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The Meaning and Significance of Namaste


The word ‘namaste’ is a Sanskrit word and is a compound word consisting of “namas or namah” plus “te”. The word “namah” means to ‘bow down to someone in reverence’ and ‘te’ means ‘to you’. So, ‘namaste’ literally means that “I bow down to you out of respect or reverence”. Namaste is the traditional greeting among the Hindus and is used both as "hello" and "good bye". When two people meet, they greet each other by joining their hands in front of the heart, bow down their head and say ‘namaste’. The extended meaning of ‘namaste’ is that ‘the divinity in me salutes the divinity in you’. We can only bow down to someone else when we recognize that the essence of the other person is divine. Also, in order to bow to someone else, we must be able to surrender our ego. When we do that we are ourselves closer to our own divinity. Hence the above extended meaning.

Grammatical note on Namaste

As mentioned above, Namaste is a compound of "namah" and "te". In Sanskrit, two adjacent words are joined together by using the rules called ‘sandhi rules’. When we apply the rules for these two words, the resulting word is "namaste". The word "namah" is what is called an indeclinable. That means the word does not go through any change when the gender or number of the person addressed is changed. It is derived from the root "nam" (pronounced like ‘numb’ with no ‘b’ sound) which means ‘to bow’, ‘to salute’ as a mark of respect or obeisance. The word "te" is the fourth conjugation of the word "yushmad" which means "you". It should be pointed out here that "namah" is always used with the fourth conjugation of the one being addressed. For example, in "om namah shivaaya" (salutations to Lord Shiva), ‘shivaaya’ is the fourth conjugation of ‘shiva’. The word "te" is singular and is the same for masculine and feminine genders. The first conjugation of ‘yushmad’ is ‘tvam’ and is used generally to address someone who is very close to you, like a close friend, or someone who is junior to you either in age or status. When addressing someone who is an elder or not a familiar person, a more formal form of address ‘bhavaan’ is used. Traditionally, "te" is also used when you are trying to communicate with the supreme being, God or your personal deity. This is to indicate that you have a sense of unity, or closeness with the divine.

Here is a link to an interesting video clip where Pastor Eddie Smith is explaining the meaning of ‘namaste’ to his church congregation.

2 comments to The Meaning and Significance of Namaste

  • Hi Subhash,

    How grateful am I to have found your blog, and it’s interesting that we are writing about this very same topic, the meaning of Namaste.

    I’m also inspired by your story of having been in the corporate world for so long and leaving it all behind to teach yoga.

    Thank you.

  • Subhash Mittal

    Dear Nikki,
    Thanks for you feedback. It is great to see that you found the post on namaste of value. I visited your site as well and I must congratulate you for an excellent site. I like your very intimate and conversational style of blogging. – something that I need to work on myself. I also found it interesting to see that you delve in website design too. After retiring, it was one of my dreams to learn to design my own website. So I took a few online courses on CSS, XHTML and Dreamweaver, offered by a local community college. Even though I am still not comfortable applying all the tools that I learn but at least I was able to design my own website – More recently, I decide to maintain my own blog so I looked into WordPress and started using it. I shifted my earlier blog posts from blogger to wordpress. I am still at a novice at using this tool – hopefully will learn more as I go along.
    Hopefully we can stay in touch.

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