Let’s Modernise Indian Traditions

On June 21 the world acknowledged that yoga is one of the key remedies to counter side effects of widespread consumerism. It took several centuries for intelligent global citizens to realize that the unison of body, mind and soul could be the key to fight killer stress and to remain healthy; and such a system already exists. Thankfully, the UN General assembly set aside all conspiracy theories while accepting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to celebrate June 21 as the International Yoga Day.

In this cyber age, the world is a melting pot. Importing cultural traditions to improve life and environment is a prudent option, which is evident in this UN Resolution. It recognizes that “yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being” and “wider dissemination of information about the benefits of practicing yoga would be beneficial for the health of the world population”.

Indian culture holds another great custom that can significantly reduce miseries of world citizens. The tradition of Indian greetings is still in practice, but within the four walls. ‘Namaskar’, ‘pranaam’, ‘salaam’ or ‘charan-sparsh’ (touching feet) are practiced even now. But, these are mostly within the family and occasionally seen during marriages and family functions.

Children shaking hands with parents while seeing them off at airports or railway stations and students extending hands to teachers while congratulating them for major accomplishments are common sights. This western tradition is now a global trend. There is nothing wrong in it. After all, shaking hands is the international practice of greeting. It is customary among heads of countries to shake hands after signing treaties. Corporate honchoes do the same when they conclude deal.

But, many people privately abhorred this tradition when severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS became epidemic in early 2000. Later, fear of swine flu or H1N1 virus popularized hand sanitizers. Some health conscious people keep hand sanitizers handy and often use it after shaking hands with partners, executives and strangers. They shake hands in public and sanitize them in private. But, none of them can afford to decline any opportunity to shake hands.  Thus, a tradition, borrowed from the West, is only benefiting fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies.

‘Namaskar’, ‘namaskaram’, ‘namaste’ or ‘pranaam’ is a customary greeting, which is a gesture of respect made by joining one’s both palms together before chest and bowing one’s head. So is ‘saalam’, where respect is showed without touching the other person. What’s wrong in respecting others while maintaining hygiene? When we change technologies to protect environment, why can’t we modify or charge our folkways and mores to protect health?

If yoga can be considered a tradition for good health of humanity, why can’t traditional forms of greetings? Although, June 21 will not suddenly reverse India’s cultural imports, it will certainly boost the process of modernizing Indian traditions.