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I read online that this mantra translates into "I bow to Shiva, who represents the inner self" and helps the chanter attain realization of the inner self.

Can this mantra also be used as a general prayer for the help and protection of Shiva? For example, can chanting this mantra call on Shiva to reduce a particular source of suffering or ignorance in one's life?

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  • "nama shivaya " without the omkara may be chanted as a general prayer. – user1195 Sep 3 '17 at 3:23
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Even without the OM prefixed, the five-lettered mantra " namaha Shivaya" is a Veda mantra.

It is originally found in the Yajurveda. Its among the most popular and powerful Veda mantras along with the GAyatri and the Tryambaka mantras (another Shiva mantra).

Namah Shambhave cha mayobhave cha, namah shankaraya cha mayaskaraya cha, namah shivAya cha shivatarAya cha.

............

Salutation to the source of peace and to the source of delight, salutation to one who creates peace and who creates delight, salutation to the auspicious one (Shiva) and to the more auspicious one (or the paramatman or the absolute).

Mantras from Yajur Veda, Tattriya Samhita 4.5.8

Now, scriptures (the Smritis for example) will say that only those who have GAyatri mantra DikshA can chant the Veda mantras. Others can not. For example:

Manu Smriti 2.172. (He who has not been initiated) should not pronounce (any) Vedic text excepting (those required for) the performance of funeral rites, since he is on a level with a Sudra before his birth from the Veda.

So, if you are a strict follower of scriptures you should not chant it without initiation. But plenty do chant it without doubt.

IMO, it's better to go for simple slokas and stotras instead.

Now, here's an alternative:

As per the great saint Sri Ramana Maharshi everyone can chant the mantra "Arunachala Shiva". I have read that according to him everyone, initiates and non-initiates, can chant this mantra and its also an extremely potent mantra. He says that it is as powerful as the panchAkshari mantra and also note that the word A-ru-na-cha-la is also five-lettered.

You can learn more about it on this page and from their website.

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  • Hello,does the mantra Om Namah Shiva also work on the Rudras? – Elfin forest Jan 31 '18 at 13:53
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    @Elfinforest Sure bro it works for Lord Rudra also. The Mantra itself is from Sri Rudram of the Vedas. – Rickross Jan 31 '18 at 13:59
  • Didn't know Ramana give this Mantra, Because as far as I know Arunachal Shiva means Shiva who is in Arunachal Hill. And this is well known and older than Ramana time. @Rickross – TheLittleNaruto Jul 25 '18 at 12:24
  • Just search "arunachala shiva mantra ramana maharshi" on Google. @TheLittleNaruto – Rickross Jul 26 '18 at 7:14
  • @Rickross Thanks, found it: arunachala-ramana.org/forum/index.php?topic=7717.0 – TheLittleNaruto Jul 26 '18 at 7:26
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This is a tricky question because this mantra is also Vedic as well as Puranic. But a little careful analysis makes it easy to understand.

The mantra is panchAkshari mantra and not shaDAkshari i.e five syllabled mantra. Hence there is no "om" in the beginning of the mantra. While chanting the vedas, this is not chanted with omkaara.

Om is usually added to mantras to make it more powerful and sacred. It is not a mandatory practice though.

This mantra appears in the Krishna Yajurveda in 8th anuvAka of the famous "chamakam" section.

नमः साेमाय च रुद्राय च नमस्ताम्राय चारुणाय च नमः शड़्गाय च पशुपतये च नम उग्राय च भीमाय च नमाे अग्रेवधाय च दूरेवधाय च नमाे हन्त्रे च हनीयसे च नमाे वृक्ष्यभ्यो हरिकेशेभ्याे नमस्ताराय नमः शंभवे च मयाेभवे च नमः शंकराय च मयस्कराय च नमः शिवाय च शिवतराय च ॥ ८ -१॥

In this prayer there are many words which are also having "namah".

If we see its viniyoga, the rishis here is "aghora".

अस्य श्री रुद्राध्याय प्रश्न महामन्त्रस्य, अघोर ऋषिः, अनुष्टुप् चन्दः, सङ्कर्षण मूर्ति स्वरूपो यो‌உसावादित्यः परमपुरुषः स एष रुद्रो देवता । नमः शिवायेति बीजम् । शिवतरायेति शक्तिः । महादेवायेति कीलकम् । श्री साम्ब सदाशिव प्रसाद सिद्ध्यर्थे जपे विनियोगः ॥

This mantra also also in the Shukla Yajurveda Samhita.

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Here the rishi is ParameshThi.

Further, this mantra is also available in purAnas/agamas where,

As per Linga puranam,

Guhyaadguhyataram saakshaanmoksha Jnaanamanuttamam,

Asya Mantrasya vakshyaami Rishicchandodhi Daivatam/

Beejam Shaktih Swaram varnam sthaanam chaivaaksharam prati,

Vamadevo naama Rishih Panktiscchanda udaatdhrutah/

Devataa Shiva yevaaham Mantrasyaasya varaananey,

Here, the Rishi is Sri vAmadeva and chhandas is pankti.

So, technically the mantra is given to different people at different times. It also appears in Vedas as well as puranas and tantra. It has different rishis when it comes to agama and puranas.

Hence in that way, it is NOT ONLY a Vedic mantra but also puranic mantra.

Further, it also appears in many stotras such as:

नागेन्द्रहाराय त्रिलोचनाय भस्मांगरागाय महेश्वराय।

नित्याय शुद्धाय दिगम्बराय तस्मै ‘न’काराय नम: शिवाय।।

मन्दाकिनी सलिलचन्दनचर्चिताय नन्दीश्वर प्रमथनाथ महेश्वराय।

मन्दारपुष्पबहुपुष्प सुपूजिताय तस्मै ‘म’काराय नम: शिवाय। (shiva panchAkshara stotram)

Hence there is no hard and fast rules with respect to initiation because it is also part of Non Vedic literature as well as stotras which usually does not need initiation.

But it is always the best to get it from a Sadguru.

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