Wai is a traditional gesture of greeting and respect commonly used in several Southeast Asian countries, particularly Thailand. It involves a slight bow with the palms of the hands pressed together in a prayer-like gesture in front of the chest or face. The word "wai" itself is derived from the Sanskrit term "vāṇī," which means "to bow" or "to show homage."
The wai serves as a way to convey respect, gratitude, and acknowledgment. It is used in various social situations, such as when greeting elders, monks, or esteemed individuals, as well as to express thanks or to apologize. The height of the hands during a wai depends on factors like the social status or seniority of the person being greeted. A higher wai is often provided to someone of higher social standing or importance. Additionally, the level of the bow may vary, ranging from a slight nod to a deeper inclination of the head.
The wai is deeply ingrained in Thai culture and holds significant importance in social interactions. It reflects the cultural values of politeness, humility, and deference. Engaging in a wai when appropriate demonstrates an understanding and respect for Thai customs and traditions. Although the practice primarily originates from Thailand, similar gestures are also found in other neighboring countries like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, where it may possess slightly different interpretations and variations in execution.
The word "Wai" has its origin in the Thai language, specifically in the Southwestern Tai dialect. This traditional Thai greeting gesture and word can be traced back to an ancient Hindu-Buddhist cultural influence in Southeast Asia. The term "Wai" is derived from the Sanskrit word "svasti" (स्वस्ति), which means "well-being" or "auspiciousness". Over time, it evolved into "sva", which in Thai became "sawasdee" (สวัสดี), a common greeting still used today. In the Thai script, "สวัสดี" is written as "sawahtdee". However, when spoken, it is pronounced as "wai-dee".