Importance of Ashtkam
Ashtakam/अष्टकम्: The term Ashtakam, also often written Ashtakam, is derived from the Sanskrit word asht, meaning “Eight”. In context of poetic compositions, ‘Ashtkam’ refers to a particular form of poetry, written in eight stanzas. The stanzas in an “Ashtkam” are a rhyming quartet with four lines, i.e. end lines rhyme as a-a-a-a. Thus, in an Ashtakam generally thirty-two lines are maintained. All these stanzas follow a strict rhyme scheme.
The proper rhyme scheme for an Ashtkam is: a-a-a-a/b-b-b-b…… The rhyme designs are both ear-rhymes and eye-rhymes. Ear-rhyme where the end letters rhyme in sound and audibility, and eye-rhyme where the end letters appear similar. This rhyme sequence sets the usual structure of the Ashtakam. Ashtakam rhyme consists of identical (“Hard-Rhyme”) or similar (“Soft-Rhyme”) sounds placed at predictable locations, normally the ends of lines for external rhyme or within lines for internal rhyme. Sanskrit language exhibits high richness in sustaining rhyming structures.
Thus Sanskrit Ashtkam is capable of carrying a limited set of rhymes all over a lengthy composition. The conventions associated with the Ashtkam have evolved over its literary history of more than 2500 years. One of the best known Ashtkam writers was Adi Sankaracharya, who created an Ashtkam cycle with a group of Ashtkam, arranged to address a particular deity, and designed to be read both as a collection of fully realized individual poems and as a single poetic work comprising all the individual Ashtkam. He wrote more than thirty Ashtkam in Stuti [dedication] to various deities.
Ashtkam were a very popular and generally accepted genre of devotional and general poetry during the golden period of Sanskrit literature, and also that of Vedic Indian Literature.