Sanskrit Greetings: What We’re Saying When We Say Namaste

There are several ways to greet someone in Sanskrit. Three in particular are equivalent to “hello” or “bonjour.” All imply an obeisance to the divine inner light within the person receiving the greeting. All are said with the hands in Anjali mudra (palms joined together and held before the heart or raised to the level of the forehead). If only one hand is available, then it touches the greeter’s heart.

This mudra is a devotional gesture made before a temple deity, holy person, friend, or acquaintance. The hands held together connects the right side of the body with the left, and brings the nerve and nadi currents into poised balance, into a consciousness of the central meridian (sushumna), awakening the third eye within the greeter to worship God in the greeted.

“Namaste” is the most commonly known Sanskrit greeting. Literally, “namah” means “salutations” and “te” means “to you,” so namaste means “salutations to you” and implies an honoring of the universal light of awareness that resides in each one of us. The “te” form of “to you” is actually the least polite form; therefore, this greeting is traditionally most appropriate for greeting someone younger than you or a student of yours. Culturally, “namaste” would never be used to greet ones’ teacher, parent, or boss, for instance.

“Namaskara” is more polite, and is appropriate for greeting a teacher, parent, or boss. “Kara” means “making or doing,” so combined with “namah,” this phrase means “making reverence.”

The most polite and honorific greeting is reserved for spiritual teachers or very highly respected individuals. It is “pranama,” which means “bowing forth” and implies the equivalent dynamic of a full prostration. A verse to a revered deity, sage, or scholar might end with “pranamami,” meaning “I prostrate to,” using the same basic verb root (“nam”) and prefix (“pra”).

Other greetings include “suprabhatam” (good morning), “subharatri” (good evening), and “sudinam” (good day).

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This article was originally published on Nicolai’s website,

Nicolai Bachman, MA, MS, E-RYT 500, has been teaching Sanskrit, chanting, yoga philosophy, and Ayurveda since 1994. He is author of 108 Sanskrit Flash Cards.

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