Why do we prostrate before elders?

published on December 23, 2014

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

Touching the feet in prostration is a sign of respect for the age, wisdom and divinity that our elders personify. It symbolizes our recognition of their selfless love for us and the sacrifices 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 these blessing. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have a tremendous power. Good thoughts also create positive vibrations.
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.

Pratyabivaadana – returning a greeting.

Rules are prescribed in our scriptures as to who should prostrate to whom. Wisdom, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge qualifies 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 of Hinduism.

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