Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

16 What Is the Namaḥ Śivāya Mantra?

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Namaḥ Śivāya is one of the most popular and holy of all Hindu mantras, sung prayerfully by devotees and recited by yogis in remote caves. It is shown here in three scripts: Tamil, English and Devanagari.

HIMALAYAN ACADEMY

Namaḥ Śivāya is the most famous and holy of Saivite mantras, chanted daily by millions of devotees. Namaḥ Śivāya means “adoration to Siva” and appears in the Yajur Veda in the famous Shri Rudram hymn to Siva. It is known as the Panchakshara, or “five letters.” Each syllable has a meaning. Na is the Lord’s concealing grace and Ma is the world. Śi stands for Siva, is His revealing grace, and Ya is the soul. The five letters also represent the five elements. Na is earth, Ma is water, Śi is fire, is air, and Ya is ether, or akasa. This mantra is repeated verbally or mentally, drawing the mind in upon itself to cognize Lord Siva’s infinite, all-pervasive presence. It is freely sung and chanted by everyone, but it is most powerful when given by one’s guru. Before this initiation, called mantra diksha, the guru will usually require a period of study. This initiation is often part of a temple ritual, such as a homa (fire ceremony). The guru whispers the mantra into the disciple’s right ear, along with instructions on how and when to chant it. Traditionally it is repeated 108 times a day while keeping count on a strand of rudraksha beads. This practice is called japa yoga. When done correctly, it calms the mind and brings spiritual insight and knowledge. It also keeps the devotee close to Siva and within His protective global fellowship. Gurudeva advised, “When life becomes difficult or strained, say to yourself ‘Śiva Śiva’ or ‘Aum Śivāya’ or ‘Namaḥ Śivāya.’ Mentally put it all at His feet.”

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GURUDEVA: From the lips of my Satgurunatha, I learned Namah. Śivāya, and it has been the central core of my life, strength and fulfillment of destiny. The secret of Namah. Śivāya is to hear it from the right lips at the right time. Then, and only then, is it the most powerful mantra for you.