From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
By Swami Harshananda
Śastra literally means ‘that by which one is hurt’.
The words astra and śastra are commonly used in the epics and the purāṇas. An astra is a missile discharged from a suitable instrument like a bow whereas a śastra is a weapon like a sword which is directly wielded by the hand.
The word may also be used to indicate an instrument used in surgery. In the Vedas a śastra refers to a laudatory hymn used in a sacrifice that is simply recited and not sung. A stotra is always sung. A śastra belongs to and follows a stotra. It is composed of several verses. Generally it is recited by the hotṛ and his associates called śrotrakas. This recitation involves other steps like āhāva, pratigara, tuṣṇīrhjapa and so on.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore