks—one cannot go wrong with a ‘Namaste’ since it is such a humble gesture that anybody will appreciate it heartily.
What’s the proper way of doing a ‘Namaste’, you may ask? Well, here’s what you do—first you bring your hands together, the palms pressed against each other; then you place them just below your chin; now, slightly bowing your head, you bring a gentle smile to your lips (and your eyes, too, for that matter), and say, ‘Namaste’ in a polite voice. Some people have their eyes downcast when doing so, while some look into your eyes; it doesn’t matter all that much what you do.
Your humility-signifying folded hands, the warm smile on your face, well, that’s more than enough to convey your warmth and respect for the one you are saying ‘Namaste’ to.
Yes, in the final analysis, that’s what a ‘Namaste’ signifies—respect. Respect for the god in others, respect for their inherent goodness. And, humility, that’s what the person saying ‘Namaste’ is displaying. Well, anybody would want to reciprocate such beautiful feelings, wouldn’t you say? How do you do that? By doing likewise, of course, which means giving an equally heartfelt ‘Namaste’ in return!