Namaskar vs. Namaste: Which is which?

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Difference between Namaskar and Namaste

The Hindustani words – ‘Namaskar’ and ‘Namaste’, derived from the Sanskrit language, hold deep meanings in the Indian tradition and culture. You may find people using the two words interchangeably to mean one and the same thing. In fact, most of the standard English dictionaries define Namaste and Namaskar to be synonymous. However those who know the Sanskrit language do understand the subtleties of the terms. Literally speaking, there are just one line explanations for the two words. However, to understand and explain these words conceptually requires an in depth understanding of Indian beliefs, Hinduism and yoga. Thus to perfectly explain the two words conceptually and the thin line of demarcation between the meanings of the two is beyond the scope of this article. However this fact must not stop us from making an attempt at least!

Namaskar
Namaste

Etymology

Namaste and Namaskar have same Sanskrit root ‘Namah’ which means ‘to bow/salute reverentially’. Namaste is the ‘sandhi’ or articulation of the Sanskrit words ‘Namah’ (to bow) and ‘te’ (which means ‘to you’) thus meaning ‘I bow to you with reverence’. Namaskar on the other hand is the sandhi or articulation of ‘Namah’ and ‘kar’. ‘Kar‘ is derived from the Sanskrit verb ‘kri’ which means to do. Thus ‘Namaskar’ as a whole means -‘I do the act of bowing with reverence or deep respect’.

Greeting Gestures

The words Namaste and Namaskar when spoken are generally accompanied by the greeting gesture in which the palms are joined together and held upright in front of the chest. It is analogous to the western tradition of saying ‘Hello’ accompanied by a handshake but a lot of Indians believe that this gesture expresses much deeper respect. Utterance of the words Namaste or Namaskar is an integral part of a complete greeting.

Yogic Inferences

Although the literal meanings of Namaste and Namaskar are pretty much straightforward, the Yogic interpretations of the two terms are hard to grasp. Since Yoga is an integral part of Hinduism, it is important to understand the meanings of the terms in their real spiritual or yogic essence. Yogis introduce the concept of equality, oneness and spirituality in these two ways of greeting. According to most Yogis, in the usage of the word Namaskar, which means ‘I pay my salutations or I do the act of bowing with reverence’, the object is implicit and it is the Supreme consciousness within the person whom you are greeting. Thus the Namaskar means ‘I pay my cordial salutation to the Supreme consciousness within you’. Yogis mean Namaste as ‘I pay my salutations to YOU’ where YOU does not refer to the human but the Supreme Consciousness itself. Thus the Yogis forbid the usage of ‘Namaste’ to greet human beings but the divine powers. Thus Yogis never believe in saluting human being as this would create an inequality among the mankind. They say while saying ‘Namaskar’, you respect and salute the oneness and supreme consciousness within the human being. And You should use Namaste only to salute the divine not humans.

Summary

  • Namaste and Namaskar are the two Hindi words closely associated with the Indian way of greeting.
  • Namaste literally means ‘I salute you with reverence’.
  • Namaskar literally means ‘I do the act of salutation reverentially’.
  • The actual subtleties of the two words are described in the Yogic essence which is hard to understand.
  • Yogis recommend that Namaskar be used to greet a person, while Namaste should best be used when addressing the divine. 

Which term should be used more often?
  • Namaskar
  • Namaste
 
 

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