--> Skip to main content

Ashtaka – Eight-Verse Poetic Composition

Ashtaka is an eight-verse poetic composition. It has been very effectively used in Sanskrit, especially in devotional literature. The main reason for its adoption is that it helps in easy memorization of ideas or descriptions, couched in simple words. In the composition of ashtakas only short meters of eight to fourteen syllables are employed, avoiding long compounds and intricate constructions.

Some of the ashtakas can be traced to Puranas and some are attributed to saints. Early religious teachers like Adi Shankaracharya, along with medieval teachers like Brahmanatha are the authors of a number of ashtakas. The themes of the ashtakas being mostly devotional, there is hardly a divinity in Hindu pantheon which is left out. Thus, on Ganesha there are several ashtakas of which Sankataharana Ganeshashtaka is noteworthy.

There are at least a dozen ashtakas on the different aspects of Shiva. Well known among these are Pasupatayashtaka, Shivashtaka, Lingashtaka, Bilvashtaka and Chandreshkarashtaka, all anonymous, Visvanathashtaka by Vyasa, Sivanamavalyashtaka by Shankara, Pradeshastotrashtaka from Skanda Purana, Visvamurtyashtaka by Daksha, Sankarashtaka by Brahmananda, Mahadevashtaka by Raghunatha and Vaidyanathashtaka by Ganeshaprasada.

Similarly, a number of ashtakas are available on Devi, Vishnu, Surya, Rama, Krishna, Hanumana and Dattatreya. Several of the sacred rivers of India like Ganga, Yamuna and Narmada and sacred bathing ghats like Prayaga, Pushkara and Manikarnika, are the subjects of ashtakas.

It is instructive that the ashtaka model has been adopted, through sparingly, in expounding topics in the philosophical frameworks of Nyaya and Vedanta. In fact, the ashtaka model of literary composition has proved useful even in spheres other than the philosophical and the devotional.