You may have often noticed that Indians prostrate(bend) before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elders in turn bless them by placing their hands on or over their heads. Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals etc. Touching elders’ feet is the first lesson in manners and etiquette that all Indian children are taught. So, generally, one is supposed to touch the feet of a person if he/she happens to be an elder member of the family or a respected spiritual person. Since Indians normally live in joint families, this gesture is performed by the sons and daughter-in-laws for their parents and grand parents. Very young children are guided by their parents to learn this gesture, the comparatively elder ones are expected to do it spontaneously. Man stands straight on his feet. Touching someone’s feet in prostration is a sign of respect of age, maturity, nobility 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 someone’s greatness.. This tradition reflects the strong family ties, which have been one of India’s enduring strengths.The good wishes (Sankalpa) and blessings (aashirvada) of elders are highly valued in India. Indians prostrate to seek them. Good thoughts create positive vibrations. Good wishes springing from a heart full of love, divinity and nobility have tremendous strength and courage. 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. The elders have traveled through many paths, touched many sands and lands, seen many places and experienced many minds and thus it is believed that they have more knowledge and wisdom. Taking blessing from elders we get more energy to fulfill our desires.This is why the posture assumed, (whether it is in the standing or prone position) enables the entire body to receive the energy and blessings thus received.
In ManuSmiriti it was stated as
The different forms of showing respect are :
- Pratuthana: Rising from the surface 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 elders.
- Pratyabivaadana: Returning a greeting.
The different types of Touching feet are:
1) Lean forward and touch the feet
2) Sitting on knees
3) Sashtaang Pranaam (lie prostrate before especially deity)
Traditionally, women do only “panchanga” namaskaram and not the above mentioned forms of respect. A “panchanga” namaskaram is where one, generally, a woman kneels down with palms joined together or touching the feet of the revered one in front. A woman does not do sashtanga namaskaram for the following reason:
There is an injunction in the ancient scriptures that the womb and the breasts of women should not touch the ground. According to the Indian scriptures, the part of the body which sustains the growth of the foetus during pregnancy and the part which is created within itself for the nourishment of the new born(breasts), should not be allowed to come in contact with the ground.
Rules have already been prescribed in the Indian scriptures about who should prostrate in front of whom. Wealth, family name, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge in ascending order of importance enable men to receive respect. This is why even a king who is the ruler of a land, prostrated before any spiritual master or sage. Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have many stories highlighting this aspect. “It was these ancient cultural traditions highlighting the values of generosity and gratitude which was vigorously promoted by the elders that kept our societies alive over these past centuries.
One should prostrate to get rid of ego. It is not easy for us to do it. So at-least when we prostrate before God or elders, we offer ourselves completely. Touching feet of Elders or Saints is a unification of point of Sharaddha & Karuna.
Shraddha reduces ego & lowers emotions along with the Solar plexus chakra.
Karuna activates the Heart – Chakra of saints or elders.
Sharaddha increases receptivity of the person
Karuna starts discharging energy from the Heart Chakra towards the person who is respected with Shraddha.
Touching the feet of elders should be done correctly. The person touching their feet must bend down in front of them with his back hunched and hands stretching forward. Usually, his hands are stretched to touch their feet. When his hands touch the feet, a closed circuit is established between those seeking the blessings and those blessing them. As a result, a high positive energy flows from their feet to the person seeking blessings which transfers a lot of goodwill and healing energy to him. The person whose feet are touched usually stretches his or her hands to touch the upper head of the person with a gesture of blessing. This connection forms yet another circuit again transferring energy and blessings.
“Charan” means “feet” and “sparsh” means “to touch”. Together they mean “to touch one’s feet”. It has been a tradition since time immemorial to touch the feet of one’s father and mother, teachers and elders. They in turn bless the person touching their feet by placing their hand on or over the prostrating person’s head. The importance of Charan Sparsh is actually written in the Mahabharata and in the Atharva Veda.
Yudhistra in the Mahabharata stated that touching the feet of the elders makes one feeling powerful and great.
Through the act of touching the feet of an elderly, the Atharva Veda mentioned that you are showing respect to their knowledge and will carry on their teaching. The person doing the Charan Sparsh will learn to become humble and to be respectful towards others.
Science : Why Indians Prostrate ?
There are some physical and mental developments associated with prostration as well.
- Ego: The person is not only benefited with the blessings but unconsciously the person reveals his/her modesty and humble nature as well.As mentioned above touching the feet reduces ego and indicates respect along with subservience. When the feeling of respect and dedication is aroused, it suppresses the egoistic nature of the person.
- Exercise: Leaning forward and touching the feet stretches your waist and back bone. Prostration relieves you from pain of the knees as you bend your knees. All the joints of the body get stretched in Sashtaang Pranaam which removes stress and cures body pain. Sashthang Pranaam is considered a good exercise for body posture as well. This posture helps you by relieving stress and improving blood circulation. The blood reaches your brain faster, which is good for your eyes.
- Aura and Current: Human body is a conductor of electricity as well as energies. It consists of positive and negative energies which flow continuously end to end. Our body is vertically divided into two parts. The left side of your body absorbs negative currents and the right side absorbs positive currents. These two parts collectively form an electric circuit with positive and negative currents. When we touch the feet of elders by standing in opposite direction the left hand touches left foot and right hand touches right foot. The energies from both sides meet and form a big circuit through which energies flow uniformly without any up and downs. When elders bless the person by touching their heads with right hand, free flow of positive energy increases due to grounding of the negative energies. Just like a lamp illuminates and lights other lamps without losing its energy a person will not lose his energy by giving blessings to his children. This gesture thus gives more strength to the blessed person and illuminates positive things in his mind. The Elder person’s feet are unclean, yet we touch their feet,do you know why ? It is because this elder person has walked this earth longer than us and has gained wisdom through experience that we can use, even from the dust stuck to his feet.
- Modern Society: Another reason is that in ancient times much reverence was given to elders and even after their demise, pitru paksha was performed with full faith. Currently the society is becoming nuclear and elder people are not getting that much respect. Hence this also helps to improve family ties and give elders the respect they deserve. This would go in making the world a much better place.
We hope that you will be able to appreciate this age old tradition and understand the essence of the same. If these traditions have been a part of our culture for so many years they must be having some significance.
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But sadly,this practice is sadly vanishing with time. Cultural, generational, and experiential changes in society are damaging some of our good practices. People don’t have time even to sit by side of the elders and talk to them for few minutes. People are becoming so self obsessed that this good ritual seems waste of time for some. Today touching feet has become more of a formality or a show off. The poor touch the feet of the rich. The weak touch the feet of the mighty. The culture of touching feet is common in Indian political scenario. This goes against the basic purpose of the tradition and makes it more of a popularity gimmick or a way to do flattery at the most.Just try to touch the feet of those who are your well wishers and who have affected your life in a certain way. When you do so on a regular basis you will notice the positive change it is bringing in your life. It will fill you with a positive energy and will also help you to feel happy. Just give it a try. Do not shy away from touching the feet of the elder. It is very essential. Even as a parent you must encourage your children to follow the tradition of touching feet.The fact is that elders are valued as repositories of wisdom, strength and unconditional love.