India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Do you remember where we were before the pandemic hit?
Inequality had reached historical records worldwide, Australia had burned for months on end, autocrats were suffocating democracy in Hungary and Venezuela, and a wave of protests had swept across six continents– from Beirut to Paris, from Hong Kong to Moscow.
COVID-19 is spreading worldwide, confusion prevails, and some of the leaders of the advanced world seem to embrace a casual approach. We offer a simple pathway to guide that will reduce the virus spread. Coronavirus within the last seven months has brought the whole world to its knees.
Examine the situation in India: Migrant laborers/working populations are stranded with no job prospects. No way to get back to their home villages, many hundreds of miles away. And no access to medical care. This pandemic, affecting the developed and developing nations, has had the same level of impact.
Preventive steps are now universally encouraged for COVID19, namely “stay at home” and a virtual lockdown of economies, thus separating the infected from the non-infected. Its compliance had been erratic in the US.
It is time to reframe our approaches to daily living activities, more specifically, how we greet each other. A universal, symbolic one is the handshake. We need to reduce the communicability of infections.
How can we reduce the spread of infection from one human to another?
Begin to use Namaste universally. With the ever-present paranoia of touching strangers, the gesture Namaste (verbal and symbolic) can be more than just a phrase we hear after yoga.
When someone uses the namaste gesture, it reflects the intended expression of mutual respect for another person’s personality. It means that everyone extended the utmost reverence. Namaste implies that “the divinity within me respects and honors the divinity within you.” You can reflect this profound thought with one physical gesture.
However, the Namaste gesture itself unrestricted, beyond the Indian American culture. As an example, many cultures around the globe fold their hands when worshipping. In Japan, it can mean conceptually, “I am sorry,” “thank you,” or “please.” As a greeting, this gesture is familiar throughout most of Southeast Asia.
Namaste dates back to the origins of the Indus valley civilization itself. The Terracotta figures and sculptures are depicting this gesture are dated back to 3000 years, even before the Christian Era. As civilizations blossomed and cultures intermingled, the namaste pose became even more widespread.
The handshake, on the other hand, is used as a standard greeting in Western cultures. It is a way of agreeing to specific terms of the trust, a show of mutual trust. To prove neither side was carrying weapons. As significant life-saving steps evolve, fortunately, this handshaking might have seen its last days with the pandemonium of the Covid-19 viral infections. Dare we live without shaking peoples’ hands?
Yes, as it is a preventative step in the spread of infections.
Consider how interpreted grips are, when shaking someone’s hand:
Like gripping their hand too much? Bone Crunching? Too floppy? Are palms sweaty and clammy? Or are they too dry? Symbolically, as we say sometimes, the individual has “cold hands,” here reflecting a not helpful individual. One sometimes feels that someone extending the hand used some moisturizer (or a sanitizer) before that handshake!
Aside from its simplicity, the namaste posture implicates mutual fairness. There is no prominent or submissive interpretation implied. Whereas, with a handshake, a person with a firmer grip is seen as more authoritative. In contrast, a person with a less firm grasp is seen as submissive. Namaste levels this field of cognitive conflicts.
The only expected interactive way to reciprocate to a namaste is with a namaste concurrently. It is simple to remember: respect demands respect. Namaste a universal value packed into a single interactive step.
Even more important is the social distance Namaste provides. One can greet each other across a conference table as an example. Namaste removes the ambiguity, “should I hug them?” “pat them on the shoulder?” “fist bump them?” or “shake their hand?” “peck on the cheek?” and other dilemmas that we encounter, day in and out.
We now realize that the handshakes and hugs need to take a backseat in light of the current coronavirus pandemonium. It is time that the namaste pose might become a universal form of greeting. It has gained significant traction in western civilizations. This step is a viable alternative to the potentially polluting handshakes, hugs, and fist bumps.
In Western cultures, we only have seen Namaste used by yoga instructors.
Namaste, its meaning, and significance with its health and wellness benefits make it ready to be universally acknowledged.
So the next time, when having a neighborly chat, start with a Namaste – no language limitations – even from across the yard with a coffee mug in hand.
Reema Kalidindi is a junior at Lower Bucks High School and a lead volunteer at Bharatiya Temple’s school for children.
Dr. Akkaraju Sarma, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., Ph.D., has academic roots in Anthropology and Internal Medicine. He has practiced medicine in underserved areas in Philadelphia (37+ years). He leads the health & human services programs at Bharatiya Temple for a decade and help.