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What is the purpose behind each of these variations while worshiping a particular deity?

Which one should be used to worship or pray to a deity?

For example, for Goddess Laxmi, there are Sri Suktam, Shri Laxmi Strotam, Laxmi Gayatri Mantra and Mahalaxmi Ashtakam

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    Suktams are Vedic Hymns,Stotrams are stuthis to Gods often composed by Devas(DemiGods),Asuras , Human beings Sages and even Gods.Gayatri mantra of different Deities are mantras very much like the original Gayatri mantra.Some Gayatri mantras are mentioned in Vedas itself (like the Mahalakshmi Gayatri mantra found in Sri Suktam,Devi Gayatri mantra found in Atharva Veda)but many more are found in Smrithis.Ashtakams are Stotrams only but having exactly 8 verses(stanzas) eg-Linga Ashtakam,Maha Laksmi Ashtakam etc. – Rickross Mar 6 '16 at 6:06
  • If you do not have a Guru and doing things on your own then reading Laksmi Stotrams and Ashtakams are the safest bet.Because mantras are to be recited only as told to you by your Guru(although you can recite some mantras too without any intiation except the Beeja mantras but even then the pronunciations needs to be correct).There is a difference of opinion on whether anyone can chant the Vedic Hymns.I think it has more to do with fact that as they are the words of God Himself the pronunciations needs to be exact . – Rickross Mar 6 '16 at 6:23
  • *You also can't learn the Swaras and Chandas on your own which are the part of a Vedic Chanting.So,Stotrams/ashtakams are the easiest way for a layman to get the blessings of a God.Another easy way is fasting if only your body permits.And fasting day for Lakshmi is friday. – Rickross Mar 6 '16 at 6:23
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There is no purpose behind these classifications it is just a way of dividing stanzas and collection of verses in Sanskrit language.

Suktam/Sukta refers to a vedic hynm of unmanned composition, since vedas are apaurusheya they are of divine origins (It is best way to worship a deity but for word of caution it is only meant for dwijas If you don't have had upnayana there is no way you can recite it).

Gayatri (caution dwija caution applies on gayatri or any thing of vedic origin) is a Vedic-meter and stotra is a hynm (non vedic) written by a jnani poets in praise of deities (for e.g. Adishankara krit Kanakadhara stotra more).

Ashtaka is a sub category of stotras, stotras are non-vedic compositions so it can be recited by an

Ashtaka is a collection of 8 verses mostly in anushtup chanda (another vedic meter) , mahalaxmi ashtakam was first composed by Indra deva.

Now coming to formal definitions

Sukta

It is basically a vedic hynm in praise of a god/goddesses. (e.g. Purusha Sukta, Ratri Sukta, Shri Sukta, Rudra Sukta(Shri Rudram) etc.)

Each mandala of Rigveda consists of hymns called sūkta (su-ukta, literally, "well recited, eulogy") intended for various rituals. The sūktas in turn consist of individual stanzas called ṛc ("praise", pl. ṛcas), which are further analysed into units of verse called pada ("foot"). The meters most used in the ṛcas are the jagati (a pada consists of 12 syllables), trishtubh (11), viraj (10), gayatri and anushtubh (8).

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Gayatri

Gayatri is basically a vedic Meter which consists of three padas, or lines, of eight syllables.

There are various mantras in Rigveda which are composed in Gayatri meter and are used for praising god in one verse it is known as Gayatri for a deity.

For e.g. "Aum | Mahalaxmiayae cha vidmahe| vishnupati cha dhi mahi| tanno Laxmi prachodayat" (| denotes ending of a pada)

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Stotra

Stotras are forms of poems in praise of Gods/Goddesses

Stotra comes from the root stu- which means "praise, eulogize or laud". Literally, the term refers to "poems of praise". The earliest trace of Stotras are Vedic, particularly in the Samaveda.

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Ashtaka

The term ashtakam (Sanskrit: अष्टकम् aṣṭakam), also often written astakam, is derived from the Sanskrit word aṣṭā, meaning "eight". In context of poetic compositions, 'ashtakam' refers to a particular form of poetry, written in eight stanzas.

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