Stotra comes from the word Sthuthi and Sthuthi means praise.Some stotras are also called as Sthavas. Stotra could be broadly translated as “Praise of God”. Stotras can be broadly classified according the time period as those originating during period of Vedas, period of the Puranas and post Purana stotras or according to the style in which they are written.
A.Stotra literature over time.
1.Stotras of the Vedic period
The foremost among the Vedic Stotras is Rudram and chamakam addressed to Lord Shiva, Narayana as well as Purusha Suktham addressed to Lord Vishnu and Sri Suktham, Durga Suktham, Lakshmi Suktham etc addressed to the Goddess. There are many other great Sukthams like Bhagya suktham , Ikamathya Suktham , Bhoo Suktham, Medha Suktham etc. The Ganesa Atharva Sira Upanishad , which is from Atharva Veda is again a prayer addressed to Lord Ganesa. Many of these are not praise of God as such but description of several aspect of the God including its philosophy. These Sukthas were used mostly for performing Yagas and even today , though in some places they are chanted mostly they are used in fire sacrifices.
Stotras of the Puranic period.
It was the advent of Puranas that we started praying of worship of Individual Gods. Some of the greatest Hindu Stotras originated at this time, The most famous are the Adithya Hrudayam which is a part of Valmiki Ramayanam , Vishnu Sahasranamam which is a part of Maha Bharatham, Lalitha Sahasranamam and Lalitha Trishathi which are both part of the Markandeys puranam , The Devi Mahatmyam which is again a part of Markandeya puranam, the Gopika Gita , a part of Maha Bhagawatham and very many other Sahasranamams and stotras which are part of several Puranas. The prayers called Kavachams (Armours to protect ourselves) again originated during this period.
Post Puranic Stotras
Possibly after all the Puranas were written, a vast outpouring of composition of prayers by very many poets took place . Many Prayers which originate in the earliest period are not available. The stotra as a vehicle of prayers was greatly popularized by Adhi Sankara and his disciples. We find Sankara ‘s prayers addressed to all most all gods. Apart from prayers eulogizing Gods , he also wrote several very philosophical prayers. Soundarya Lahiri and Shivananda Lahari are possibly the greatest stotras written by him. He also wrote several prayers using the Bhujanga meter. His disciples continued this trend. Almost in the same period , the Nayanmars of Tamil Nadu who were Saivite saints contributed largely to the Saivite Stotra literature . There was also a great upsurge of Tamil prayers written by various great saints praising Lord Subramanya /Muruga.
Saint Ramanuja did not write many stotras b ut the Gadhya thrayam which are prose prayers are really great prayers. His disciple Vedant Desika has written very large number of very excellent prayers. The outpouring of stotras mainly in tamil were written by the Azhvars who were all Vaishnavite saints. Saint MadhWa and his followers and the Hari Dasas of Karnataka also wrote many prayers .
The Thulasi Das, Kabir Das, Sur Das , and many such great ones contributed to the Hindi prayers. Poet Jayadeva wrote his Gita Govindam in Sanskrit and a very large number of prayers were written by the great Krishna and Durga devotees of Bengal. There was also a great Bhakthi movement in Maharashtra and the stotras of this genre are called Abhangs.
The Stotra literature is not growing well in the modern times except for rare compositions.
B.Stotra literature by type.
I have already mentioned that all the Sukthams belong to the Vedic period. There are very many type of Stotras written after the Vedic period.
These are the listing of thousand names of each God. If you go through them critically you may not find that all these thousand names are different and we find that several names are repeated. The most famous of the Sahasranamams are the Vishnu sahasranamam and the Lalitha Sahasranamam. Shiva Sahasranamam and Lakshmi Sahasranams are also relatively popular.Saharanamams are available for most of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu and all other Gods and Goddesses. Trisathi giving 300 names, ashtotharams giving 108 names, Satha Nama stotrams giving one hundred names , Shodasa nama stotram giving sixteen names and Dwadasa nama storams(12 names) also belong to this category of stotras.
These are possibly the most popular form of Hindu stotras. These normally contain eight verses praising the God or Goddess. Most of them are very simple and easy to understand. There is a phala Sruthi attached to every ashtakam giving the possible effect of chanting that particular prayer.
These are another very popular form of prayers addressed to Gods as well as planets . Essentially they request God to protect different parts of our body as well as mind. It also requests God to protect us in different circumstances. Narayana Kavacham is one of the most famous in this category.
These are similar to ashtakam but with ten Stanzas.
These are prayers with five stanzas.
These are again similar to ashtakam but with six stanzas
These are prayers with seven stanzas.
These are longer prayers with fifty stanzas
These are still longer poems with five hundred stanzas.
These are supposed to be the king of prayers addressed to a particular God. Though they are not available for all Gods, many of them are available.
These as well as Bhujanga prayatha stotrams are supposed to move like a snake. Adhi Sankara is credited with composing many such Bhujangams. His “Subramanya Bhujangam” is very famous
These are stotras where there is no restriction on the length of a line of a stanza. Some of the Dandakams are very long prayers with just one line. Shyamala Dandakam of poet Kalidasa is the greatest in this category.
These prayers are addressed to the God requesting him to extend his hand in support to us. The Lakshmi Narasimha Karavalamba stotram of Adhi Sankara is possibly the most famous.
These are prayers addressed to the lord to wake him up. The oldest among this type of stotras are the thirupalliyezhuchi in Tamil and the most famous is the Venkateswara Suprabatham.
Lahari means waves. In this form of prayer the stanzas follow each other like waves. Soundarya Lahari of Adhi Sankara is possibly the most famous.
These are tamil prayers written by the great Vaishnavite saints of Tamil Nadu called the Azhvars.
These are again Tamil prayers written by Nayanmars , the Tamil saints eulogizing Lord Shiva.
These are Hindi prayers praising a particular God. These are available addressed to almost all Gods.
These are again Hindi prayers but have forty stanzas each. The most famous is Hanuman Chalisa composed by saint Thulasidas.
Gadhyam means prose . Some of the Vaishnavite saints wrote prayers in prose and the most famous is the Gadhya Thrayam written by Saint Ramanuja
These are prayers written in Marathi by those great devotees of Pandharpur,
Mangalam means auspiciousness and thse are prayers which are sung at the end of chanting of prayer sessions as the last prayer.