What they don’t tell you about the handshake
by Murali Chemuturi

It is common to shake hands with someone who is introduced to us, especially in Western cultures. This custom has spread all over the world and is common everywhere now. We shake hands not only at the time of introduction but also when we meet someone we already know. A handshake is treated as the norm for a business greeting. Meetings normally begin with shaking of hands. It is rumored that the hand of the President of USA gets swollen from shaking so many hands in victory in elections! Evidence shows that the practice of handshake existed in the era before Common Era, say the 5th century BCE.

What is the meaning of shaking hands and how did it originate?

One school of thought indicates that the handshake originated in wars. To demonstrate that the intention is peaceful and that the hands bear no weapons, the handshake was adopted as the gesture. In the present days, all athletes including boxers shake hands before and after the match to show that they bear no ill will towards each other. Politicians also shake hands, at least after the result is announced, to demonstrate that they have forgotten the bitterness displayed during the election campaign. This present day custom of shaking hands seems to confirm the school of thought that the custom originated in wars.

Another school of thought suggests that this custom did not originate in wars but in marriages and was then carried over to war situations. For example, in days gone by, whenever a young man approached a father to seek his daughter in marriage, he normally asked something like, “Sir, I have come to seek your daughter’s hand in marriage.” (And the jocular repartee was, “Well you will find it in my pocket and I am glad to transfer it to your pocket.”) This practice is adhered to in some families in Western cultures even to this day, especially in families that consider themselves a class of superior beings. In fact, in many cultures (tribal cultures of Asia, Africa, and Australia and in Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims), holding the hand of a girl by a man (or of a man by a girl) is construed as marriage in itself. By holding the hand of a girl, the man is deemed to promise that he will take care of the girl for eternity, in all four aspects of life, namely: 1. love & sex life; 2. money, comforts and luxuries of life; 3. performance of righteous rituals dictated by religion; and 4. the after life. The holding of hand is a promise of friendship, and kinship for ever between two persons.

It appears to me that the second school of thought is the appropriate one. In Hindu ritual of marriage, the father hands over the hand of the bride to the bridegroom and this gesture is seen to be the essence of marriage. The marriage invitations too invite the guests to the ceremony of “holding hands”!

In Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim cultures, touching each other including holding hands is prohibited in a frivolous manner

Do you know why? When two palms come together, what happens? We have an excellent parallel surprisingly in Physics, namely thermodynamics and hydraulics. In thermodynamics, one law states that when two bodies come together, heat flows from the body with higher temperature to the body with lower temperature. The size of the body is not relevant here. In hydraulics, one law states that when two water/liquid sources are connected with each other, the water/liquid at a higher altitude flows in to the water/liquid at lower altitude. The quantity of water/liquid is not pertinent here. Even if the quantity is lower in the source at the higher level than that in the lower level, it still flows downwards!

Thus, when two palms come together, the sin (bad luck) flows from the palm of the person with higher sin (bad luck) to the person with lesser sin (bad luck). Some people do not believe in bad luck. But many do! While this belief in good/bad luck is implicit in many people, it is very explicit the in glamour world of cinema. If the movie of a hero/heroin bomb at the box office, that hero/heroin would find it very difficult to find another assignment. This is also true in the case of TV shows and stars.

You would find politicians eager to shake hands with you – they have good reason – they pass on their sin (bad luck) to you and take on your good karma (good luck).

One tip for you here, if you are suffering from bad luck, find as many righteous people as possible and shake their hands. Don’t rush to priests – they have blessed so many people, it is doubtful if they are left with anything but sin (bad luck)!

That is the reason why Hindus greet by folded hands. Buddhists bow their head. Muslims perform a gesture of “Salaam,” which is similar to the Western salute. While the salute is performed once, a Salaam is performed thrice upon greeting. It is interesting to note that both salaam and salute originated from Hindu greeting. While Hindu greeting is with both hands, salaam and salute are performed with a single hand.

In Western culture too, even though handshake is widespread, in the armed forces, the handshake is only between persons of the same seniority in the same rank. A junior, either in rank or seniority in the same rank, cannot hope to shake hands with a senior – the person needs to salute his senior, either in rank or seniority. Royalty also does not shake hands with commoners, and sometimes, not even with other elected heads of state. The queens and kings shake hands with other queens and kings. It is considered an offense for a commoner to try to shake hands with royalty.

“If you shake hands with a person and then betray his confidence, it amounts to sin.”

Finally, what does a handshake connote? It connotes that, by shaking hands with the other person, you are making an implicit promise that you would take care of the other person as you would take care of your wife. If you shake hands with a person and then betray his confidence, it amounts to sin.

That is the handshake. Now you know.

New translations of the Ramayana by Dr. Murali Chemuturi!

Sundara Kaanda of Vaalmiki Raamayana

Baala Kaanda of Srimad Raamayana of Maha Rushi Vaalmiki