Those who worship Lord Siva recite ‘Om Nama Sivayah,’ and also ‘Sivaya namaha.’ The first is called Sthula Panchakshara and the second is called Sookshma Panchakshara, explained K. Sambandan, in a discourse. Each of the letters in these mantras has significance. ‘Na’ represents our pride, ‘Ma’ represents the impurities in our minds, ‘Si’ represents Lord Siva, ‘Va’ represents Goddess Sakti, and ‘Ya’ represents the atma. So when we say, ‘Sivaya Namaha,’ the atma, represented by ‘ya,’ is in the middle. On one side are pride and other impure thoughts represented respectively by ‘Na,’ and ‘Ma.’ On the other side of ‘ya,’ we have Lord Siva and Goddess Sakti represented by ‘Si’ and ‘Va.’ So it is for us to decide what we are going to do. Will we go the way in which temptation leads us? Or will we turn towards God? The ‘ya’ comes right next to ‘Va,’ for the Goddess is even more merciful than Lord Siva. After all, an erring child is afraid to approach its father. It first seeks forgiveness from its mother, who recommends to the father that he must not judge his child harshly. In the same way, the Goddess makes sure that the Lord’s wrath is not directed towards us. She speaks to Him on our behalf. To get His mercy, we must go to Her first. His mercy then automatically comes to us.
Look at the five fingers in your hand. The index finger represents the atma, and the thumb represents God. The other fingers are our pride and other sins. Isn’t the index finger closer to the other four rather than to the thumb? In fact, for the index finger to touch the thumb, it has to make an effort. Likewise we are naturally tempted to do wrong, but we must make an effort to reach God.
When Appar was cast into the sea, He recited, ‘Nama Sivaya,’ and was saved. But that was a prayer to save him from death. But when he prayed for moksha in Thirupadirippuliyur, he recited ‘Sivaya Namaha,’ indicating that this is the mantra for moksha. For worldly objectives, therefore, ‘Nama Sivaya’ is recited, but for moksha, ‘Sivaya Namaha’ is recited. Saint Vallalar wrote that when one applied sacred ash on the forehead, one should say ‘Sivaya Namaha,’ because it confers on a devotee good speech, good company, good qualities and moksha.