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Bowing equals submission. Or does it have to?

I had the following observation to make on VFR’s post on the sight of President Obama bowing whilst holding the hand of his non-American counter-part.

Namaste Shri Auster,
With reference to just the deep bow accompanied with a handshake/hold, is it not an older Western tradition? I ask because I’ve observed this style of greeting in some visitors to Hindusthan as well as seen it in movies (old war – especially Germans).
However there is one crucial difference with Obama’s style. In what I otherwise witnessed, eye-contact was never lost. This is true of the Eastern traditions of bow-as-greeting too. Eye contact between the bower and the bowee ensures that self-respect of the bower is protected and the bowee never misunderstands the gesture.
The Hindus have the additional tradition of receiving blessings from teachers and respected elders in society and family by touching their feet. The categorisation of whose pada or feet may be touched ensures again that this gesture is never misunderstood or taken for granted.
So when Obama loses eye-contact with the bowee he effectively cedes a superior role or position to him and consequently denies himself equality or any kind of superiority.
Palahalli S

The reason I made my observation about touching the pada of elders and teachers was because of the false perception that Hindus and like, not Easterners in general – because Islam expressly forbids bowing to anybody expect Allah – are basically submissive to authority. In my opinion it is not firstly, submission and secondly to any authority. It is more in the form of a considered and respectful acknowledgement of greater wisdom.

Therefore not all elders and teachers are worthy of the same respect – they must earn it by their actions. In an earlier and more traditionally ordered society it was assumed that elders were repositories of greater wisdom and therefore were entitled to forms of respect without much ado.

I recently experienced this when my wife requested me to touch the feet of some elders in the family in order to receive their blessings and I hesitated. Immediately this hesitation was noticed and one of the elders advised my wife that one should not be forced. This clearly proves that the act of paying respect either with a bow or touching the pada should be a considered and respectful voluntary action, conducted without losing self-respect.


Palahalli S – Liberals are averse to any such reasoning or justification. They inform us that all human beings are equal and equally worthy of the same respect. In other words a student bowing to or touching the feet of his respected teacher or elder is an insult to the student’s sense of self-worth. The student’s inherent worth is the same as his teacher’s after all.

This line of reasoning is absolutely fool-hardy because if true, then there is no one the student will need to look up to for guidance and greater wisdom. All teachers and elders will be on the same plane as the youngster and will have no excercise of just authority over him.

This notion as we see all around us, leads to moral chaos.  


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