Prostration is considered as the greatest sanskara in the Indian culture. Indians prostrate to their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elder, in turn, blesses them by placing their hand on or over our heads. Prostration is done daily; when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like a beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals etc.
In particular traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by abhivandaana which serves to introduce oneself, announce one’s family and social stature.
Why do we offer prostrations?
A man stands on his feet. Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of respect for the age, maturity, nobility and divinity that our elders personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love and the sacrifices that they have done for our welfare. It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another.
The tradition reflects the strong family ties which have been one of India’s enduring strengths.
The good wishes (sankalpa) and blessings (ashirvaada) of elders are highly valued in India. We prostrate to seek them.
Good thoughts create positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have tremendous strength.
When we prostrate with humility and respect, we invoke the good wishes and blessings of elders which flow in the form of positive energy to envelop us. This is why the posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables the entire body to receive the energy thus received.
The different forms of showing respect are:
- Pratuthana – rising to welcome a person.
- Namaskaara – paying homage in the form of namaste
- Upasangrahan -touching the feet of elders or teachers.
- Shaashtaanga – prostrating fully with the feet, knees, stomach, chest, forehead and arms touching the ground in front of the elder.
- Pratyabhivaadna – returning a greeting.
Rules are prescribed in our scriptures as to who should prostrate to whom, Wealth, family name, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge in ascending order qualified men to receive respect. This is why a king, though the ruler of the land, would prostrate before a spiritual master. Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have many stories highlighting this aspect.
This tradition, thus creates an environment of mutual love and respect among people ensuring harmony in the family and the society.
Reference: Why do we… by Swamini Vimalananda and Radhika Krishnakumar