Namaskar is a gesture that signifies relinquishing pride by surrendering eleven aspects of self-proclaimed ownership. It’s performed by placing five fingers of one hand representing five sense organs (Karmendriya: eyes, nose, tongue, ears, and skin) and five fingers of the other hand representing the energy activating these physical organs (Gyanendriya: Sight, smell, taste, hear and sense of touch) held together against the forehead representing the eleventh aspect of human, the buddhi and bowing down with gratitude. It’s a fundamental gesture in Sanātana Ḍharma (Hinduism, also assimilated into Buddhism and other branched religions) symbolizing humility, and has various ways to perform with different meanings. As explained in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 of Karmā Yoga, sloka 34, Gitacharya says:
इन्द्रियस्येन्द्रियस्यार्थे रागद्वेषौ व्यवस्थितौ।
तयोर्न वशमागच्छेत्तौ ह्यस्य परिपन्थिनौ।।
(Gita Supersite. n.d)
Meaning, Indria (इन्द्रिय) and their objects are the cause of Rāga (राग) meaning longing or liking, and also they are the reason for Dveṣa (द्वेषौ), meaning detest or dislike. It’s through these indria a being experiences and senses both Rāga and Dveṣa. Hence, one can’t come under their influence and be dictated by these indria (from its Rāga and Dveṣa). One has to break free from their influence and retire oneself into Buddhi or Yoga in this material world.
Its not the intention to suppress or forcefully subjugate one’s desires, one has to tie one’s desire with dharma and assimilate it into the wheel of dharma. And slowly evolve to realizing Ātman and Ishwara (Iśvara) by letting Chitta or buddhi as the instructor and the guide. This is why we have to surrender our Indria to Iśvara through a gesture of namaskar and remind ourselves time and again of their influences and seek Iśvara to be the guide by emulating our buddhi.
What are the different forms of Namaskar?
What is Sashtanga Namaskar and Panchanga Namaskar?
How does one perform Namaskar to Guru, Mother, Father, Sanyasi, and God (Iśvara)?
Its significance lies in the very name wherein the word ‘Namaha’ in Namaste means to relinquish ownership over what we thought was ours. ‘Nama’ meaning mine, ‘aha’ meaning I relinquish it to you. Hence, when we perform namaskar to Iśvara, it means to express gratitude to have received this existence which is not ours and hence we relinquish our ownership towards these materials and desires, and surrender oneself to You (Iśvara). When we perform namaskar to others, its means to recognize Iśvara in them, hence, in Sanātana Ḍharma sidhantham (fundamentals of a concept, not philosophy) namaskar is done to all entities in creating, including rocks, mountains, plants, trees, sky, fire, rivers, animals, tools and more.
Sashtanga Namaskar: (pronounced as Sa:asta:anga wherein Sa: means ‘along with’ or ‘together’, asta: means number eight, finally anga: means body parts) A gesture performed using eight parts of the body, by lying flat on the ground, face down, with eight parts of the body (legs, stomach, chest, mouth, nose, forehead, hands, and ears) touching the floor. While laying face down one has to turn their head so as to touch each ear to the ground at the same time switching their legs placing them one over the other, meaning, when the left ear touches the ground one leg come on top over the other, when the right ear touches the ground, the other leg comes on top of the other.
Only women have an exception not to touch their chest and stomach to the floor, but rather sit on their knees with elbows and head touching the floor. This is similar to Balasana posture in Yoga but with hands and elbows towards the front. This Namaskar is called as Panchanga Namaskar. It is pronounced as Pancha:anga, wherein Pancha: meaning five and Anga: meaning body parts. The reason why women are exempted can be read in the story of Pruthu Maharaj from Srimad Bhagavata(m) (Śrī Bhagavata Puráńa(m)). While performing Sashtanga Namaskaram one should make sure not to point legs to any other deity in or around the temple. This is the reason, Sashtanga Namaskar is only performed to the primary deity beyond the dwajasthambam (tall pillar with a flag and bells placed before the temple entrance linear to the primary deity) to avoid an accidental pointing of legs towards other deities.
To Parents, only one namaskar should be performed and never to expect or wish anything in return. When love materializes into a human form it’s called parents. Parents don’t expect anything in return for their love from their children, they only pray, struggle, and sacrifice to give a better life to their children. Love is to give without condition and expectations. Kama on the other hand is a desire or want, which comes with conditions seeking satisfaction, fulfillment, or a sense of accomplishment. Today there is a huge misunderstanding between these two words causing them to be interchangeably used in many situations. A Mother only wishes to give Her best to their children, and a father only struggles for his children to prosper. Parents know only to forgive and neither of them expects anything in return. Hence, when performing namaskar to one’s mother the hands held together should be placed near one’s stomach, representing her nourishing our body by feeding our stomach and quenching its hunger with her hands. To one’s father, one should place hands help together near our mouth, representing that this mouth was fed by one’s father’s struggle.
Guru, like a father, teaches everything to his/her students, but never expects anything in return, hence, the best a student can do, is struggle to safeguard their Guru’s health and wish for his/her long life. As long as the Guru is in the human form, knowledge can be obtained through him/her. When a child or a student conveys gratitude through Namaskar to their parents or Guru, the joy that’s felt by them will also be felt by the Almighty Himself, hence never desire anything in return. Hence, when performing Namaskar to a Guru, one should place hands held together at our forehead, representing wisdom and knowledge.
Three Namaskarams to be performed to Param:Iśvara and it’s from Him we can wish, or ask for our desires to be fulfilled, why? Because this is His creation, and there is nothing we can give that is not already His, and so it’s He who must uplift us from our three gunas (satva, rajas and thamas). This request to Iśvara to help us understand Him is the very essence of Gayatri Mantra. It’s by Urging Iśvara which can lift us from these gunas and bring us into Shudda-Satva Guṇa. It’s He who is making us dwell in these gunas, and it’s He who can get us out of them. He himself has quoted in Srimad Bhagavat Gita, part of Śrī Mahabharatha, composed by Maharśi Vedā Vyāsa, Chapter 7, verse 16, as:
“आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ”
“Artho jignAsur arthArthi, gnAni cha bharatarshabha”
(Gita Supersite. n.d., All Glory to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. 2005)
Meaning there are four types of people who seek Iśvara, out of them, Artho and JignAsur seek Iśvara to have their wishes fulfilled, which is not wrong. But it’s not recommended to seek Iśvara constantly for material possession alone. Artho is the person who seeks fulfillment of some desire by rituals and devotion, hence has a surrendered mind, whereas JignAsur is the one who also seeks fulfillment but seeks in the form of questioning things and exploring them, hence has an active exploratory mind. (Gita Supersite. n.d., All Glory to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. 2005)
Four Namaskaram are to be performed to a Sanyasi by chanting the phrase ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’ because they have crossed the 3 stages of human disciplines, which are Brahmā:chairyam, Gruhastu, and Vanaprasthu. One should never expect anything from a Sanyasi, not even a blessing because they themselves have left everything to focus their buddhi onto the almighty. When namaskar is performed to one’s kula:daiva(m), meaning the deity primarily worshiped by the family and passed on by forefathers as the family deity, should be performed by placing hands held together near our chest. If there exists a deity other than the kula:daiva(m) that one desires and admires, then namaskar should be performed with hands held together and raise up above the head. Please note that irrespective of which deity one likes or admires, kula:daiva(m) should always be worshiped first as the primary deity, so as to honor one’s ancestor’s efforts to worship and pass on that culture and ritual, which brought forth our existing as a successor to that family.
Note: Namaskar should never be done facing south since Śrī Yama Dharmaraju will be its recipient. Sandhya Vandanam and Dhig-devata Namaskar are exceptions.
Once a poet made a tricky statement to Iśvara in his poem, “I made a mistake in my previous life by not doing Namaskar to you, in the next life I will not be able to do Namaskar to you, which is also a mistake, and so I humbly ask your forgiveness for both”. Iśvara asked why? For this he explained, that the mistake by not performing namaskar in a previous life has costed him to get this life, next life I will not be doing it again which is also a mistake because I will not be having another life since I am performing namaskar to you now.
With namaskar when one bow down to Iśvara, one will rise in one’s character and conscience. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.3)
REFERENCE ENTRY (APA Style citation)
Śrī Chaganti Koteshwar Rao (Orator). (n.d.). Kanaka Dhara Stotram [Audio Part 1-19, Recorded by Srichaganti.net]. Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India. Retrieved from http://www.english.srichaganti.net/KanakaDharaStrotram.aspx
All Glory to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. (Nov 27, 2005). Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Retrieved from http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-07-16.html
Gita Supersite. (n.d.). Developed and Maintained by IIT Kanpur. Retrieved from https://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in
Keshava temple Somanathapura, Karnataka. (Sep 3, 2017). Wikimedia Commons File:Namaste pose, 13th century Keshava temple Somanathpur.jpg. Retrieved from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Namaste_pose%2C_13th_century_Keshava_temple_Somanathpur.jpg
Chennakesava temple Somanathapura, Karnataka. (Sep 3, 2017). Wikimedia Commons File:Kubera Namaste, 13th century Keshava temple Somanathpur.jpg. Retrieved from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e4/Kubera_Namaste%2C_13th_century_Keshava_temple_Somanathpur.jpg
Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India. (n.d.). Mahavidya. Image Retrieved from http://www.mahavidya.ca/category/indian-philosophical-schools/the-six-orthodox-systems/yoga/hatha-yoga/
Sashtanga Namaskar, Alipiri Steps, Tirupati Tirumala, Andhra Pradesh, India. (2012). te.wikipedia.org. File:Alipiri metla daari pai saastaanga namaskaara silpam clear.JPG. Retrieved from https://te.wikipedia.org/wiki/దస్త్రం:Alipiri_metla_daari_pai_saastaanga_namaskaara_silpam_clear.JPG