Welcome to India
India is a country full of vibrant customs and traditions, that are often religiously followed in urban as well as rural India. There is a unique and harmonious co-existence of many different religions in India and this serves to increase the number and variety of traditions. They vary from one region of the country to another, but one custom that seems to exist wherever you go is the wonderful and warm welcome that guests receive,
There is a beautiful phrase in India - Atithi Devo Bhava - which means "May the guest be God to you."
If a guest is considered as equal to God, being welcomed as a guest is always going to be a carefully considered event. There are proper rituals to show reverence and respect when a guest arrives. These rituals are observed in many homes and hotels so you are very likely to be welcomed by some or all of them, especially as Indians are very friendly and love to invite people into their homes for a cup of tea or a meal.
In Hinduism, there is a five step religious ritual to worship the Gods, which is known as Panchopchara Puja. Over time, the five rituals from the worship have become the five steps that are followed when welcoming guests:
Fragrance - scent is so often the first thing you notice when you walk into a place and a beautiful aroma will always put you in a good frame of mind. The fragrances used to welcome guests in India are especially noticeable in large hotels, where gentle floral scents envelop your senses as soon as you enter the building
Water - it never ceases to amaze me how often I am offered chilled bottles of water in India. It certainly does make you feel welcome and is so appreciated in that blissful but never-ending heat.
Flowers - flowers symbolise both freshness and goodwill. They are also used to represent the sweet and enduring memories of the visit that will remain with both the guest and the host for several days. Having fresh flower garlands gently placed around my neck is probably my favourite part of the welcome ceremony. I find myself fondly remembering the people and places where I have been welcomed so kindly every time I watch flowers being threaded into garlands in the local markets and roadsides.
Lamp - light is an important part of the welcome ceremony because it symbolises both knowledge and the absence of darkness, grief and unhappiness. Lighting a lamp or candle between the guest and the host is also believed to remove all barriers between them during the visit.
Tilak - the tilak is a small mark made on the guest’s forehead with a vermilion red paste. It is considered not only a symbol of warm wishes but also an expectation of well-being for the person wearing it.
The phrase Atithi Devo Bhava was also used for a campaign launched by the Tourism Ministry of India to highlight the rich culture of India and to encourage tourism. In 2008, the Ministry of Tourism launched a campaign targeted at the local population with the aim of creating awareness about the effects of tourism and encouraging the local population to preserve India's heritage, culture, cleanliness and hospitality. It was part of the Incredible India campaign that is still actively encouraging tourism.