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India is a land of deep-rooted customs. Customs are nurtured and nourished to maintain deeply held values. India is a multi-cultural combination of a mix of a myriad of peoples, religions, ethnic backgrounds all resulting in a multitude of customs.

A four thousand year of continuous culture has meant that a number of Indian customs and traditions have come down to the present generation almost without a change and have become deeply rooted in the Indian way of living.

Indian tradition ranges from the aarti done to welcome the guests to touching the feet of the elders. These customs invariably invoke curiosity in the minds of visiting foreigners tempting them to wonder what they mean. Experience the traditions that have remained unchanged over the centuries. Get acquainted with the modern. And take back a slice of India you won't find anywhere else!

Below are some of customs which have remained part of Indian traditions for more than a thousand years....

Namaskar

Namaskār, also known as namastē, is a form of greeting practiced most in the Indian Subcontinent. It is used both while greeting and upon parting company. When a person greets another with namaskar, the greeting is accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards and closely positioned in front of the chest. Along with this, the word ‘namaskar’ or ‘namaste’ is said to the person who is being greeted. The hand position is known as the Namaskar Mudra. (Mudra means a particular hand gesture or position.)

While it is a popular non-contact form of greeting along with the Japanese bow and the hand-wave, its spiritual basis is what sets it apart from any other greeting we have researched. In this article, we will explore its spiritual meaning along with its benefits to us at a spiritual level.

Prostrating (Charan Sparsh)

Indians prostrate before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls by touching their feet. The elder in turn blesses us by placing his or her hand 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. In certain traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by abhivaadana, which serves to introduce one-self, announce one’s family and social stature.

Man stands on his feet. 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 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. 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 envelop us. This is why the posture assumed whether it is in the standing or prone position, enables the entire body to receive the energy thus received.

Tilak (Tika)

Tilak is a ritual mark on the forehead. It can be put in many forms as a sign of blessing, greeting or auspiciousness. The Tilak is usually made out of a red vermilion paste (kumkum) which is a mixture of turmeric, alum, iodine, camphor etc. It can also be made of a sandalwood paste (chandan) blended with musk. The Tilak is applied on the spot between the brows which is considered the seat of latent wisdom and mental concentration, and is very important for worship. This is the spot on which yogis meditate to become one with Brahma. It also indicates the point at which the spiritual eye opens. All thoughts and actions are said to be governed by this spot. Putting of the coloured mark symbolizes the quest for the 'opening' of the third eye.

All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begins with a Tilak topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the index finger or the thumb. The same custom is followed while welcoming or bidding farewell to guests or relations.

Aarti

Aarti is performed as an act of veneration and love. It is often performed as a mark of worship and to seek blessings from God, to welcome guests, for children on their birthdays, family members on auspicious occasions or to welcome a newly wedded couple. The Aartis is also performed to ward off evil effects and the malefic influence of the 'evil eye'.

For performing Aarti, five small lamps called niranjanas are filled with ghee or oil and arranged in a small tray made of metal. A wick is made out of cotton wool and placed in the lamps. A conch-shell filled with water, auspicious leaves or flowers, incense or lighted camphor are also placed in the tray. The lamps are lit and the tray is rotated in a circular motion in front of the deity or the person to be welcomed.

Garlanding

Flower garlands are generally offered as a mark of respect and honour. They are offered to welcome the visitors or in honour of the Gods and Goddesses. The garlands are generally made with white jasmine and orange marigold flowers. They are weaved in thread tied in the end with the help of a knot.

Bindi

A bindi is an auspicious mark worn by young girls and women. Bindi is derived from Bindu, the Sanskrit word for dot. It is usually a red dot made with vermilion powder which is worn by women between their eyebrows on their forehead.

Considered a symbol of Goddess Parvati, a bindi signifies female energy and is believed to protect women and their husbands. Traditionally a symbol of marriage, it has also become decorative and worn today by unmarried girls as well. No longer restricted in colour or shape, bindis are seen in many bright colours and in different shapes and designs.

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