Kids Corner

Sikhing Answers

Touching The Feet:
Sikhing Answers - IV




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As children, we have been taught by our parents to greet our elders - grandparents, for example - by touching their feet. And to do the same in parting, after a visit.

What is the purpose of such a gesture? What is its meaning and import? Its origins?


Posted on February 8, 2012

Closing Date: February 15, 2012


Conversation about this article

1: Karambir Singh (Amritsar, Punjab), February 08, 2012, 2:32 PM.

Lowering your head - that is, bowing before someone - is an act of humility and/or of paying respect, prevalent in most societies, at least at some stage in their history. Also, since feet are the most easily and frequently soiled part of the human body, different societies have created customs around it to express humility. In eastern cultural practices - some of which are extant in Punjabi communities today - paying respect to your elders, particularly your parents and grandparents, is important, and is expressed through a combination of the bowing (to show respect) and touching of the feet (to express humility). The practice is not unique to the East, though. Jesus, for example, is described in the New Testament (in the Middle-Eastern and Judeo-Christian context), as washing the feet of his disciples. But, while other cultures have discarded many of their traditions, this particular one is still practiced by many Punjabi families, even though it may be fading as well amongst them. It is not a religious custom - it is cultural.

2: Ram Bilas Pandey (Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India), February 08, 2012, 2:47 PM.

Many Hindu practices evolved through the millennia of slavery that its constituent communities were immersed in through history. One of them was the practice of the prostrating of a person of inferior status in front of a superior. That is, by a slave before a master, a subject before a ruler, etc. Through time, the "honour" was extended to priests, then teachers, and then to the husband (by the wife, but not vice versa). It then further extended to include elders and parents. Sikhism rejected the obnoxious and slavish aspects of the practice, but retained it as a mode of paying respect to the Guru Granth Sahib only, while proclaiming personal sovereignty for every Sikh (thus prohibiting bowing one's head before a mortal), abolishing priesthood, and elevating women to equality with men. The practice was retained in Sikh/Punjabi culture in one more way: it was abbreviated to a mere touching of the feet, but limited to its application as a greeting to parents, grandparents and other elders deserving similar deference.

3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), February 08, 2012, 4:47 PM.

Commentator # 2 has deep knowledge of Sikhism! True Sikhs never touch the feet, or bow to another willy nilly - such as to a self-acclaimed sant or 'holy" person. They only bow to the Guru Granth. Being respectful to a parent is not to be confused with other Hindu practices.

4: Noor Kaur (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 08, 2012, 6:11 PM.

I feel that it is a way to show respect and humility. How can one respect our Guru, and be able to learn from the Guru Granth Sahib if one cannot learn to respect one's elders?

5: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), February 08, 2012, 6:33 PM.

Touching feet has a special connotation in almost all cultures and belief systems, especially in the East and even more so in the Guru Granth. "Charan", or "gur kay charan" means Guru's shabad and not literally the physical 'charan' - feet. There are hundreds of such references. "gotam tapa ahill-a istri tis dekh indar lubhana" [GGS:1344.1] - "Ahalyaa was the wife of Gautam the seer. Seeing her, Indra was enticed." As the mythological story goes, cursed by Gautam, Ahalya was turned to stone, but was brought back to human form by the touch of Ram's feet, that is, Lord's Grace. My dear friend's little grandson's name was Charn. One day his grandfather was singing this shabad: "charn chalo maarg gobind" - and the little tyke piped in: "Papa ji vee chalo marg gobind!" - "Papa ji will also walk Gobind's path!"

6: Dr Jagmeet Kaur (Bhopal, India), February 09, 2012, 9:26 AM.

I would only like to ask why daughters are not allowed to touch their elder's feet in their own house and do for every elder once they are married? If it is to show respect, it should be the prerogative of the individual.

7: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), February 09, 2012, 1:34 PM.

Although most true gursikhs do not like that some one touches their feet, there are many incidents/occasions where out of intense pure love one gursikh touches the feet of another gursikh. But only as a special case. Even washing their feet. It is written in the biography of Sant Attar Singh Mastuana that whenever he visited Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, he used to bow before Guru Granth Sahib for a long time and said that he is forwarding/redirecting all salutations made to him by large number of people. In the end where there is prem (true love) there is no 'nem' (routine).

8: Mahanjot Singh (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), February 10, 2012, 11:23 AM.

Dr Jagmeet Kaur ji (commentator # 6): you do pose a very valid question. As per Punjabi custom, daughters don't touch the feet of their own parents but shockingly are expected to do the very same thing to their spouse's parents ... quite awkward! While growing up in India, I fondly remember one of my bhua's always insisting on touching the feet of my grandfather, even publicly, to the utter shock of a number of visitors to our home. I always admired her (and still do!) for that logical stand of hers. If Sikhi believes in equality, logic and forthrightness, then there should be no distinctions whatsoever between a man and a woman as far as the issue of touching the feet of the elderly is concerned. It completely defies logic in not honouring this prerogative of the women as well. It'd be quite interesting to see the views of anyone who doesn't agrees that this custom vis-a-vis the women is concerned, is quite absurd and needs to be changed.

9: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), February 10, 2012, 7:03 PM.

I vividly remember taking note, when I was but a youngster, of the fact that young girls were not required to touch the feet of the elders to show respect. I complained and was told why. It wasn't a denial of a 'privilege' to the girls, it was in fact a privilege reserved for young girls - a fact which I sorely resented then, being surrounded by three sisters. As tradition had it, when girls would come of age and get married, they would leave home and "become part of another family". So, in a sense, their stay in their parental home was considered "temporary". Allowing them not to touch the feet of their parents and grandparents - while the boys had to - was symbolically a reminder that they were not to get too attached emotionally to this home. Once married and in the home of their new parents, it was business as usual. A dichotomy which was obviously a product of traditions and customs which are disappearing quickly - some of them mercifully.

10: H Bharj (England ), June 05, 2013, 1:01 PM.

My parents told me that I shouldn't touch anyone's feet. I will only bow before the Guru Granth Sahib.

11: S.S. Bhasin (Kuwait), April 07, 2018, 11:32 PM.

I know one thing: touching your elders feet brings blessings and love and that's what matters to me the most. I touch any elders' feet as a gesture of respect, as being a Sikh it doesn't matter if that person is from another religion, etc., as we believe in Ik Onkaar. While talking about bowing down to elders and parents, just remember a true Sikh will NEVER bow down, or in any way give in to injustice.

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Sikhing Answers - IV"

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