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16 February, 2013

Why do we prostrate before parents and elders?


In Indian Culture

Why do we prostrate before parents and elders?

       Indians prostrate to their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet.  The elder in turn blesses us by placing his or her hand on or over our heads.  Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals etc.  In certain traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by abhivaadana which serves to introduce oneself, announce one’s family and social stature.

Why do we offer prostrations?

       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 for us and the sacrifices that they have done for our welfare.  It is a way of humbly acknowledging the greatness of another.  This tradition reflects the strong family ties which has been one of India’s enduring strengths.

       The good wishes (sankalpa) and blessings (aashirvaada) 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 a 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 assured 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:

* Pratutbana – raising to welcome a person.

* Namaskaraara – paying homage in the form of Namaste (Indians greet each other – two palms are placed together in front of the chest and the head bows while saying the word ‘namaste’).

* Upasangraban – touching the feet of elders or teachers.

* Shaashtaanga – prostrating fully with the feet, knees, stomach, forehead and arms touching the ground in front of the elders.

* Pratyabivaadana – 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 of importance qualified men to receive respect.  That 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 society.
Source: Excerpts from the book on “In Indian Culture Why do we…”  by Swamini Vimalananda & Radhika Krishnakumar.

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