panychAkshara as popularly known is the holy five syllables (literally holy five letters) that is the supreme mantra of all devotees of Lord shiva. As the name suggests it is made up of five syllables. This great mantra is namaH shivAya (namah shivaaya). The five syllables in this mantra are na - maH - shi - vA - ya.
The core of the vedas
The Holy Five Syllables namaH shivAya is the heart of vedas. It is the core of the very famous chapter of vedas that stands in the middle of the vedas - the shata rudrIyam or rudra sUktam. This great mantra of veda samhita while hailing the God as the Lord of everything of the worlds, salutes the God as namaH shivAya cha shivatarAya cha.
Meaning of the panchakshara mantra
The meaning of this matchless mantra is abound. The purANas and the philosophical texts talk in a very detailed and elaborate manner its meaning and significance and hail its ultimateness. Here only a simple meaning is presented to start with.
The word shiva means auspiciousness and perfection. It refers to the God Who is Perfect without any kind of dependency on anything external to make It complete. Naturally because of this self-perfection, It is completely blissful and ever auspicious. (All other auspicious things are in one way or the other dependent on the external circumstances etc.) The prefix namaH is the mantra of salutation. The mantranamaHshivAya salutationally invoke the Perfect God shiva.
The subtle meaning of this very holy mantra is:
namaH - not mine; shivAya - belongs to shiva. It is negating the ahankAra (ego) and realizing everything to belong to Lord shiva.
panchakshara has five syllables, so is Lord shiva with five faces. Depending upon which letter the panchakshara is starting with, the panchakshara gets the name of a face of the God. namaHshivAya is thesadyojAta panchAkshara and shivAyanamaH is the aghora panchAkshara or the aghora mantra. Similarly the other panchaksharas also get the names.
As the panchAkshara namaHshivAya is at the center of vedas, it is referred as vedic way panchAkshara. shivAyanamaH is the panchAkshara is used very much in the Agamic worship of the Lord. So it is referred as the Agamic way panchakshara.
There are various panchaksharas as stUla panchAkshara, sUkshma panchAkshara, atisUkshma panchAkshara etc. each of which have specific significance. The tantric philosophic scriptures such as thirumandhiram (1) have the details about them.
Ways of chanting the panchAkshari
While many mantras have restrictions as to when and how it can be chanted etc., there is no such restriction to the panchAkshara mantra. The great prodigy sambandhar says in thEvAram, "When you sleep as well as when you do not sleep, think of the Holy Five Syllables with heartful of devotion ! This is the mantra that terribly kicked out the death when chanted (by mArkaNDeya) with sincerity."
Whoever you are, whenever be the time, whatever be the situation chant the Holy Five Syllables. There are no restrictions of color, creed, caste, gender or any other restrictions. All it requires is sincerity.
This mantra could be chanted as it is as panchAkshara or could be chanted along with the praNava (aum) as shaDAkshara mantra (om namahshivAya). In fact it is to be noted that praNava itself is panchakshara mantra (akara, ukara, makara, bindhu, nAtham).
Benefit of chanting the mantra
The thoughts make the person. The one who has the positive thoughts is happier and the one full of worries is the sad one. The thoughts not only have effect at that moment but they definitely make impression on the personality of the individual, which could have a very long lasting impact. In this background while the good thoughts itself would be making things better, what needs to be said about the super-powered mantras that are rich in meaning as well as energy !
Given the fact that "we tend to become what we keep thinking about", when one chants the Sacred panchakshara that hails the God as Perfection and Auspicious, it would take one towards that Blissful Perfection. It takes to the union with the Supreme God. What else can be more rewarding ! Even the worst sinner would get corrected and get to the glorious states if chants this mantra piously.
Widespread glory of panchaksara in scriptures
The importance and glory of this mantra is stressed across the shaiva scriptures, as the most important mantra the devotee has to keep like own soul. Listing them would be highly arduous task given the importance this mantra gets in the scriptures. One may find a few of them in the stotras section (4) and thirumuRai medicine(5).
Learning the various scriptures and chanting thousands of stotras (praise) of God, is all given secondary importance to chanting this great mantra. The authentic scriptures very clearly state that for the one who chants this mantra, even if none of the other scriptures are known or even any other worship of God is undertaken, that person would definitely gets eligible for the immense grace of the Supreme Lord shiva. For this the chanting of the Holy Five Syllables has been prescribed as a definite requirement for the devotee. While the rudraksha(2) and Holy Ash (3) are the ornament externally for the devotee the internal ornament is the panchAkshara mantra.
The supreme mantra very simple to chant and comes with no restrictions attached in order for everybody to chant and get benefitted. With no inertia in mind chant and keep chanting as much as possiblenamahshivAya.
Full of love, with melting heart, tears brimming, one who chants leading them to the Glorious path, the name that is the real essence of the four vedas is the mantra namaccivAya.