Pressing hands together with a smile to greet namaste – a common cultural gesture in India

Namaste (Sanskrit pronunciation: [nɐmɐste:],[1] Devanagari: नमस्ते), sometimes called namaskār and namaskāram, is a customary Hindu[2][3][4] manner of respectfully greeting and honouring a person or group, used at any time of day.[5] It is used in the Indian subcontinent, and among the Indian and Nepalese diaspora. Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called añjali mudrā; the standing posture incorporating it is pranāmāsana.[6]

Etymology, meaning and origins

Left: Hindu god Kubera on the left with a person in Namaste pose (13th century Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura, Karnataka, India). Namaste or Añjali Mudrā are common in historic Hindu temple reliefs.
Right: Entrance pillar relief (Thrichittatt Maha Vishnu Temple, Kerala, India).

Namaste (Namas + te) is derived from Sanskrit and is a combination of the word namas and the second person dative pronoun in its enclitic form, te.[7] The word namaḥ takes the sandhi form namas before the sound te.[8][9]

It is found in the Vedic literature. Namas-krita and related terms appear in the Hindu scripture Rigveda such as in the Vivaha Sukta, verse 10.85.22[10] in the sense of "worship, adore", while Namaskara appears in the sense of "exclamatory adoration, homage, salutation and worship" in the Atharvaveda, the Taittiriya Samhita, and the Aitareya Brahmana. It is an expression of veneration, worship, reverence, an "offering of homage" and "adoration" in the Vedic literature and post-Vedic texts such as the Mahabharata.[11][12] The phrase Namas-te appears with this meaning in Rigveda 8.75.10,[13] Atharvaveda verse 6.13.2, Taittirya Samhita and in numerous other instances in many early Hindu texts.[14] It is also found in numerous ancient and medieval era sculpture and mandapa relief artwork in Hindu temples.[15]

World leaders adopting Namaste during COVID-19.

According to the Indologist Stephen Phillips, the terms "te and tvam" are an informal, familiar form of "you" in Sanskrit, and it is typically not used for unfamiliar adults. It is reserved for someone familiar, intimate, divine or a child.[16][17] By using the dative form of tvam in the greeting Namas-te, there is an embedded secondary, metaphorical sense in the word. This is the basis of the pragmatic meaning of Namas-te, that is "salutations to the (divine) child (in your heart)", states Phillips.[16]

In the contemporary era, namaḥ means 'bow', 'obeisance', 'reverential salutation' or 'adoration'[18] and te means 'to you' (singular dative case of 'tvam'). Therefore, namaste literally means "bowing to you".[19] In Hinduism, it also has a spiritual import reflecting the belief that "the divine and self (atman, Self) is same in you and me", and connotes "I bow to the divine in you".[20][5][21] According to sociologist Holly Oxhandler, it is a Hindu term which means "the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you".[22]

A less common variant is used in the case of three or more people being addressed namely Namo vaḥ which is a combination of namaḥ and the enclitic second person plural pronoun vaḥ.[7] The word namaḥ takes the sandhi form namo before the sound v.[8] An even less common variant is used in the case of two people being addressed, namely, Namo vām, which is a combination of namaḥ and the enclitic second person dual pronoun vām.[7]


Excavations at various Indus Valley Civilisation have revealed some male and female terracotta figures in namaste posture.[23][24] These archaeological findings are dated to the Mature Harappan.[25][26]

A namaste gesture in the artwork of the 6th to 7th century CE Rajivalochan Vishnu Temple, Rajim, Chhattisgarh

Anjali Mudra

The gesture of folding hands during a namaste is called the Añjali Mudrā.[27] In addition to namaste, this mudra is one of the postures found in Indian classical dance such as Bharatanatyam,[28] and in yoga practice.[29] It is widely found in Indian temple reliefs and sculpture in mandapam, at entrances and iconography such as the Lingobhavamurti of Shaivism.[30][31] The Anjali mudra differs from namaste by being a non-verbal gesture, while namaste can be said with or without any gesture. According to Bhaumik and Govil, the Anjali mudra and Namaskara mudra are very similar but have a subtle difference. The back of the thumbs in Anjali mudra face the chest and are perpendicular to other fingers, while the thumbs in Namaskara mudra are aligned with the other fingers.[32]

Anjali mudra is described in Sanskrit texts such as in verse 9.127–128 of the Natya Shastra (200 BCE – 200 CE), in temple architecture texts dated after the sixth-century CE such as in verse 5.67 of the Devata murti prakarana and those on painting called the Citrasutras. The Natya Shastra, a classical Indian dance text, describes it to be a posture where the two hands are folded together in a reverential state and that this is used to pray before a deity, receive any person one reveres and also to greet friends. The Natya Shastra further states that for prayers inside a temple, the Anjali mudra should be placed near one's head or above, while meeting someone venerable it is placed in front of one's face or chin, and for friends near one's chest.[33][34]


The gesture is widely used throughout the Indian subcontinent, parts of Asia and beyond where people of South and Southeast Asian origins have migrated.[20] Namaste is used as a respectful form of greeting, acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger.[35] In some contexts, namaste is used by one person to express gratitude for assistance offered or given, and to thank the other person for his or her generous kindness.[36]

Namaskara is one of the 16 upacharas (veneration practices) used inside temples or any place of formal puja (worship).[37] Namaste in the context of deity worship, scholars conclude,[38][39] has the same function as in greeting a guest or anyone else. It expresses politeness, courtesy, honor, and hospitality from one person to the other. It is used in goodbyes as well. This is sometimes expressed, in ancient Hindu scriptures such as Taittiriya Upanishad, as Atithi Devo Bhava (literally, treat the guest like a god).[40][41]

Namaste is one of the six forms of pranama, and in parts of India these terms are used synonymously.[42][43]

Since namaste is a non-contact form of greeting, some world leaders adopted the gesture as an alternative to hand shaking during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic as a means to prevent the spread of the virus.[44][45]


See also


  1. ^ "namaste". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.). The British pronunciation is either /ˈnaməsteɪ/ or /naməˈsteɪ/, and the American is /ˈˌnɑməˈˌsteɪ/.
  2. ^ "How 'Namaste' Entered The English Language". Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  3. ^ "Why 'namaste' has become the perfect pandemic greeting". Religion News Service. 2020-10-01. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  4. ^ "Here's the history behind these no-touch greetings". Travel. 2020-03-23. Archived from the original on April 13, 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  5. ^ a b K V Singh (2015). Hindu Rites and Rituals: Origins and Meanings. Penguin Books. pp. 123–124. ISBN 978-0143425106. Archived from the original on 2019-12-17. Retrieved 2017-05-20.
  6. ^ Chatterjee, Gautam (2001), Sacred Hindu Symbols, Abhinav Publications, pp. 47–48, ISBN 9788170173977, archived from the original on 2017-01-11, retrieved 2017-12-28.
  7. ^ a b c Thomas Burrow, The Sanskrit Language, pp. 263–268
  8. ^ a b Thomas Burrow, The Sanskrit Language, pp. 100–102
  9. ^ Namah Archived 2014-08-27 at the Wayback Machine Sanskrit Dictionary
  10. ^ "उदीर्ष्वातो विश्वावसो नमसेळा महे त्वा । अन्यामिच्छ प्रफर्व्यं सं जायां पत्या सृज ॥२२॥, Griffith translates it as, "Rise up from hence, Visvavasu, with reverence we worship thee. Seek thou another willing maid, and with her husband leave the bride; RV, Griffith, Wikisource Archived 2020-01-05 at the Wayback Machine; other instances include RV 9.11.6 and many other Vedic texts; for a detailed list, see Maurice Bloomfield, Vedic Concordance Archived 2019-03-31 at the Wayback Machine, Harvard University Press
  11. ^ Monier Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary with Etymology Namas Archived 2019-05-18 at the Wayback Machine, Oxford University Press, p. 528
  12. ^ namas Archived 2018-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary 1899 edition], Harvard University update (2008)
  13. ^ RV 8.75.10, Wikisource:
    नमस्ते अग्न ओजसे गृणन्ति देव कृष्टयः ।
    Translation: "Homage to your power, Agni! The separate peoples hymn you, o god."
    Translators: Stephanie Jamison & Joel Brereton (2014), The Rigveda, Volume 2 of three, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-01-99363-780, p. 1172
  14. ^ Maurice Bloomfield, Vedic Concordance Archived 2019-03-31 at the Wayback Machine, Harvard University Press, pp. 532–533
  15. ^ A. K. Krishna Nambiar (1979). Namaste: Its Philosophy and Significance in Indian Culture. pp. vii–viii with listed pages. OCLC 654838066. Archived from the original on 2020-01-01. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  16. ^ a b Stephen H. Phillips (2009). Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy. Columbia University Press. pp. 272 note 26. ISBN 978-0-231-51947-2.
  17. ^ This is similar to tu / vous of French and Romance languages in Europe, states the Indologist Patrick Olivelle, see: Patrick Olivelle (2005). Manu's Code of Law. Oxford University Press. pp. 346 note 11.205. ISBN 978-0-19-517146-4.
  18. ^ "Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon", Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries (search results), University of Cologne, archived from the original on September 25, 2013, retrieved March 24, 2012.
  19. ^ Namaste Archived 2014-03-02 at the Wayback Machine Douglas Harper, Etymology Dictionary
  20. ^ a b Ying, Y. W., Coombs, M., & Lee, P. A. (1999), "Family intergenerational relationship of Asian American adolescents", Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 5(4), pp. 350–363
  21. ^ Lawrence, J. D. (2007), "The Boundaries of Faith: A Journey in India", Homily Service, 41(2), pp. 1–3
  22. ^ Oxhandler, Holly (2017). "Namaste Theory: A Quantitative Grounded Theory on Religion and Spirituality in Mental Health Treatment". Religions. 8 (9): 168. doi:10.3390/rel8090168.
  23. ^ Sharma & Sharma (2004), Panorama of Harappan Civilization, ISBN 978-8174790576, Kaveri Books, p. 129
  24. ^ "Origins of Hinduism" Archived 2014-02-26 at the Wayback Machine. Hinduism Today, Volume 7, Issue 2 (April/May/June), Chapter 1, p. 3
  25. ^ Seated Male in Namaskar pose Archived 2014-02-23 at the Wayback Machine National Museum, New Delhi, India (2012)
  26. ^ S Kalyanaraman, Indus Script Cipher: Hieroglyphs of Indian Linguistic Area, ISBN 978-0982897102, pp. 234–236
  27. ^ "The Meaning of Namaste". Yoga Journal. 14 June 2021. Retrieved 10 February 2022.
  28. ^ Anami, Basavaraj S.; Bhandage, Venkatesh A. (2018-06-04). "A vertical-horizontal-intersections feature based method for identification of bharatanatyam double hand mudra images". Multimedia Tools and Applications. 77 (23). Springer Science: 31021–31040. doi:10.1007/s11042-018-6223-y. ISSN 1380-7501. S2CID 46968377.
  29. ^ C Carroll; R Carroll (2012). Mudras of India: A Comprehensive Guide to the Hand Gestures of Yoga and Indian Dance. SD Publishers. pp. 44–46. ISBN 978-0-85701-067-4.
  30. ^ Douglas Barrett (1964). "An Early Cola Lingodbhavamurti". The British Museum Quarterly. 28 (1/2 (Summer)): 32–39. JSTOR 4422848.
  31. ^ Stella Kramrisch (1957). "Indian Sculpture Newly Acquired". Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin. 52 (252): 30–38 with Fig 2 and 3. doi:10.2307/3795036. JSTOR 379036.
  32. ^ Bhaumik, Gopa; Govil, Mahesh Chandra (2020). "Buddhist Hasta Mudra Recognition Using Morphological Features". Communications in Computer and Information Science. Singapore: Springer Singapore. pp. 356–364. doi:10.1007/978-981-15-6315-7_29. ISBN 978-981-15-6314-0. ISSN 1865-0929. S2CID 225349190.
  33. ^ Isabella Nardi (2003). The Theory of Indian Painting: the Citrasutras, their Uses and Interpretations. SOAS, University of London. pp. 132–134, also see Figure 67 on page 273.
  34. ^ James R. BRANDON (2009). Theatre in Southeast Asia. Harvard University Press. pp. 137–139. ISBN 9780674028746.
  35. ^ Constance Jones and James D. Ryan, Encyclopedia of Hinduism, ISBN 978-0-8160-5458-9, p. 302
  36. ^ Joseph Shaules (2007), Deep Culture: The Hidden Challenges of Global Living, ISBN 978-1847690166, pp. 68–70
  37. ^ Viswanatha, S. V. (2013-08-21). Racial Synthesis in Hindu Culture. Routledge. p. 209. ISBN 978-1-136-38420-2.
  38. ^ James Lochtefeld, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Volume 2, ISBN 0-8239-2287-1, 720 pp.
  39. ^ Fuller, C. J. (2004), The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 66–70, ISBN 978-0-691-12048-5
  40. ^ Kelkar (2010), A Vedic approach to measurement of service quality, Services Marketing Quarterly, 31(4), 420–433
  41. ^ Roberto De Nobili, Preaching Wisdom to the Wise: Three Treatises, ISBN 978-1880810378, p. 132
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  43. ^ G. Chatterjee (2003), Sacred Hindu Symbols, ISBN 978-8170173977, pp. 47–49
  44. ^ "Coronavirus: Indian greeting namaste goes global". BBC. March 13, 2020. Retrieved October 13, 2023.
  45. ^ "Greet the Indian way: Israeli PM urges citizens to adopt 'Namaste' instead of handshakes to avoid COVID-19". 5 March 2020. Archived from the original on 2020-03-12. Retrieved 2020-03-29.