By Swami Harshananda
Hymns are as old as the Rgveda itself. As the religion evolved and its influence spread, gradually absorbing and integrating various cults, sects and movements into its fold, the number of deities also increased. Consequently number of hymns also grew to voluminous proportions.
Meaning of Aṣṭottaraśatanāma
The word ‘astottaraśata’ indicates the number 108. In the mystic and ritualistic traditions, this number, 108 (and also 1008), has acquired great significance. The several explanations offered for this are more academic and mystical than logically convincing.
- Certain preliminaries like ‘nyāsas’ or consecration of one’s body
- Paying homage to the ṛṣi, the sage through whom the hymn was revealed
- The chandas or the deity presiding over the meter in which the hymn is composed
- The devatā or the deity to whom the hymn is addressed
- Viniyoga or the purpose for which the hymn is chanted
- Dhyānaśloka, a verse in which the form of the deity is described in detail to facilitate meditation
Integral parts of Aṣṭottaraśatanāma-stotra
The aṣṭottaraśata hymn contains the following :
- 108 names of the deity
- The names dealing with the form of the deity
- The qualities of the deity
- Exploits of the deity (based on the mythological accounts)
Ordinance of Aṣṭottaraśatanāma-stotra
When the names are used individually in pujā or arcanā (ritualistic worship), they are repeated one after another, but in the ‘caturthī vibhakti’ or dative case, adding the word ‘namah,’ ‘obeisance’ at the end. For instance, the aṣṭottaraśatanāma- stotra of Śiva begins as follows :
Śivo maheśvarah śambhuh
When these names are used in worship, they are repeated as :
śivāya namah, maheśvarāya namah, śambhave namah
Significance of Aṣṭottaraśatanāma-stotra
Among the various types of such hymns, or ‘stotras’, ‘the aṣtottaraśata’ and the ‘sahasranāma’ group plays a more significant role. It can be used not only for chanting but also for offering flowers and other objects used in worship, as a part of the ritualistic process. Their repetition is believed to yield many desired results. They are quite popular in the modern society and are widely used in the temples.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore