Indians prostrate before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls, by touching their feet. The elders in turn bless us by placing their 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 lineage.
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 the sacrifices they have done for our welfare. It is a way acknowledging the greatness of another. This tradition reflects the strong family ties, which has been 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 envelope us.
Different forms of showing respect :
Pratuthana : Rising to welcome a person.
Namaskaara : Paying homeage in the form of namaste.
Upasangrahan : Touching the feet of elders or teachers.
Shaashtaanga : Prostrating fully with the feet, knees, 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. Family name, age, moral strength and spiritual knowledge in ascending order of importance qualified men to recieve respect. This is why a king, though the ruler of the land, would prostrate before a spiritual master. Epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata have many stories highlighting this aspect.