Monday, August 26, 2013

What are Stotras?

Stotra or Hindu prayers
    Stotra comes from the word Sthuthi and Sthuthi means praise.Some stotras are also called as Sthavas. Stotra could be broadly translated as  “Praise of God”.  Stotras can be broadly classified  according the  time period as those  originating during period of Vedas, period of the Puranas   and post Purana  stotras or according to the style in which they are written.
A.Stotra literature  over time.
   1.Stotras of the Vedic period
       The foremost among the Vedic Stotras  is Rudram and chamakam   addressed to Lord Shiva, Narayana as well as Purusha Suktham addressed to Lord Vishnu    and Sri Suktham, Durga Suktham, Lakshmi Suktham etc    addressed to the Goddess. There are many other great Sukthams like Bhagya suktham , Ikamathya Suktham , Bhoo Suktham, Medha Suktham etc. The Ganesa Atharva Sira  Upanishad  , which is from Atharva Veda  is again a prayer addressed to Lord Ganesa.  Many of these are not praise of God as such but description  of several aspect of the God including its philosophy.   These Sukthas were used mostly   for performing Yagas  and even today , though in  some places  they are chanted  mostly they are   used in fire  sacrifices.

Stotras  of the Puranic period.
   It was the advent of Puranas   that we started praying of worship of Individual Gods.  Some of the greatest  Hindu Stotras  originated     at this time, The most famous are  the Adithya Hrudayam  which is a part of Valmiki Ramayanam , Vishnu Sahasranamam which is a part of  Maha Bharatham, Lalitha Sahasranamam and Lalitha Trishathi   which are both  part of the Markandeys puranam , The Devi Mahatmyam which is again a part of  Markandeya puranam, the Gopika Gita , a part of Maha Bhagawatham  and very many other  Sahasranamams   and stotras which are  part of several Puranas.  The prayers called Kavachams (Armours to protect ourselves)    again originated  during  this period.

Post Puranic Stotras
   Possibly after  all the Puranas  were written, a vast outpouring  of  composition of prayers  by very many poets    took place  . Many Prayers  which originate   in the earliest period     are not available. The stotra as a vehicle  of prayers was greatly popularized  by  Adhi Sankara    and his  disciples.  We find Sankara ‘s prayers addressed to all most  all gods. Apart from prayers eulogizing Gods , he also wrote several  very philosophical  prayers. Soundarya Lahiri    and Shivananda Lahari   are possibly the greatest stotras written by him. He also wrote several prayers  using the Bhujanga meter. His disciples continued this trend. Almost in the same  period , the Nayanmars  of Tamil Nadu  who were Saivite saints  contributed largely   to the Saivite Stotra literature . There was also a great upsurge of Tamil prayers  written by  various great saints praising Lord Subramanya /Muruga.
   Saint Ramanuja   did not write many stotras b ut the Gadhya thrayam   which are prose prayers  are really great prayers.  His disciple Vedant Desika  has  written very large number   of very  excellent   prayers.  The outpouring of stotras  mainly in tamil  were written by   the Azhvars who were all Vaishnavite saints. Saint MadhWa   and his followers   and the Hari Dasas of Karnataka   also wrote many prayers .
     The Thulasi Das, Kabir Das, Sur Das ,  and many such great ones  contributed to the Hindi prayers. Poet Jayadeva  wrote his Gita Govindam   in Sanskrit and a  very large  number of prayers were written by   the  great Krishna   and Durga devotees  of Bengal. There was also a great Bhakthi movement in Maharashtra   and the stotras of this genre   are called Abhangs.
      The Stotra literature   is not growing   well in the modern times except for rare  compositions.

B.Stotra literature  by type.
      I have already mentioned that   all the Sukthams belong to the Vedic period. There are very many type of Stotras     written after  the Vedic period.

      These are   the  listing of thousand names   of each God. If you go through them critically    you may not find     that all these   thousand names are different and we find that several names are repeated. The most famous of the Sahasranamams  are the Vishnu sahasranamam    and the Lalitha Sahasranamam. Shiva Sahasranamam and Lakshmi Sahasranams are  also relatively popular.Saharanamams are available for most of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu and all other Gods   and Goddesses. Trisathi giving 300 names, ashtotharams giving 108 names, Satha Nama stotrams giving one hundred names , Shodasa nama stotram giving sixteen names  and  Dwadasa nama storams(12 names)  also belong to this category  of stotras.

       These are possibly the most popular form of Hindu stotras.  These normally contain eight verses  praising the God or Goddess. Most of them are  very simple and easy to understand. There is a phala Sruthi attached to every ashtakam   giving the possible effect of chanting that   particular prayer.

        These are another very popular form of prayers    addressed to Gods as well as planets . Essentially they request God to protect different parts of our body as well as mind. It also requests God to protect us in different circumstances. Narayana Kavacham is one of the most famous in this category.
      These are similar to ashtakam but with ten Stanzas.
   These are prayers with five stanzas.
      These are again  similar to ashtakam but   with six stanzas
   These are prayers with  seven stanzas.
7.Pancha Dasi
     These are longer prayers with fifty stanzas
8.Pancha sathi
     These are still longer poems with five hundred  stanzas.
9.Sthava Raja
      These are supposed to  be  the king of prayers addressed to a particular God. Though they are not available for all Gods, many of them are available.
10.Bhujanga Stotram
      These  as well as Bhujanga prayatha stotrams are  supposed to move like a snake. Adhi Sankara is credited with composing many such Bhujangams. His “Subramanya Bhujangam”  is very famous
       These are stotras where there is no restriction on the length of a line of a stanza. Some of the Dandakams  are very long prayers with just one line. Shyamala Dandakam of poet Kalidasa  is the greatest in this category.
12.Karavalamba Stotram
     These prayers are addressed to the God requesting him    to extend his hand in support to us. The Lakshmi Narasimha Karavalamba stotram  of Adhi Sankara is possibly the most famous.
      These are prayers addressed to the lord to wake him up. The oldest among this type of stotras are the thirupalliyezhuchi  in Tamil   and the most famous is the  Venkateswara Suprabatham.
14. Lahari
      Lahari means waves. In this form of prayer  the stanzas follow each other like waves. Soundarya Lahari of Adhi Sankara  is possibly the most famous.
       These are tamil prayers written by the great Vaishnavite  saints of Tamil Nadu called  the Azhvars.
        These are again Tamil prayers written by Nayanmars , the Tamil saints  eulogizing  Lord Shiva.
17. Aarthi
       These are Hindi prayers   praising a particular God. These are available addressed to  almost all Gods.
      These are again Hindi prayers  but have forty stanzas  each. The most famous is Hanuman Chalisa composed by saint Thulasidas.
19. Gadhyams
        Gadhyam means prose . Some of the Vaishnavite saints    wrote prayers in prose  and the most famous is the Gadhya Thrayam written by Saint  Ramanuja
       These are prayers written in Marathi by those  great devotees of Pandharpur,
20. Mangalams
      Mangalam means auspiciousness and thse are prayers which are sung at the end of chanting of prayer sessions as   the last prayer.