Tradition of touching feet


I came across this topic posted on a parenting forum, where people were debating if the Indian tradition of touching feet is a good thing or not. While general opinion gravitated towards the former, there were a couple of people who emphasised, that it is more important that respect stems from the heart, and not merely in an action done out of habit.

Now I come from a very unorthodox family, which, has hardly practised traditional things (for eg., belief in stars, thread functions, fasting, etc.) I hardly remember my parents asking us to touch the feet of strangers. We would simply be asked to say Hello or wave Goodbye!

Now, however, much older, and a little wiser, I feel that Life moves at such a fast pace. The brief moment when I do touch an elderly person’s feet to seek blessings, now that really gives me solace… an odd sense of comfort. A tiny spark of hope that their wishes would probably come true?!

Also, if one knew the actual method of seeking blessings, it is truly meaningful. The younger person stands before the older, very softly whispers his own name, gothram, etc. and only then prostrates, and then the older person utters blessings for a long life, prosperity, children, etc. Also, by bowing to the person in front, one is actually bowing to God and the Godliness in them.

So, I do believe, it is a beautiful thing to do. That is, if the person is front of you is truly respectable. Like for example, I enjoy taking blessings from my relatives (the few good ones 😉 ) Luckily, sonny boy is fascinated by the act of prostrating before elders, and does it willingly, whether he understands or not.

This link from Yahoo Answers made a very interesting read.

A very close friend of mine used to place her palm on her head, instead of prostrating, and I thought this was equally lovely.

Because, it is very simply, the act of a person, who, behaves with both humility and respect.

I think, this tradition as a concept, is both scientific and humane, and altogether beautiful.

What do you think?

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61 thoughts on “Tradition of touching feet

  1. That was so beautifully explained, Pals! I do agree that touching somebody’s feet as far as we really respect them, is a beautiful and meaningful gesture. The problem is when people expect it as a routine, rather than something done with feelings.

    I know families where DILs are expected to touch the elders’ feet every morning and most DILs just do it because they have to, rather than because they feel strongly about it. In which case, it is kind of meaningless, isn’t it?

    I really liked your friend’s gesture – it is very lovely!

  2. question is..not what do you think? but what do other person expect.!?
    how will you react when kids..cousin kids..whoever.. come and touch your feet.!!
    and if you see someone touching feet of elders..then what do you think about them!?
    (remember..our politicians touching feet of their leaders..”out of respect” or without any understanding.. so ur tiny man has good future..;))

    like most things..its subjective and shouldn’t be mandatory.
    the person i want to take blessings from, are those who would do it anyways and for other who expect- i don’t care too..

  3. Very nice post Pal 🙂 I feel really humble and blessed too when I do so for people whom I respect and who command respect rather than demanding it 🙂

    Only thing I dont like is the ppl who always … well, almost always end up saying Have a son and live happily 😉 Though I take the living happily part bcoz they totally mean it 😉 😉

  4. I dont like touching anybody’s feet even for blessings… I am ready to respect anybody in this world for what they are…
    And for the people whom i respect i will bow my head and surely wish them 🙂 🙂

  5. I don’t like feet-touching much. I don’t think we need to be so literal in our respect-demonstration in such evolved times. My parents rarely asked me to touch peoples’ feet. I must take issue with your statement that tradition is a scientific concept. I don’t think that is true at all. I love Woody Allen’s quote, “Tradition is the illusion of permanence”

      1. * smitha: Totally agree with you. Like I said, I like taking blessings from the ‘good’ relatives and not the others 😉 with the ‘others’, I feel they don’t deserve the respect they force upon us, and therefore I get angry. Will tell my friend, Smitha. Thank you 🙂

        * Yuva: Very good point. How will I react?! I think the feet touching tradition will end with our generation. I don’t see any of the kids these days seeking blessings this way. And, when my nephew once actually touched my feet, I was quite dumbstruck (LITERALLY) and didn’t know what to say!!

        ROFL @ your comment on FB, reg. R’s future as a politician 😀

        * Swaram: He he, that’s irritating, I guess. Have to share something interesting here.. these days, people bless me to have a daughter, as we already have a son. So, in that, I think mindsets are changing slightly. Or maybe, once there is a ‘boy’ then people become more liberal in their blessings?!

        * Kanagu: Point! But then, isn’t touching feet also a sign of respect? Similar to bowing head, right?

        * LiberalCynic: I agree..we don’t need to be so literal…but when you really truly respect and love someone, then touching feet is similar to giving a hug, no? Its a gesture of respect and humility. As for being scientific, I definitely believe in it. Will research more and update post. And, if not for anything else, its atleast good exercise 😉

  6. Wonderful post Pal 😀
    Everyone has a different perspective when it comes to bowing down or even touching feet.
    As you and Smitha rightly said, touching feet of elders out of respect is indeed a great tradition. But when traditions become a liability and people do it without any feeling of respect, it defeats the whole purpose.

    If you don’t feel for it, don’t do it.
    Though I do understand, that at times NOT abiding by the social or family pressure to give in against your own values can sometimes stir a lot of gossip and painful remarks.

    Keep up the good work Pal 😀

    Cheers!!

  7. Interesting one….though I wonder how many elders these days would be comfortable with youngsters ducking down to touch their feet! Anyways, you are right when you say this is equal to bowing to the Godliness in folks, absolutely….which is what a well done Namaste is all about too, not the quick nod variety, but the one where you bring both palms together and respectfully bow your head.

  8. A wonderful post. It is also believed that if the person whose feet you touch is not worthy of the action, it adversely affects him/her. Just being older is not enough. But most don’t realise that. They expect those younger to touch their feet as a matter of right.

  9. So long as there is no compulsion, not even indirect compulsion, it is fine.
    I know many women who find it humiliating to have to touch the feet of relatives who have been unpleasant to them.
    The reason for the custom becoming unpopular is this insistence, and also because making someone touch one’s feet is seen as a right – taken for granted sort of.

  10. The explanation is quite fascinating to read Pals!
    I am not too sure if I LIKE touching random uncles and aunties’ feet though! 😀

    Parents – I don’t mind. But, that’s as far as I would go!!
    But, I have done lots of feet touching to seek blessings and I’m not comfortable about it!

    1. * Chatterbox: Thank you 🙂 Yes, we do have our perspectives, but I am glad to see that we are unanimous in that we are willing to seek blessings of those we respect. And Oh Yes! Not abiding by tradition can certainly ruffle up things!

      * Ganga: LOL 🙂 Just imagining someone jumping at my feet, I would be taken aback!

      * Shail: Well said.. just being older is not enough.. they must be good human beings, worthy of respect. And they demand respect, not command it!

      * IHM: Definitely agree with that. As long as the gesture is heartfelt and voluntary and ‘not demanded or expected’, its truly beautiful. I know of people who have lived their entire life so badly.. I mean, losing themselves to vice, not taking care of the family.. and on those rare occasions that I am asked to prostrate in front of them, that’s something I cannot stand. I would just do it with visible disinterest, or get away from it entirely.

      * Quirky: Absolutely! Only, I think we must teach our children (the next generation) what it is about, so they know that this is an option. If we don’t show our children what it is about, then they lose out on something that can be a beautiful experience.

      * Pixie: ‘Random uncles and aunts’ – I share your sentiment! In my case, my parents rarely asked me to do this, so I cannot complain 🙂

  11. Infact, i do it on function days, and on my bday…. I hate it when mom or gramma or aunt beckon me and say “Fall at x/y/z feet and get their blessing”.. its at such times that i do it cos they asked me to, with ZERO respect….

    My uncle has these friends, who bow down and touch my grandparents feet the min they walk thru the day and when they leave[ and a hug follows for gramma] … we adore them, they are as good as family.. and when they do this, grandparents feel so nice and loved… 🙂

  12. I feel its wonderful to get the blessings of the elders – at that point of touching their feet, I am humbled and the elderly think good for me, even if it is for a few seconds. That’s the positive vibe, that’ll do wonders to me !!!! When I am surrounded by more blessings, its more positive vibes around me and I can actually feel them doing great things for me !!!

    When I was young, I had asked such questions like – what if the respect doesn’t come from the heart ? But with age has come wisdom and humbleness, I guess.

    Even without my insistence, my girls do namaskarams, just by following what I do. I am happy for that.

    1. * Aaroo: That’s soooo sweet! Chamathu 🙂 People of the older generations really feel nice when we do this, so why not use this as an opportunity to make them happy!

      * Uma: Bang on, with the ‘positive vibes’ thing. And that’s what I said to Quirky just now.. we must teach our children, and then leave it to them, to follow it or not 🙂

  13. Pal,

    I hardly touch elders’ feet. And even when I do, it is out of feeling of obligation.

    Why I do not like the practice is because:

    1. As Shail pointed out, my respect need not be based merely on other person’s age. Respect has to be inspired by thoughts, words and actions attached to a person. Their age has nothing to do with it.

    2. As a child when I used to believe in the existence of God, I did not like the idea that out of all body parts only feet were discriminated against! I know it sounds funny, but I used to find it distressing. My argument used to be – if the same God has made our head, hands and feet, why do we consider only feet as lowly, so much so that to touch them is taken as a mental challenge, and a sign of humility? If the response would be that it is so because feet get dirty or that because they are in the lower part of the body, my argument used to be – but then, the earth (soil), which largely constitutes ‘dirt’ and the ‘lower’ direction were both also created by the same God! Why discriminate between upper and lower directions? Would God not get angry if we discriminate between various things created by the same God? Of course luckily for others, it was extremely few people I used to engage with in my arguments. 🙂

    3. Anything that becomes perfunctory loses its significance. Meaning, I might use feet-touching merely to appease elders! How would I convey to an elder that I respect him/her and not some other elder who might also be present there, if I touch both the people’s feet? So, in this sense I also started finding touching feet slightly hypocritical. If I end up touching someone’s feet merely out of social pressure I would be sending out a wrong signal of having respect. This would then make my respect for others lose its value. 🙂

    4. There is a thin line between humility and servility. Touching feet is representative of the latter. Because humility (if termed as lack of arrogance) is best conveyed through one’s overall conduct, and not symbolic gestures.

    My current approach to touching feet is like this. I do not volunteer to touch someone’s feet. If someone around me of my age is doing so, I would also do the same. My self-solace is this: if someone wants sadistic pleasure of seeing me as inferior, all they are getting is my mock respect! 😛

    Too bad, they never asked me to write an essay on touching feet back in the school! 😉

    1. Ketan: When out of obligation, might as well not do it at all! Reg. the discrimination of body parts, I don’t think your view is funny or irrational at all. Body parts are all the same. Unless like you said, there is something scientific attached to it.

      Reg. hypocrisy – this is certainly the case when you bow to someone you don’t respect. But then, its still a positive gesture, so I guess its OK to do it, unless you really dislike or disrespect the person in front of you. If nothing, atleast one can believe there is Godliness in the other person and bow to that (in cases of social pressure, that is).

      Excellent point on humility and servility. When I see politicians falling at Amma’s feet, I find it disgusting, to say the least. That to me, seems both mercenary and servile. But if its someone you respect, like say, your parents or in-laws, then what is the harm?

      LOL @ ‘mock respect’. You know, on the rare occasions that people ask me to bow to those I dislike or someone who dislikes or mocks me, I feel, its Ok to do it, only because the other person is FORCED to part with some blessings, if only verbal. I like to believe in ‘Tathastu’ .. that someone around/above is listening to the blessings uttered and says ‘So it shall be’.

  14. Hailing from down south where we don’t have this practice, we were not raised into this tradition except when i volountarily touch feet of my parents at times during prayers. But my wife is from up north where it’s a normal practice for people to touch the feet. Initially it was a culture shock for me and I get ackward when those younger my age in the family touch my feet. But then, it’s their tradition. My wife nudges me to touch the feets of grandparents and I manage it at times. I feel it is all about mental comfortability and yes, I feel the action has to rush into volountarily if at all and not be a forced customary action-reaction. My volontary action when I meet elders I respect is touching my cheast and a slight bend and i find the reaction is deep from my heart and true 🙂

  15. U know what, when my mother came visiting in hostel once… my roommate then just out her bath, came running nearly crashing into her and fell on her feet. My mother jumped and I guffawed…

    We do not have a feet touching ritual in our part of the country, and when I leave my state and go northwards, I sometimes am at a lose as to how to address a friend’s parents or grandparents… because saying namaste verbally or with the hands does not come naturally to me (b/c it is just not practiced in my parts)… It was always a hello aunty, uncle a shake hand or the jig…..

    b/w need ur email id… mine’s pinashpinash@gmail

    Ash

  16. Frankly I hate touching feet of people I dont konw… but at the same time I do like it when I bow to my parents.. or some select elders I respect…

    I just believe it should be done by from the within or not done at all… dont do it for the sake of it.. bus.. !

    1. * LR: Down south, we do have this practise, don’t we? And your action of slightly bending the head..that’s just as beautiful, LR. These are all only gestures.. modes of communication.. and I think parents/elderly people absolutely love it when their children SHOW respect 🙂

      * Ashes: ROFL at that 😀 😀 Ditto.. I’ve always been used to a Hello or Goodbye, and ‘Namaste’ or ‘Namaskaram’ does not come naturally to me. M trying, though. Having said that, I think, smiling and slightly bending the head (as LR has said) is equally nice, and the person in front of you would be quite happy to just see a smiling, cheerful face 🙂

      * Hitchy: That’s it! It all stems out of respect and love…that’s the good part 🙂 In South India, when prospective groom’s parents visit, the prospective bride is expected to touch their feet. Now that is something I find very insulting, as you are asked to touch feet of someone you don’t know, and at that point, don’t even care about.

      1. oh is it (in reply to hitchy) somehow I thought the feet touching thing is less in South… I have never been asked or expected to touch anyone’s feet in family… only after the wedding got over was the time when I touched everyone’s feet… I do it for my mil (when I meet after long) and N’s granny and they ask me not too

        1. called mom to ask… while she is not sure exact reasons… she says unmarried girls are never supposed to touch the feet… where as married girls are allowed…

          though must say it is not very religiously followed… Mom was reasoning that since unmarried girls are reincarnation of Laxmi… they should not bow to any one… but she has no explantion what happens to Laxmi when she marries… 😦

  17. aaah lovely lovely post and it came at the right time only yesterday me and N were discussing whether we should start teaching ojas this custom or not, I personally love this custom but N doesnt and I loved the way u and the yahoo link explained it… let me forward this post to N 🙂

  18. I have never ever done this custom, as in our family it has been always saying a bowed namaste which is considered the utmost respect. But, now that I am married, in my husband’s side, the custom is to touch all elder’s feet, so I do it. Do I feel like I am doing something to gain blessings, I am not too sure… as I have never ever associated it acquiring blessings…

    But, I must add that when they say ‘ Jeete raho’… it does feel nice 🙂

  19. Touching feet is quite common among elders and I do touch my elders feet (mostly grandparent’s generation) when I go home – my aunts and uncle just give me a hug. Up north, when i was newly wed I touched Arjun’s grandparent’s feet and they were so happy and gave me full blessings.

    I don’t think there is anything embarassing or servile when I bow down before my elders to seek blessings. On the contrary I find the licking upto bosses in office extremely servile

  20. Well Pronam(touching feet) is very much part of Bong Culture specially after the Durga pujas… but also there is popular belief that when you touch somebodies feet alongwith blessings your ‘Paaps’ are transfered to the person whose feet I am touching so I would always be happy to do that… reduce my share of ‘Paaps’ 🙂 … but what happens if some one touches my feet well I jump and say come on now-a-days no one follows such rituals… 😉
    On a serious note Like everybody I touch when I feel the person really deserves it ….

  21. My earlier comment just dissappeared 😦 …. it was “Well Pronam(touching feet) is very much part of Bong Culture specially after the Durga pujas… but also there is popular belief that when you touch somebodies feet alongwith blessings your ‘Paaps’ are transfered to the person whose feet I am touching so I would always be happy to do that… reduce my share of ‘Paaps’ 🙂 … but what happens if some one touches my feet well I jump and say come on now-a-days no one follows such rituals… 😉
    On a serious note Like everybody I touch when I feel the person really deserves it ….”
    Do you think I need to touch somebody feet now to make the comment appear in one go …

  22. Hitchy : In our side also girls never touch feet i.e. till they are girls and that means before marriage… everything changes overnight after marriage…
    I somehow hate this…and may be because I was not allowed to do it is why I like it

    1. * Mon: Thank you 🙂 Glad this was at the right time! Kids find it more an interesting activity methinks 🙂 but great if they do learn and use their discretion (whenever they grow up) to implement!

      * Aathira: Bowed namaste is equally lovely! And yes, does feel nice to receive positive words 🙂 Are you back now?

      * Supps: Good girl, hee hee. Totally agree with you on both counts.. bowing to grandparents, and not having to suck up to bosses!

      * Dman: Now that’s a very interesting addition. I didn’t know about the ‘paaps being transferred’ belief. Though, I don’t quite agree with it.. I think each person should be responsible for his actions. What do you think? LOL @ the disappearing comment!!

      * Mon: You don’t like it because you were not allowed to touch feet? Didn’t understand that part.

      * Saurbh: Hey, thank you for dropping by!! You say automatically.. do you also do it now?

      1. 😦 was typing the mistake in hurry ojas was standing on my head…

        i wanted to say somehow I loved touching feet culture may be its because i was not allowed to it… forbidden fruit is always sweeter isnt it

        and the reason girls are not allowed to touch feet is that they are considered as devis before they reach puberty… we are a strange country, one side we kill little girls and the other side we worship them

  23. I don’t fall at anyone’s feet..I don’t prostrate in temples either..am forced to do it in some family functions at the homam..but I do push ups, no guise either..just like that..so usually end up irritating ppl, but don’t take me on 😛

  24. Ohhh, this new look is simply awesome !!! where did you get this theme ??

    and about the post, last week, I had a marathon of falling at feets !!! SIgh !!! We dont believe in all these crap, but the video guys wanted it for the video and so did a lot of fake falling and getting up. Im sure I reduced atleast half a kilo that way ! 😀

    1. You have written the post very beautifully(what is it with entire blogosphere today?) Everyone’s posts are so beautifully written:)
      But really. Loved the way you have so gently and in your own manner described what a beautiful tradition it is and how it should be upto us whether we want to follow it or not.

      I am from the north . People find it beautiful when one touches the feet of elders. They feel even happier when PM touches their feet. (mom and dad’s) But its not a compulsion. On somedays I feel like doing it. Other days I just give a warm hug and say hi:)

      Its whats inside one’s heart that matters. But yes, like you, I too find the tradition beautiful .
      Ofcourse , it goes without saying that nothing shoudl be forced.

    1. * Mon: LOL at ‘forbidden fruit’ 🙂 And, thats a nice explanation, thank you 🙂

      * Vichu: Push-ups?! Kidding, kid 🙂

      * Vimmu: Oh, I can imagine.. having to fall at everyone’s feet at weddings and functions. These days we have mass-namaskaram.. where all the elders stand together and we bow only once.. short cuts 😉

      * Saurbh: LOL, that was very punny..er.. funny 🙂

  25. Hitchwriter once a girl gets married and goes to her ‘own’ home, she is supposed to win them over by her humility – and her husband is like her God, so she touches his feet, his family is also to be respected because they are ‘ladke wale’ so they also have to be shown respect.
    The husband does not need to reciprocate this respect or humility because he is like the daughter’s God (devta, pati-parmeshwar, Swami etc) – and most daughter’s family will be horrified if the son in law even attempts to touch her family’s feet (in the North, not South).
    In most of North India, a daughter does not even touch the footwear of her father! I find a lot of this is to somehow ensure some respect for the girl at her parental home, and to teach her to play safe by keeping everybody happy in her in-laws home (by touching feet).

    Touching feet can make many elders very emotional – it’s a very simple but a very powerful gesture, and while it definitely needs to change from only married girls showing respect only to their permanent family and not to their temporary birth-family – to (atleast) respect being shown to all elders (if it has to be shown for age, then at least show to all who are older not just ladke-wale) –

    The custom is also used to gain points. It’s the easiest way to impress all elders. And I have seen it being used very frivolously too. Like students who laugh at teachers behind their back, touching their feet just before exams – ostensibly to ask for their blessings, but actually in the hope of being marked ‘leniently’.

    1. And isn’t that just totally unfair, as it is misused to please the ego?! Amazing, how we manage to subvert every thing beautiful to suit ourselves, thereby divesting the tradition of its true meaning!!

      Thanks, Hitchy for calling your Mom to find out, and also IHM for candid opinion 🙂

  26. Hey Pal, I see you`ve changed the look again! 🙂 It looks fabulous! 🙂
    This is a great thought-provoking post. Personally speaking, I do touch the elders` feet to seek their blessings and I have been doing it all along – it is only now that I pause to think about it. I find nothing wrong in it. On the contrary, I think it`s a beautiful way to pay respect. But I do it almost blindly – even to those I find completely unworthy of respect – I do it just because they are elder in age. I`m wondering whether that is something I ought to change..
    Visiting after a long time and I see I`ve missed so much. I`m going to spend the afternoon going through all that I`ve missed 🙂

    1. Hey Piper, so good to see u back here 🙂 Well, this is a new WP theme, called ‘Motion’ and I loved the colour too! Reg. touching feet ‘blindly’, I’m sure many do it simply out of pressure. But yes, if we can think about it the next time we are asked to do so, it might just make a difference!
      Makes me wonder what the next Gen will do..will they just foo-faa or will they even try?!

  27. Pallu, beautiful post.

    People hate customs and traditions when it is forced. Also, touching feet of unworthy people is not something anyone would like. Then there are some who despise any custom connected to Hinduism.

    I still love this custom more so because like you, I never was forced into doing any of these things. I still don’t have to do this touching feet routine but I remember years ago when I touched my Paternal Grandfather’s feet on Thiruvonam, he was so happy. Feet touching is not a part of the festival or no one was asked to do it. I just felt like doing it and I loved it.

    As I grow old, I am more in love with this tradition. Now I touch my parents’ feet every time I come back just because I want to. May be last time Peanut saw it and remembered it so last Vishu without us telling her anything she touched our feet. It was a great feeling that a 5 yr old picked up something so beautiful without any compulsion. (I had mentioned it here http://mesoliloquy.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/happy-vishu-vishuaashamsakal/)

    1. * Sols: That is sooooo sweet…very touching (no pun intended)! God bless little Peanut 🙂 And you’re right, when you say, we do it willingly because we were not forced into doing it!

      * Shail: A tag after a looong time.. will look forward to doing it.. hopping over to your blog right away!

  28. Came here from Shail’s, Pal! Good to know you. Interesting topic to read.

    My mother’s side practice is doing namaskara, whenever you meet elders in their home or when they visit your home. This is a routine and we don’t think twice about it.

    In Tamilnadu, namaskara is done only on birthdays, Deepawali (after wearing the new clothes), during weddings etc. First to our parents, then in-laws, elderly people etc. Otherwise nobody even fold hands when someone comes home too! But the north-Indian culture of ‘touching feet’ is coming here – that is easier than doing full-fledged namaskara too!

    As many commentors have said here, it is difficult to do namaskara to people whom we don’t like.

    Very interesting post, Pal!

  29. Ur right that respect should come from withing and not remain external. Even i have experienced that whenever i touch the feet of the elders there is something soothing and comforting about it. I guess its how we view it.

    1. * Sandhya: Thank you very much for visiting 🙂 and also for letting me know you are not anon 🙂 Loved the latest post in your blog too! Btw, I’m also from TN and doing namaskaram to people who deserve respect, and on occasions is certainly a nice thing 🙂

      * Kanagu: Wow, thanku thanku 🙂

      * Shas: I’m glad to know others (like you) also find something soothing about this practise, ofcourse, when you do it for someone you love and respect.

  30. a really touching practice when the person on the other side is one whom you respects . My brother touches feet of every single person he knows before he set out for some thing new . He goes to his school to meet his teachers and all.
    In my case my parents make my world. Just like what Ganapathi said ages ago 😀

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