Stotras are mantras or hymns, which glorify the supreme reality. All stotras are revelations of the sages and rishis and give expression to higher states of consciousness. The main sources of the stotras are the Vedas, Puranas, Tantras and other texts which have been transmitted by memory.
This collection of stotras is presented in diactritic text for correct pronunciation. It is a very special offering to the many forms of the divine, including Guru, Ganesha, Devi, Shiva, Krishna, Rama and Vishnu. Illustrations and colour plates are included.
How do we reach, the Atman, or innermost self, which is beyond the senses, the mind or any other means at our disposal? Do we have any idea what this Self is like? The Upanishads declare, "Naiva vacha n manasa praptum": the Self cannot be reached by speech or mind. Fortunately the saints and sages who have established themselves in the state of fullness and realization have given us some indications. They described the state of ananda, or bliss, which leads to an outpouring of that experience in the form of a stotra or hymn. The word stotra literally means a collection of mantras which glorifies the supreme reality, as in Purusha Suktam, a vedic hymn which describes one specific power of the supreme reality, or Vishnu Sahasranam, where the focus is on omnipresence. In this way, regular chanting of the stotras allows one to remember the divine and actually get the feeling of that experience.
A stotra is an expression of that higher state of consciousness, where connection is established with the heart, the center of feeling. In the Sanatana tradition, a very important place is accorded to stotras as a means of awakening bhavana, the faculty of pure feeling. By establishing a strong connection with the heart, we are able to experience shakti, the cosmic dimension of creation, the divine power that manifests, sustains and transforms the universe, as the one unifying force of existence. In this light, Swami Sivananda says, "Devi stotras are powerful reservoirs of mantras. Every verse is a dynamic force which acts powerfully to overhaul the nature of man."
All stotras are revelations of the sages and rishis. The main sources of the stortras are the Vedas, Puranas, Tantras and other smriti texts, which were transmitted by memory. The tradition of upasana, or ceremonial worship, also utilizes stotras as a tool.
Adiguru Shankaracharya composed a great number of stotras. There are interesting episodes related to many of these stotras. For example, Hastamalaka, one of Shankara's four main disciples, never spoke or showed any interest in normal activities. His father brought the boy to Shankara, who asked him, "Who are you?" Out came the most sublime poetry and expression of the state he was in: "I am not man, god, householder, forest dweller, Brahmin or kshatriya, but I am pure awareness alone
. I am that eternal, undifferentiated consciousness." This utterance later became an important stotra of the vedantic tradition.
Stotras are a means to transmit spiritual teachings through the vibrations of mantra. For example, Bhaja Govindam by Shankaracharya is a stotra which awakens vairagya, or non-attachment. Stotras are also a reflection of the eternal truth that the 'name' is greater than God. There are so many names for the different powers of the creator, for example, Shiva, Vishnu, Lalita, Rama, Krishna etc. Naam Ramayana is an example of the glory of the name of Rama. Similarly such stotras as Shiva Mahimna, Vishnu Sahasranam or Lalita Sahasranam fulfil this purpose.
Mantra shastra tells us that there is mystical energy encapsulated in the form of sound. It is possible to awaken that energy through the practice of mantras. Swami Sivananda used to prescribe 'namopathy' when the other therapies failed. He said, "There is an inscrutable power or shakti in the Lord's name. All divine potencies are hidden in the Lord's name." This is because mantra takes one through the different levels of sound frequency from the external spoken word, or vaikhari, to the transcendental level of para, the undifferentiated potential sound which is the unchanging primal substratum of all language and energy. Para is shabda Brahman, or shakti, pure energy.
This collection of stotras is a very special offering to the many forms of the divine and has the blessings of the siddhas and saints of all eras. These hymns give the sadhaka a gentle push by softening and opening up the heart and elevating the mind and consciousness, so that the presence of God can be explained as a palpable reality in one's own spiritual life.
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