The popular mantra Om Namah Shivaya is steeped in a deep history and is wrought with literal and inferred meaning. Directly translated, it means “my salutations to Shiva, the auspicious one.” But the meaning of that and who Shiva is where we find all sorts of depth and power.
The separate words that make up this beautiful mantra are as follows:
- Om: The Sound of creation. The first vibration that emerged out of the void and silence that existed before creation. It is also the root of the word amen.
- Namah: my salutations, or I bow and offer deference.
- Shiva: to Shiva, auspicious one. Shiva is the god of destruction and knowledge and is the newer version of the more ancient for Rudra. His name specifically means, auspicious, propitious, gracious, benign, kind, benevolent, friendly.
- Aya: can mean “to” or “for” the word that it is attached to. The word ya by itself means the soul. This word is a grammatical aspect and also a word unto itself.
Read: 5 Powerful Mantras and Their Sacred Meanings
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Another way to study this mantra is to look at its individual syllables. Om Namah Shivaya is also referred to as the five-syllable mantra or Panchakshara mantra because it has five syllables (Na-Ma-Shi-Va-Ya) that are preceded by the Om. Using alternative definitions the five syllables represent the five elements and are as follows:
- Na is earth.
- Ma is water.
- Shi is fire.
- Va is wind or air.
- Ya is space or sky.
Destruction and Creation in Om Namah Shivaya
The fascinating aspect of this mantra is the depth of the energy and aspect of god that Shiva embodies. All stories, myths and lore that frame our human history consist of an interchange of darkness and light, birth and death, day and night, that are all in a dance with each other.
Creation and dissolution each partake in the establishment of the concept of reality that we see. You can’t have creation without its counterpart, destruction. Once there is destruction, there is space for a new creation.
The dance of creation and destruction interchange constantly to bring about growth and freshness.
Read: An Introduction to Lord Shiva: The Destroyer
In Hinduism, this concept of destruction for renewal is depicted as the god Shiva. He is portrayed as a meditating yogi or ascetic on mount Kailash, with a serpent around his neck, a crescent moon and the river Ganges flowing from his matted hair as he holds a trident.
He is viewed as having skin color that is deep purple or indigo as a result of drinking the poison of the world as told in Hindu mythology. He is one of the most ancient portrayed deities, depicted in writing as far back as in the writings of the Rig Veda, 3,000 BCE, and in statues and carvings and as far back as 8,000 BCE.
When you offer your deference to and acknowledge this aspect of God, you are inviting a cleansing and clearing in your life and the world around you. You are drawing attention to yourself to destroy ignorance, shedding the old to invite knowledge and freshness in.
It is sort of a cosmic "out with the old" so there can be newness in your life. The changes can be unsettling and create tumult in your life, so be conscious of this if you make this your daily prayer.
Shiva (and thus the mantra we are discussing) is recognized as the ocean of transcendence, the pool of cosmic bliss and the realm of the absolute. In other words, he is seen as a divine incarnation, but he is also regarded as a subtle realm or state of consciousness. It is possible to see these views of Shiva as one and the same.
Practicing Om Namah Shivaya
While Om Namah Shivaya is very ancient and powerful it is also a really fun mantra to practice. This mantra is so diverse in the ways that you can express it and each way is powerful and enjoyable.
It is popular to sing Om Namah Shivaya, and I have heard it put to numerous melodies. In fact, my own band Shanti Shanti has a rendition of this mantra that is easy and fun to sing along with.
You can also say Om Namah Shivaya out loud as a reminder and a way to center yourself. In this way, it is treated as almost an affirmation.
Om Namah Shivaya can also be used in your practice of japa. Japa is where you say the mantra a specific amount number of times while counting on mala beads. Usually, it is said 108 times as a form of prayer.
You can also meditate on this mantra. It contains an inherent rhythm that easily aligns with your breath. Let it sit within your mind and allow it to reside deep within yourself bringing about clarity and expanded consciousness.
Read: Yogapedia's Four Favorite Mantras to Chant
Because this is such a profound and powerful mantra, however you decide to practice it, it is important that you keep your spine erect so that the energy can travel freely in your body.
There are a number of benefits to the mantra Om Namah Shivaya, it brings you a sense of peace, creates mental clarity, stirs your inner self, it tempers your ego, aggression and eases stress. It helps you attract positive energy and protects you from negative energies.
This mantra expands your mind and consciousness, bringing about a more developed human expression by creating for you a state of transcendence. If you want a fun and effective mantra, sing or chant Om Namah Shivaya and feel your heart and nervous system open up and bring your mind to a whole new level of peace.
Enjoy the cosmic interplay of this creation as we are part of both the dissolution of the old and formation of the new.
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