Why Do We Prostrate

India is a country filled with different cultures and practises. One such practice is the act of prostration.

Indians usually greet their elders, teachers, parents and great figures by the act of prostration which is touching the feet.  This is reciprocated by the elders by blessing them, which they do by keeping their hands on their heads. Prostration is usually done during auspicious occassions, and festivals and in temples.

Buddhist pilgrims prostrating at the Jokhang.
Buddhist pilgrims prostrating at the Jokhang.

 

There are certain parts of India which have a sacred thread ceremony for the boy. Such boys usually have an Introduction to say before the prostration. This is called the Abhivadana.

So exactly why do we do it and what is the significance of falling at the feet of the elders?  Well, this is the best way, we keep our ego aside and show respect for age, experience and wisdom. In case of parents, we offer to them our humble thanks for making us what we are. In case of teachers, we thank these mentors for being the guiding light in our lives. In case of elders, we simply show our awe and respect by falling at their feet thus surrendering ourselves to their experience.  We appreciate their selfless love and this is the best way we could acknowledge it.

A servant kowtowing to an official, a common p...

Whatever mistake we do, is best forgiven by people who are elder to us, people like our parents and teachers. By the good wishes that they bestow on us, we can gather this collective energy and make our life a fruitful one.  It is believed that the good that they think for us will vibrate always with a positive note in our life.

White-clad deacon candidates prostrate before ...
White-clad deacon
candidates prostrate before the altar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of
the Angels in Los Angeles during a diaconate ordination liturgy. (Photo
credit: Wikipedia)

There are various ways to show our respect . We could rise to welcome anyone who is elder to us. This is called the Pratuthana.

We could fold our hands and say a “Namaste” . This is a way of showing a namaskaara.

A sadhu performing namaste (W:Anjali mudra) in...
A sadhu performing namaste (W:Anjali mudra) in Madurai, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We could touch the feet of our elders . This is called the Upasangrahana.

There is another unique way of prostrating and that is called the Shaashtaanga wherein you prostrate fully with stomach, hands, feet, forehead and arms all of which touch the ground.

Then of course you have the Pratyabivaadana which is a form of returning any greeting someone gives us.

All these are the best ways we could practise the art of prostration and these are ways of imibibing in us the value of wisdom, spirituality, and respect. Even a king in olden days used to prostrate before his teacher thus showing that it is not material wealth that is respected in the world but simple experience and wisdom.

Greek Orthodox pilgrims making prostrations at...
Greek Orthodoxpilgrims making prostrations at Golgotha in the Church of the HolySepulchre, Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the next time, you see someone elder to you, irrespective of where you come from, try this unique art of surrendering oneself which is prostration.

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