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Salutation -கை கூப்புதல் - அஞ்சலி - What it really means?

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Salutation -கை கூப்புதல் - அஞ்சலி - What it really means?

What is there in Salutation?

Saluting is a gesture by which we convey a message to the person whom we meet. It is in a way a greeting also. The person may be known or may be a complete stranger. There are different gestures adopted by different groups of people as they salute. There is the Arab salute of rubbing the noses: the European infantry salute of raising the right hand upto the forehead and showing the palm: we have heard about the Nazi salute and the Communists’ red salute with closed fists; the departed martyrs and VIPs get a gun salute and the Navys of many nations have adopted the infantry’s salute with a change in that the palm is not shown outward. Arjuna gave his Bhishma Pithamaha the unique salute with a bed of arrows. My interest in salute here is restricted to the “pranaam” which we Hindus/Indians make when we meet some one or when we are in the presence of a deity to pray.

This “pranaam” is made by folding both hands and joining and holding the palms together facing each other and raising them a little bit. I tried to find out what is the significance /meaning of this gesture which is symbolic. In the case of Europeans I understand that the salute came into use to show the other person that there are no weapons hidden with any bad intention and to convey that “I am friendly to you and I expect the same treatment from you”. This appears to be the correct interpretation as" thozhutha kaiyullum padai odungum” is what we understand from Sekkizhar’s Periyapuranam and so an open palm is the best way to show one’s friendly intentions.

As Hinduism/India is a multiplex/mosaic of beautiful, colorful and meaningful myriad belief systems the simple pranaam with folded hands common to India/Hinduism is also symbolic of myriad underlying sublime ideas. A unique aspect here is that the pranaam is offered to human beings as well to the God. While it is offered to the humans it is to the God in them and while offered to God it is symbolic of various subtle meanings.

Thus, for the Advaita Vedaantins it is symbolically expressing the nature of the Atma and its relation with the Paramatma. Here the left hand represents the Atma and the right hand represents the Paramatma. The pranaam is symbolic of the desire and yearning for the realisation of oneness of the two. I have heard people going a little more deep and investing this symbolic act with more meaning. Though the two hands are two in number they are parts of the same body –and so Tat Twam Asi. As my knowledge of Advaita is not deep, the more informed members in this forum may present their ideas here. I will be thankful to them.

Coming to the interpretation by Sri Vaishnavs(SV) there is reference to this act of folding hands in more than one place in the SV religious literature. Nammazhwar says in his Thiruvaaymozhy (4-3-2):

Poosum chanthen nenjame
Punaiyum kanni enathudaiya
Vachakam chey maalaiye:
Vaan pattaadaiyum akthe
Thesamaana anikalanum
En kaikooppuch cheykaiye
Eesan jnaalamundumizhntha
Enthai eka moorththikke

And in Thiruvaaymozhy (7-2-4) as

Ittakaal itta kaiyalaai irukkum
Ezhunthulaay mayangum: kai kooppum
‘kattame kaathal’ enru moorchchikkum
‘kadal vannaa kadiyai kaan’ ennum
‘vattavaay nemi valankaiyaa’ ennum
Vanthidaay enrenre mayangum
Chittane chezhuneer thiruvarangaththai
Ival thiraththen chinthiththaaye

And in Thiruvaaymozhy (7-2-5) as

Chinthikkum thisai thorum kaikooppum
Thiruvarangaththullai ennum

Kaikooppuchcheyal/pranaam here does not mean the mere physical act alone. For the pranaam to be complete there are certain requirements to be fulfilled. The first requirement for this is a mental state in which the Bhakta has to first recognize that he has no ability to do any thing by himself to get himself free of the birth-death cycle and reach God (Aakinchanyam) and secondly that he has no one other than the God to come to his rescue(Ananya gathithvam). The joining of the hands is a symbolic gesture in which he admits his inability and helpnessness. The hands when they are free indicates a willingness and readiness to try to do something. When folded it indicates admission that the individual has tried his best and has come to the conclusion that he is not capable of doing anything by himself to reach that supreme goal.In Sri Vaishnava Sampradhaya the bhakta in this state is called a prapanna.

About this pranaam/kaikooppuchcheikai/kumbiduthal Swami Desikan has written an essay and it is called Anjali Vaibhavam. In this Desikan starts with a slokam from Aalavandaar’s Stotraratnam and proceeds to celebrate the efficacy of Anjali/pranaam/kaikooppuchcheyal in getting the greatest boon to the Bhakta. Thus Swami Desikan says: Ippadi prapannan vaangina kaikku perumaal vaiththa kai uththaramaam. The meaning of this is: When the prapanna prayed with folded hands(vaangina kai) the God’s reply is by the raised “abhaya hastham”(vaiththa kai) assuring the prapannan that his pranaam will save him and give him the moksha. In his essay Swami Desikan has discussed at length the subject of Anjali Vaibhavam starting with the etymology and meaning of the word and proceeding to discuss the requirements to be fulfilled for the anjali to be beneficial and how anjali is better than any other means to pray to God.

I had an atheist/agnostic friend who asked me (after listening to a lecture on Anjali Vaibhavam) “why should I pray to a God who requires me to go before him on all my fours with folded hands and pray please save me. If he is omnipresent , omnipotent and omniscient should he not prevent the things from coming to such a pass?” When I referred this question to the lecturer he answered disarmingly “God has given you the free will also to choose and act. When you do not know what to do with that and commits serious mistakes, suffer and realise your helplessness and express it he rescues you. That is all about Anjali”. My friend did not appear to be fully satisfied. When I thought about it later I could analyse the friend’s question this way:

Part I of the question: “Why should I go on all my fours” means the admission of helplessness is taken as something mean and below one’s dignity to admit. In the material life it is indeed so. To admit helplessness is to admit defeat and the humiliation that follows. In religious philosophy it is looked at from a different angle. Here to admit helplessness is just accepting the fact and so is treated as awareness of the reality. There is nothing mean about it. As long as one does not realise this he is in the firm grip of his ego and the ego is in complete control of him to the exclusion of everything else.

Here I remember my experience when I had my military training. The major who was taking classes to the group of new recruits(I was one among them) was very particular about discipline which required that we should come to attention and salute any senior(in rank) the moment we come across him. The senior may be just whizzing past in his two-wheeler or jeep and yet our duty it is to salute him. This looked meaningless and stupid to us for two reasons: 1). we were all young 2). We had come from the civilian life with all its freedom and liberties. I could not hold myself and one day asked the major-a Gajanan Bhide from the Maratha Regiment-“Sir, why is it that this is expected of us? Is it not enough that we are aware of the fact that you are a major(evident from your epaulet and the stars on it) and we are cadets? It is okay to salute when a formal situation demands it-like while reporting or taking an order. But is it not an overkill to insist on it as is done?” Major Bhide, a gentleman, answered patiently that once a person has joined the army he is never alone. His action affects every one in his unit whether it is just a section or a corps. He can bring instant destruction of himself and every one in his division by a wrong step that he takes. He always acts as per the orders of his commander. His subordination to his commander is complete and irreversible. Every time you salute your senior you remind youself about this mutual dependence and your complete subordination. You also indicate that you are always alert and ready to,obey his command. The repeated show of obedience helps you get over any possible ego conflict. And when your senior sees you saluting he also realises that his responsibility is great as he has a whole army ready to obey his orders implicitly and explicitly without questioning”.So our anjali to God and the God in men is also an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are just a soldier and that God is the Commander. Major Gajanan Bhide was indeed a thinking soldier!!

Part II of the question:Why can’t God prevent me from going wrong? If I am just a reed floating in the water-totally helpless with absolutely no freedom to decide the course of events that determine my journey-why should I be held accountable? To find an answer to this question I had do dig a little deeper into our (SV) religious literature. That took me to metaphysics. I am spellbound by what I have gained by this journey into metaphysics. From Sruthaprakasika and Adhikarana Saaraavali of Swami Desikan to the thread bare analysis of the Problem of Evil by Mc Taggart, A.N Whitehead, H.J. McCloskey and of course that inimitable Immanuel Kant - a whole lot of insight is available to acquire and contemplate on. I am still enjoying it. I intend to write about this question some time later. Cheers.
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Read this definition of Pranam before:

“Salute all for God is in all”. The Vedic chant “Sahasra sheersha Purusha” says that God has thousand limbs, heads and sense organs symbolic of the fact that God is in all.
Sri Raju -

Thanks for sharing your research. Let me share my understanding.

I have found books that define Paramatma and Jivatma and 'oneness of the two' to unnecessarily complicate the truth.
Some books use Self (with capital) and self (with small s) making the concepts harder to grasp in my view. If it works for others I guess it is fine.

In bringing the two hands together on seeing anyone - Iswara's form in a temple or seeing another person the symbolic meaning is as follows from what I have heard.

You and I though manifested differently in name and form are from the (one and) only cause, and hence I bring my palms together to acknowledge this oneness, I bow my head to acknowledge that with respect (subduing the sense of ego that prevents us from seeing that unity)

Regarding Part -2 of your question: Right and wrong are both manifestation of Isvara and in that sense one has to rise above this to understand Isvara.
Unlike animals, human beings are endowed with a sense of Free Will. This freedom where it is available is total - it means freedom to abuse, disuse or follow Dharma. Without the ability to abuse one does not have genuine freedom. Without free will it is not possible to prepare oneself to gain knowledge and recognize the nature of our true self.

Isvara in the form of the law of Karma/Dharma does 'prevent' us from doing wrong but not in instantaneously. I had some statements in the thread fate& free will and hence will not repeat those thoughts here.

We were taught in Vedanta class that we must do Anjali

with hands raised over the head to worship the Gods,

with hands held near the eyebrow center to our Gurus,

with hands held hear the mouth for other elders and

with hands held near the heart for our equals.

So while doing Anjali before commencing a dance recital we do all the

four poses to include everyone in the list of people to be honored.:pray2:
We were taught in Vedanta class that we must do Anjali

with hands raised over the head to worship the Gods,

with hands held near the eyebrow center to our Gurus,

with hands held hear the mouth for other elders and

with hands held near the heart for our equals.

So while doing Anjali before commencing a dance recital we do all the

four poses to include everyone in the list of people to be honored.:pray2:

Whether it is held above the head or at any other level the act is holding the two hands together and that is what is important because that indicates Akinchanyam.
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