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.
- Āhāva means summoning.
- Pratigara means response.
- Tuṣṇīrhjapa means silent or inaudible recitation.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore