Thangachi’s Corner: Vanakkam—More Than Just a Word

This post is part of the Tamil Heritage Month Initiative. Tamil Heritage Month seeks to celebrate Tamil heritage, culture, and history. Throughout this month and January, we will be providing you with educational material and poetry that seeks to help us celebrate and understand our culture, roots and heritage.

January 29, 2014 

VannakamUpdated every other Wednesday, “Thangachi’s Corner” is a bi-monthly feature that discusses relatable topics and issues relevant to the Canadian Tamil youth of today. For more information about this feature or to suggest a topic, feel free to e-mail us at! 

Written By: Keerthana Raveendran

My Appappa doesn’t like the word, “Hi”.

It sounds a bit odd, to have a vendetta against a two-letter greeting word used commonly in the English language. But Appappa doesn’t believe in “Hi” because he subscribes to the use of a slightly longer, five-letter word deeply rooted into our Tamil culture.

And I don’t mean “Hello”.

Ever since I was young, my brothers and I were taught to greet fellow Tamil folk not with a hello and a handshake, but rather with Vanakkam and a very famous hand gesture in which palms meet in a salute. Vanakkam (five letters in its Tamil spelling) symbolically signifies a greeting from the soul.

While there are many different interpretations of the word and symbol, the most common one, and the one I grew up hearing, is that Vanakkam is a greeting between two souls, regardless of their status in life. The soul is viewed in a sacred manner, akin to God despite the age or character of its owner. While etymologically, the word Vanakkam stems from the root, “to bow”, referring to a respectful, reverent and worshipping gist, the greeting almost translates into a single phrase: “My soul bows to your soul”.

It’s actually rather lovely when you stop and think about it.

Vanakkam is a symbol of mutual respect between an adult and a child, between a rich person and a poor one, between a teacher and a student—it transcends man-made boundaries of classification to demand regard for every individual.

Living in an almost exclusively Anglophone society Canada, it is difficult for us to maintain our Tamil language in casual conversation. But being a single word, Vanakkam is a very manageable step in the right direction. It not only immediately identifies us as Tamil, but also serves as a link to our Tamil heritage.

So try not to hesitate in Tamil company—set aside your hello’s, bonjour’s and hola’s, put your palms together at your chest, and utter, as you greet one another, a warm and heartfelt:



About the Author:

Keerthana Raveendran, known by her flock as Thangachi, is an aspiring author whose motivation to write usually kicks in when she’s supposed to be occupied elsewhere. She is an avid procrastinator who sees potential novel ideas as movies in her head. Maybe one of these days they’ll make it onto the page. Thangachi is currently a Masters student studying English at York University.


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