By Swami Harshananda
pañcākṣarī (‘[a mantra of] five syllables’)
Meditation on the form of the iṣṭadevatā (chosen deity) as also the japa or repetition of the mantra (divine name or formula) connected with that deity is an important and integral part of sādhana or spiritual practice.
Out of the several modes of designating a mantra, the one that indicates the number of syllables is quite common. Thus ekākṣarī, pañcākṣarī, ṣaḍakṣarī, aṣṭākṣarī, navākṣarī and dvādaśākṣarī represent the mantras having one, five, six, eight, nine or twelve syllables.
However, some of these general terms, due to constant usage, get particularised. For instance, the pañcākṣarī refers to the five-syllabled mantra of Śiva only, viz., namaś-śivāya (= na-maś-śi-vā-ya) (Hence it is called Śiva-
Similarly the aṣṭākṣarī refers to the famous mantra of Nārāyaṇa—orh namo nārāyanāya.
By adding the letter Om to the five-syllabled mantra of Śiva, we get the ṣaḍakṣarī (= six-lettered) mantra. Both these mantras of Siva are well-known and are widely used for japa or repetition.
Since Orii is often an integral part of most mantras (almost considered as a must), even the six-syllabled mantra is considered as Pañcākṣari only.
It was originally discovered by the
sage Vāmadeva and the chandas (metre) of revelation is the Vedic paṅkti. Sadāśiva is the deity.
The works on the mantras, like the tantras and purāṇas, give the processes of purification of oneself like aṅganyāsa (of limbs), karanyāsa (of the hands) and so on as also the dhyānaśloka, giving the details for meditation on the form of the deity.
This mantra can be repeated for the sake of mokṣa or liberation through self-purification. However it can also be repeated to get one’s desires fulfilled, such as long life, freedom from diseases as also the troubles created by evil forces, and so on.
Such japa or repetition may run into lakhs and has to be practised in places like the top of a hillock, the bank of a river or some such holy place (of solitude). It must then be followed by homa (offering special oblations into a duly consecrated fire), the number of oblations generally being one-tenth of the number of japa.
This pañcākṣarī mantra has been highly eulogised in Śaivite works.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore