Soma

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Soma सोम (Sanskrit: [soma] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) or haoma (Avestan), which is a corruption of the sanskrit word soma, was a Vedic ritual drink[1] of importance among the early Indians. It is mentioned in the Rigveda, particularly in the Soma Mandala. In the Avestan literature, haoma has the entire Yasht 20 and Yasna 9-11 dedicated to it. Soma (Sanskrit: सोम) connotes the Moon as well as a deity in post-Vedic Hindu mythology.[2] In Puranic mythology, Soma is moon deity, but sometimes also used to refer to Vishnu, Shiva (as Somanatha), Yama and Kubera.[3] In some Indian texts, Soma is a name of an Apsara, alternatively it is the name of any medicinal concoction, or rice-water gruel, or heaven and sky, as well as the name of certain places of pilgrimage.[3]

Soma is synonymous with Chandra, Indu, Atrisuta (son of Atri), Sachin (marked by hare), Taradhipa (lord of stars) and Nishakara (the night maker).[4]

The Ninth Mandala of the Rigveda is known as the Soma Mandala. It consists entirely of hymns addressed to Soma Pavamana ("purified Soma"). The drink Soma was kept and distributed by the Gandharvas. The Rig Veda associates the Sushoma, Arjika and other regions with Soma (e.g. 8.7.29; 8.64.10-11). Probably the most important Soma region described in the Rig Veda is Sharyanavat (e.g. RV 10.35.2; 9.113.1-2). In the Rig Veda, Soma is also associated with Samudra.[5]

Etymology[edit]

Soma is a Vedic Sanskrit word that literally means "distill, extract, sprinkle", often connected in the context of rituals.[6]

Soma, and its cognate the Avestan haoma, are thought to be derived from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sauma-. The name of the Scythian tribe Hauma-varga is related to the word, and probably connected with the ritual. The word is derived from an Indo-Iranian root *sav- (Sanskrit sav-/su) "to press", i.e. *sau-ma- is the drink prepared by pressing the stalks of a plant.[7] According to Mayrhofer, the root is Proto-Indo-European (*sew(h)-)[8]

According to professor David W. Anthony, author of The Horse, the Wheel and Language, soma was introduced into Indo-Iranian culture from the Bactria–Margiana culture. The Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.[9] It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements",[9] which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"[10] from the Bactria–Margiana culture.[10] At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink soma.[11] According to Anthony,

Many of the qualities of Indo-Iranian god of might/victory, Verethraghna, were transferred to the adopted god Indra, who became the central deity of the developing Old Indic culture. Indra was the subject of 250 hymns, a quarter of the Rig Veda. He was associated more than any other deity with soma, a stimulant drug (perhaps derived from ephedra) probably borrowed from the BMAC religion. His rise to prominence was a peculiar trait of the Old Indic speakers.[12]

Vedic soma[edit]

In the Vedas, the same word (soma) is used for the drink, the plant, and its deity. Drinking soma produces immortality (Amrita, Rigveda 8.48.3). Indra and Agni are portrayed as consuming soma in copious quantities. The consumption of soma by human beings is well attested in Vedic ritual.

The Rigveda (8.48.3) says:

a ápāma sómam amŕtā abhūmâganma jyótir ávidāma devân
c kíṃ nūnám asmân kṛṇavad árātiḥ kím u dhūrtír amṛta mártyasya

Ralph T.H. Griffith translates this as:

We have drunk soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what may foeman's malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man's deception?

Swami Dayanand Saraswati translates it as:

Som (good fruit containing food not any intoxicating drink) apama (we drink you)
amŕtā abhūmâ (you are elixir of life) jyótir âganma (achieve physical strength or light of god)
ávidāma devân (achieve control over senses);
kíṃ nūnám asmân kṛṇavad árātiḥ (in this situation, what our internal enemy can do to me)
kím u dhūrtír amṛta mártyasya (god, what even violent people can do to me)

The references to immortality and light are characteristics of an entheogenic experience. Also, consider Rigveda (8.79.2-6)[13] regarding the power of Soma: "...He covers the naked and heals all who are sick. The blind man sees; the lame man steps forth....Let those who seek find what they seek: let them receive the treasure....Let him find what was lost before; let him push forward the man of truth...." Such is indicative of an experience with an entheogen of some source.

The Ninth Mandala of the Rigveda is known as the Soma Mandala. It consists entirely of hymns addressed to Soma Pavamana ("purified Soma"). The drink Soma was kept and distributed by the Gandharvas. The Rigveda associates the Sushoma, Arjikiya and other regions with Soma (e.g. 8.7.29; 8.64.10-11). Sharyanavat was possibly the name of a pond or lake on the banks of which Soma could be found.

The plant is described as growing in the mountains (giristha, cf. Orestes), with long stalks, and of yellow or tawny (hari) colour. The drink is prepared by priests pounding the stalks with stones, an occupation that creates tapas (literally "heat", later referring to "spiritual excitement" in particular). The juice so gathered is mixed with other ingredients (including milk and honey) before it is drunk.

Growing far away, in the mountains, Soma had to be purchased from travelling traders. The plant supposedly grew in the Hindukush and thus it had to be imported to the Punjab region.[citation needed] Later, knowledge of the plant was lost altogether, and Indian ritual reflects this, in expiatory prayers apologizing to the gods for the use of a substitute plant (e.g. rhubarb) because Soma had become unavailable.

In Hindu art, the god Soma was depicted as a bull or bird, and sometimes as an embryo, but rarely as an adult human. In Hinduism, the god Soma evolved into a lunar deity, and became associated with the underworld. The moon is the cup from which the gods drink Soma, and so Soma became identified with the moon god Chandra. A waxing moon meant Soma was recreating himself, ready to be drunk again. Alternatively, Soma's twenty-seven wives were daughters of Daksha, who felt he paid too much attention to just one of his wives, Rohini. He cursed him to wither and die, but the wives intervened and the death became periodic and temporary, and is symbolized by the waxing and waning of the moon. Alternatively, Soma's twenty-seven wives were the star goddesses, the Nakshatras - daughters of the cosmic progenitor Daksha - who told their father that he paid too much attention to just one of them, Rohini. Daksha subsequently cursed Soma to wither and die, but the wives intervened and the death became periodic and temporary, and is symbolized by the waxing and waning of the moon. Monday is called Somavāram in Sanskrit and modern Indian languages, such as Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Marathi, Nepali and Telugu, and alludes to the importance of this god in Hindu spirituality.

The famous ayurvedic scholar Susruta wrote that the best Soma is found in the upper Indus and Kashmir region (Susruta Samhita: 537-538, SS.CS. 29.28-31).

There are numerous mountain regions in the northwestern Indian subcontinent which have cool and dry conditions where ephedra plants can grow. Later Vedic texts mention that the best soma plants came from Mount Mūjavant, which may be located as in northern Kashmir and in neighboring western Tibet. (Ephedra is not, however, used in any type of sacrificial activity by Hindu priests today, nor is it actively cultivated in the open trade economies of South Asia.)

The evidence in the Rigveda shows that: 1. The Soma plant and its rituals were originally introduced to the Vedic Aryans and their priests in the east in very early times by the Bhṛgu-s, priests of the Anu Iranians from the Soma-growing areas to their northwest. 2. The actual Soma-growing areas were distant and unknown to the Vedic Aryans in the Old Books of the Rigveda, and became known to them only later after they expanded westwards. 3. The expansion of the Vedic Aryans (and, by a chain of events, the dispersion of the Indo-Europeans) into the west and northwest was a direct consequence of their quest for Soma.

The special priests of the Vedic Aryans (i.e. of the Bharatas) were the Aṅgiras-as, Vasiṣṭha-s and Viśvāmitra-s. These priests, however, are not specially associated with the Soma plant and ritual. The priests very specially associated with Soma are the Kaśyapa-s and Bhṛgu-s.

The Kaśyapa-s are very closely associated with Soma: 70.60% of the verses composed by them are dedicated to Soma Pavamāna, and the āprī-sūkta of the Kaśyapa -s is the only āprī-sūkta dedicated to Soma (all the other nine āprī-sūkta-s are dedicated to Agni). But while the Kaśyapa-s are exclusive Soma priests, the fact is that they entered the Rigveda at a late stage: they became exclusive Soma priests in the period following the expansion of the Vedic Aryans into the Soma-growing areas.

As we have repeatedly seen, the Bhṛgu-s, except for one branch consisting of Jamadagni and his descendants, are associated with the proto-Iranians living to their north and northwest. The identification of the Bhṛgu-s with Soma is deeper, older and more significant: it is clear that the use of the Soma plant originated among the Bhṛgu-s, and it is they who introduced the plant and its rituals to the Vedic Aryans and their priests: a. The word Soma, which occurs thousands of times in the hymns of the Rigveda, is found in the name of only one composer ṛṣi: Somāhuti Bhārgava. b. The word pavamāna, which occurs more than a hundred times in the Soma Pavamāna Maṇḍala (Book 9), is found only once outside Book 9: in VIII.101.14 attributed to Jamadagni Bhārgava. c. Both the Rigveda and the Avesta are unanimous in identifying Bhṛgu-s as the earliest preparers of Soma: as Macdonell puts it: "The RV and the Avesta even agree in the names of ancient preparers of Soma; Vivasvat and Trita Aptya on the one hand, and Vivanhvant, Athwya and Thrita on the other" (MACDONELL 1897:114). According to the Avesta, the first preparer of Soma was Vīuuaŋvhaṇt (Vivasvat), the second was Āθβiia (Aptya) and the third was Θrita (Trita). Vivasvat in the Rigveda is the name of the father of two persons: Yama and Manu. In the Avesta also, Vīuuaŋvhaṇt is the father of Yima. Both Vivasvat and Yama Vaivasvata are identified in the Rigveda as Bhṛgu-s (see the references to the Bhṛgu group of ṛṣi-s in TALAGERI 2000:31-32), and Manu Vaivasvata is identified in the anukramaṇī-s of VIII.29 with Kaśyapa. Trita Āptya is not clearly identified with any family in the Rigveda, but it is significant that he is described by the Gṛtsamadas (Kevala Bhṛgu-s) in II.11-19 as belonging to "our party" (Griffith's translation). d. Almost all the hymns to Soma in Book 9 are composed by ṛṣi-s belonging to the Middle and Late Periods of the Rigveda (though there are fictitious ascriptions to older composers in the "saptaṛṣi" hymns); however the hymns attributed to the Bhṛgu-s include twelve hymns which are ascribed (even if possibly composed or redacted by their descendants) to remote ancestral Bhṛgu-s of the pre-Rigvedic period, who are already ancient and mythical even in the oldest Books: Vena Bhārgava (IX.85), Uśanā Kāvya (IX.87-89) and Kavī Bhārgava (IX.47-49, 75-79). The oldest Soma hymns in the Rigveda therefore appear to be composed exclusively by Bhṛgu-s. e. The Rigveda clearly indicates that it was the Bhṛgu-s who introduced Soma to the Vedic Aryans, and to their Gods and priests. According to at least three references (I.116.12; 117.22; 119.9), the location or abode of Soma was a secret; and this secret was revealed to the Aśvins by Dadhyanc, an ancient Bhṛgu ṛṣi, already mythical in the Rigveda, and older than even Kavi Bhārgava and Uśanā Kāvya. Dadhyanc is the son of Atharvaṇa, and grandson of the eponymous Bhṛgu. f. Even the symbolism inherent in the eagle who brought Soma to the Vedic Aryans probably represents this role of the Bhṛgu-s: according to Macdonell, "the term eagle is connected with Agni Vaidyuta or lightning (TB 3, 10, 51; cp. 12.12)" (MACDONELL 1897:112) and likewise, "BERGAIGNE thinks there can hardly be a doubt that bhṛgu was originally a name of fire, while KUHN and BARTH agree in the opinion that the form of fire it represents is lightning" (MACDONELL 1897:140) (see also Griffith's footnote to IV.7.4).

2. Soma is regarded as growing in distant areas: this area is so distant that it is constantly identified with the heavens (IV.26.6; 27.3, 4; VIII.100.8; IX.63.27; 66.30; 77.2; 86.24, etc.): a. The only specific thing known about the place of origin of Soma is that it grows on mountains (I.93.6; III.48.2; V.43.4; 85.2; IX.18.1; 62.4; 85.10; 95.4; 98.9, etc.). Nothing more specific is mentioned in the Family Books (2-7). b. The area of Soma is clearly not part of the Vedic area (nor is there even the slightest hint anywhere in the Rigveda that it ever was): it is constantly referred to as being far away (IV.26.6; IX.68.6; X.11.4; 144.4). This area is also known as the "dwelling of Tvaṣṭṛ" (IV.18.3); and this is what the scholars have to say about Tvaṣṭṛ: "Tvaṣṭṛ is one of the obscurest members of the Vedic pantheon. The obscurity of the concept is explained [….] (by) HILLEBRANDT (who) thinks Tvaṣṭṛ was derived from a mythical circle outside the range of the Vedic tribes" (MACDONELL 1897:117). c. Soma is mythically (and repeatedly) reported to be brought by an eagle to the Vedic people, and even to their Gods, from its place of origin: I.80.2; 93.6. III.43.7. IV.18.13; 26.4-7; 27.3, 4. V.45.9. VI.20.6. VIII.82.9; 100.8. IX.68.6; 77.2; 86.24; 87.6. X.11.4; 99.8; 144.4, 5. That this place of origin is alien to the Vedic people is clear from the fact that this eagle is reported to have to hurry (IV.26.5) to escape the guardians of Soma, who are described as attacking the eagle (IV.27.3) to prevent it from taking the Soma away. "Tvaṣṭṛ is especially the guardian of Soma, which is called 'the mead of Tvaṣṭṛ' (I.117.22)" (MACDONELL 1897:116), and Indra is described as conquering Tvaṣṭṛ in order to obtain the Soma. In his footnote to 1.43.8, Griffith refers to "the people of the hills who interfere with the gathering of the Soma plant which is to be sought there". d. The Family Books are generally ignorant about the exact details of the Soma-growing areas. Whatever specific information is there is in the non-family New Books (1,8,9,10): The prime Soma-growing areas are identified in VIII.64.11 as the areas near the Suṣomā and Arjīkīyā rivers (the Sohān and Hāro), northeastern tributaries of the Indus, in the extreme north of the Punjab and northwest of Kashmir, and near Śaryaṇāvān (a lake in the vicinity of these two rivers). In VIII.7.29, the reference is to the Suṣoma and Arjīka (in the masculine gender, signifying mountains; while the rivers of these names are in the feminine gender), clearly the mountains which gave rise to the two aforesaid rivers, and again Śaryaṇāvān, which also appears in X.35.2 as a mountainous area, perhaps referring to the mountains surrounding the lake of the same name. In another place (X.34.1), the best Soma is said to be growing on the Mūjavat mountains: the Mūjavat tribes are identified (Atharvaveda V-XXII-5, 7, 8, 14) with the Gandhārī-s, i.e. in adjacent parts of Afghanistan. That Gandhārī (Afghanistan) in the Rigveda is associated with Soma is clear from the specific role assigned in the Rigveda to the Gandharva or gandharva-s (mythical beings associated in the Rigveda with that region). In the words of Macdonell: "Gandharva is, moreover, in the RV often associated (chiefly in the ninth book) with Soma. He guards the place of Soma and protects the races of the gods (9.83.4; cp. 1.22.14). Observing all the forms of Soma, he stands on the vault of heaven (9.85.12). Together with Parjanya and the daughters of the sun, the Gandharvas cherish Soma (9.113.3). Through Gandharva's mouth the gods drink their draught (AV.7.73.3). The MS (3.8.10) states that the Gandharvas kept the Soma for the gods [….] It is probably as a jealous guardian of Soma that Gandharva in the RV appears as a hostile being, who is pierced by Indra in the regions of air (8.66.5) or whom Indra is invoked to overcome (8.1.11) [….] Soma is further said to have dwelt among the Gandharvas [….]" (MACDONELL 1897:136-137). All these names are found mentioned only in the non-family New Books (1,8,9,10), with a single reference (to gandharva-s) in Book 3 in a Redacted Hymn described in the Aitareya Brahmana (VI.18) as a late interpolated hymn in Book 3: III.38.6. I.22.14; 84.14; 126.7; 163.2. VIII.1.11; 6.39; 7.29; 64.11; 77.5. IX.65.22,23; 83.4; 85.12; 113.1-3. X.10.4; 11.2; 34.1; 35.2; 75.5; 85.40,41; 123.4,7; 136.6; 139.4-6; 177.2. e. While Soma was well known to the Vedic Aryans as a product of the distant north-western areas, imported through the Anu-s and other people further northwest, its use became more widespread and ritually important only in the period of the New Books, so much so that a whole separate book (Book 9) was compiled to accommodate the hymns composed for it. However, with the passage of time (i.e. in post-Vedic times), the importance of the Soma ritual was slowly lost in Indian religion as the focus shifted eastwards and new rituals and philosophies of more eastern people supplanted the Soma ritual. However, the importance of the Soma plant and ritual continued in its original territories and among its original adherents: the ephedra plant is known as haoma/homa (or derived words) in the Iranian languages (Persian, Pashto, Baluchi, as well as most of the Dardic and Nuristani languages of the extreme north/northwest) and as soma-lata even in parts of the Indian Himalayas (including in Nepal), and is used to this day in Zoroastrian ritual.

3. The expansion of the Vedic Aryans into the west and northwest was a direct consequence of their quest for Soma: The westward movement commenced with the crossing of the Śutudrī and Vipāś by Viśvāmitra and the Bharatas under Sudās, described in hymn III.33; and the fifth verse of the hymn clarifies both the direction and purpose of this crossing. Griffith translates III.33.5 (in which Viśvāmitra addresses the rivers) as: "Linger a little at my friendly bidding; rest, Holy Ones, a moment in your journey"; but he clarifies in his footnote: "At my friendly bidding: according to the Scholiasts, Yāska and Sāyaṇa, the meaning of me vācase somyāya is 'to my speech importing the Soma'; that is, the object of my address is that I may cross over and gather the Soma-plant". This crossing, and the successful foray into the northwest, appears to have whetted the appetite of Sudās and the Bharatas for conquest and expansion: shortly afterwards, the Viśvāmitras perform a horse ceremony for Sudās, described in III.53.11: "Come forward Kuśika-s, and be attentive; let loose Sudās' horses to win him riches. East, west, and north, let the king slay the foeman, then at earth's choicest place [vara ā pṛthivyā = Kurukṣetra] perform his worship" (GRIFFITH). While some expansion took place towards the east as well (Kīkaṭa in III.53.14), the main thrust of the expansion is clearly towards the west and northwest: the first major battle in this long drawn out western war is the dāśarājña on the Paruṣṇī, and the final one in southern Afghanistan beyond the Sarayu. While Sudās was still the leader of the Bharatas in the battle on the Paruṣṇī, the battle beyond the Sarayu appears to have taken place under the leadership of his remote descendant Sahadeva in the Middle Period of the Rigveda. Sahadeva's son (referred to by his priest Vāmadeva in IV.15.7-10), who also appears to have been a participant in the above battle beyond the Sarayu, may have been named Soma-ka in commemoration of earlier conquests of the Soma-growing areas of eastern Afghanistan by his father Sahadeva.

The evidence in the Rigveda thus clearly shows that the Soma plant and rituals were brought to the Vedic Aryans from the Soma-growing areas of the northwest by the Bhṛgu-s, priests of the Anu-s (the proto-Iranians) from those areas, and the Vedic Aryans themselves became acquainted with the actual Soma-growing areas only in the period of the New Books after they expanded into those areas. [2]

Avestan haoma[edit]

The finishing of haoma in Zoroastrianism may be glimpsed from the Avesta (particularly in the Hōm Yast, Yasna 9), and Avestan language *hauma also survived as middle Persian hōm. The plant haoma yielded the essential ingredient for the ritual drink, parahaoma.

In Yasna 9.22, haoma grants "speed and strength to warriors, excellent and righteous sons to those giving birth, spiritual power and knowledge to those who apply themselves to the study of the nasks". As the religion's chief cult divinity he came to be perceived as its divine priest. In Yasna 9.26, Ahura Mazda is said to have invested him with the sacred girdle, and in Yasna 10.89, to have installed haoma as the "swiftly sacrificing zaotar" (Sanskrit hotar) for himself and the Amesha Spenta.

Candidates for the plant[edit]

The ritual of somayajna is still held with unbroken continuity in the South India. The somalatha (Sanskrit: soma creeper) which is procured in small quantities from the Himalayan region is used to prepare soma rasam or soma juice.[14] It is also used in these areas in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine streams since time immemorial.[15][16] The herb which is used is Sarcostemma acidum.

There has been much speculation as to the original Sauma plant. Candidates that have been suggested include honey, mushrooms, psychoactive and other herbal plants.[17]

Since the late 18th century, when Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron and others made portions of the Avesta available to western scholars, several scholars have sought a representative botanical equivalent of the haoma as described in the texts and as used in living Zoroastrian practice. In the late 19th century, the highly conservative Zoroastrians of Yazd (Iran) were found to use ephedra, which was locally known as hum or homa and which they exported to the Indian Zoroastrians.[18]

During the colonial British era scholarship, cannabis was proposed as the soma candidate by Joseph Chandra Ray, The Soma Plant (1939)[19] and by B. L. Mukherjee (1921).[20]

In the late 1960s, several studies attempted to establish soma as a psychoactive substance. A number of proposals were made, including one in 1968 by the American banker R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur ethnomycologist, who asserted that soma was an inebriant but not cannabis, and suggested fly-agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as the likely candidate. Since its introduction in 1968, this theory has gained both detractors and followers in the anthropological literature.[21] Wasson and his co-author, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, drew parallels between Vedic descriptions and reports of Siberian uses of the fly-agaric in shamanic ritual.[22]

In 1989 Harry Falk noted that, in the texts, both haoma and soma were said to enhance alertness and awareness, did not coincide with the consciousness altering effects of an entheogen, and that "there is nothing shamanistic or visionary either in early Vedic or in Old Iranian texts", (Falk, 1989) Falk also asserted that the three varieties of ephedra that yield ephedrine (geradiana, major procera and intermedia) also have the properties attributed to haoma by the texts of the Avesta. (Falk, 1989) At the conclusion of the 1999 Haoma-Soma workshop in Leiden, Jan E. M. Houben writes: "despite strong attempts to do away with ephedra by those who are eager to see *sauma as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for the Rigvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands" (Houben, 2003).

The Soviet archeologist Viktor Sarianidi wrote that he had discovered vessels and mortars used to prepare soma in Zoroastrian temples in Bactria. He said that the vessels have revealed residues and seed impressions left behind during the preparation of soma. This has not been sustained by subsequent investigations.[23] Alternatively Mark Merlin, who revisited the subject of the identity of soma more than thirty years after originally writing about it[24] stated that there is a need of further study on links between soma and P. Somniferum. (Merlin, 2008)[25]

In his book Food of the Gods, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna postulates that the most likely candidate for soma is the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis, a hallucinogenic mushroom that grows in cow dung in certain climates. McKenna cites both Wasson's and his own unsuccessful attempts using Amanita muscaria to reach a psychedelic state as evidence that it could not have inspired the worship and praise of soma. McKenna further points out that the 9th mandala of the Rig Veda makes extensive references to the cow as the embodiment of soma.[citation needed]

Transcendental Meditation movement[edit]

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation-Sidhi Program involves a notion of "soma", said to be based on the Rigveda.[26][27]

It should be pointed out that the noted mystic Gopi Krishna wrote (Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man) - that Soma no man drinks. He was referring to the internal inebriant of higher nerve 'juice' produced by the awakened Kundalini[28]

The TM-Sidhi Program introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the mid-1970s, claims to grant supernatural powers to practitioners, and consists of a 2-hour long sequence performed twice daily, consisting of Transcendental Meditation, breathing exercises, mental repetition of sutras in 15-second intervals, Yogic Flying, a rest period, and then reading from the 9th and 10th Mandalas of the Rig Veda.[29] The Maharishi stated that the purpose of reading this chapter was to feed the Soma practitioners had created in their guts to the Vedic gods, particularly Indra. [26] The court in Hendel v World Plan Executive Council, holding that the practice of TM-Sidhi was a religion, found that TM-Sidhi practitioners were taught: that the TM-Sidhi program "produced soma in our bodies for the gods to drink"; that the reading of the 9th and 10th Mandalas "invoked the names of Hindu gods"; and that "participants in this program attained such extraordinary powers as clairvoyance, the ability to levitate, and the ability to manipulate the laws of nature".[30] The TM-Sidhi concept, that soma is created in the body during meditation and consumed by the gods, differs considerably from the Vedic description of a liquid that creates bliss when consumed; the concept that the gods grant boons in return for offerings of fluids is found in Tantric, rather than Vedic, religion.[26]

Other accounts[edit]

When the ritual of somayajna is held today in South India, the plant used is the somalatha (Sanskrit: soma creeper, Sarcostemma acidum)[citation needed] which is procured as a leafless vine. The ritual of somayajna is still held with unbroken continuity in South India. The somalatha (Sanskrit: soma creeper) which is procured as a leafless vine, is used to prepare soma rasam or soma juice.[31] It is also used in these areas in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine streams since time immemorial.[32][33] The herb which is used is Sarcostemma acidum. The Somalatha (Sanskrit: Soma creeper) which is procured in small quantities from the Himalayan region is used to prepare Soma rasam or Soma juice.[34] It is also used in these areas in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine streams since time immemorial.[35]

In his autobiographical book Living with the Himalayan Masters, which chronicles his life as an ascetic nomad in India in the early 1900s, Swami Rama recalls contacting a well-known Indian herbologist and Vedic scholar named Vaidya Bhairavdutt, who is described as "the only living authority on soma" for information about the mysterious herb mentioned in the Rig Veda. Upon an invitation, Bhairavdutt comes to visit the swami, bringing about a pound of the herb with him. He informs the swami that the soma plant is a "creeper which grows above 11,000 feet" and that "there are only two or three places where it grows at that altitude." Bhairavdutt goes on to explain that though the plant's effects can be likened to that of psychedelic mushrooms, it is definitely not of the mushroom family, but rather of the succulent family. It is unclear from the passage whether Bhairavdutt stops short of explicitly telling the swami what the herb is or whether the swami coyly avoids spelling out the name of the herb in the book.

Regardless, Swami Rama admits to being ignorant of whether or not Bhairavdutt's soma is the same plant described in Vedic scripture. Bhairavdutt convinces the swami to join him in partaking the soma, which Bhairavdutt brews by mixing the soma-rasa (soma juice) with ashtha varga (a mixture of eight herbs). The taste, says Swami Rama, is "a little bit bitter and sour." Soon after drinking the concoction, Bhairavdutt becomes inebriated, strips himself naked, and dances wildly, claiming he is Shiva. His behavior becomes so unsettling that several students who had come to visit the swami earlier that morning attempt to restrain the apparently slightly-built Bhairavdutt, but are unable to do so as he becomes "so strong that five people [cannot] hold him down." Meanwhile, Swami Rama develops a crippling headache in reaction to the soma, and collapses in a corner clenching his head. The whole incident proves so disturbing to the swami that he concludes that the benefits one gains from using psychedelics are significantly outweighed by the damage it causes.

The most cited book of etymology for Vedic Sanskrit, Nirukta provides two meanings: 1) Moon, citing that it causes the dew and 2) gives characteristics of Soma being generated-created, is tasteful and joyful and Indra drinks it[36]. According to different contexts Indra means Atman, King, Thunder and Supreme God.

The whole of chapter 9 of Rigveda is dedicated to Soma - around 800 verses. Translations of Madhvacharya says Soma means Lord Krishna of Mahabharata and other Hindu belief systems. Samaveda starts with a hymn on Pavamana Soma and has around one fourth of the book dedicated to "Pavamana Soama" (Purifying Soama). According to Sri Aurobindo Soma means the joy extracted out of involved work.


The Graeco-Russian archeologist Viktor Sarianidi claims to have discovered vessels and mortars used to prepare Soma in 'Zoroastrian temples' in Bactria. He claims that the vessels have revealed residues and seed impressions left behind during the preparation of Soma. This has not been sustained by subsequent investigations.[37] As noted by Sarianidi, Bakels’ examination of the material took place after several years of exposure in the open air and elements, which could well have caused the decomposition of the cannabis remains in the gypsum from inside the ancient clay vessels. There is a clear possibility that as with the seed impressions, which we have shown were clearly cannabis, Bakels is once again mistaken. For alternatively, as Mark Merlin, who revisited the subject of the identity of Soma more than thirty years after originally writing about it[38] in light of Sarianidi’s finds, has pointed out: "According to Miller (2003), photographs of the Ephedra, Cannabis, and Papaver, and archaeological specimens presented in the Togolok-21 report by Meyer-Melikyan (1990), appear to be consistent with the respective species; however, the determination of the Papaver species needs further study to confirm that it is P. somniferum." (Merlin, 2008)[39] Besides the residue of ephedra, the archeologists discovered the residues of Poppy seeds and Cannabis. The vessels also had impressions created by Cannabis seeds. Cannabis is well known in India as Bhang and sometimes Poppy seeds are used with Bhang to make the ritual drink Bhang Ki Thandai.

In his Book 'Cannabis and The Soma Solution' (2010), Chris Bennett, disputes the amanita muscaria and Syrian Rue theories in detail, although partially accepting the Ephedra identification, and asserts the solution is hemp, suggesting that recent finds of 2,700-year-old cannabis with the mummified remains of a shaman the Indo-European Gushi culture in China, led to the adoption of the Chinese term for cannabis Hu-Ma, and this became Haoma in the Bactria region Sarianidi found evidence of cannabis at ancient temple sites, referred to above, becoming Soma in India.[40]

The view that Soma was cannabis has been held by a variety of Indian authors, most prominently by Chandra Chakraberty who has made this association clear in a number of different books; “Soma was... made of the flowering tops and resins of Cannabis sativa which is an aphrodisiac and stimulant, and a nourishing food...” (Chakraberty, 1952[41]); “Soma.... Cannabis sativa... a nervine aphrodisiac” (Chakraberty, 1963; 1967);[42] “Of all the plants Soma (Cannabis indica) is the king (X, 97,19)” (Chakraberty, 1944); “...[I]t is safe to conclude that Soma is Cannabis sativa” (Chakraberty, 1944).[43]

The view of cannabis as soma was also put forth by Joseph Chandra Ray, 'The Soma Plant' (1939)[44] and B. L. Mukherjee (1921)[45] and they are far from alone amongst Indian researchers who have regarded the identity of Soma with hemp; “...the plant now known as Bhanga in India (Indian hemp)... was used as H(a)oma or Soma” (Shrirama, 1999);[46] “Soma (a kind of hemp)” (Ramachandran and Mativāṇan̲, 1991);[47] “Soma was a national drink. This was a green herb which was brought from the mountain and pounded ceremoniously with stones. It was mixed with milk and honey and drunk. Probably this was a type of hemp (Bhang…) which is still drunk by some people in India” (Vikramasiṃha, 1967).[48]

In 1976, the Indian botanist B. G. L. Swamy, put forth cannabis as a candidate for Soma in a well thought out, but little recognized, article The Rg Vedic Soma Plant, in the Indian Journal of History of Science. Swamy built on the presentations of Mukherjee (1921) and Ray (1939) noting that the Vedic descriptions of the plant indicated leaves, stalks and branches; that Soma was green, hari; that cannabis grows wild in areas associated with the Aryan ancestors of the Vedic authors such as the “Caspian sea, in Siberia, in the desert of Kirghiz. It is also referred to as wild in Central and Southern Russia and to the south of the Caucasus... it is almost wild in Persia and it appears to be quite wild on the Western Himalayas and Kashmir” (Swamy, 1976); that Soma was pulverized, filtered and consumed immediately as with the Indian beverage bhang, noting that it must “be borne in mind that there were three pressings in a day and that the juice once expressed was useless for a second offering...Therefore, the brief interval between pressing and consuming is too short a period for fermentation to set in, even should the juice be mixed with milk, curd, etc.... It was essential not only to soak them [the branches] in water but also pound the pieces with stones in order to express the juice.... The dry twigs of Soma (Cannabis) were soaked in water; crushed in flowing water; the last washing was filtered and used almost immediately..." (Swamy,1976) Based on such clearly thought out evidence B. G. L. Swamy rightly felt that: “The summation of evidence leads to the irresistible conclusion that the Rg-vedic Soma was prepared from Cannabis sativus” (Swamy, 1976).[49]

In The RgVedic Soma, the indigenous Vedic scholar Dr. N.R. Waradpande, who identified cannabis as the ancient sacred drink, suggests that based on the Vedic meaning of the words involved in the descriptions given in the 9th and 10th Mandalas of the Rig Veda, the Soma plant was an indigenous Indian plant with roots, branches, leaves, and resin on the leaves and flowers. “The Soma in the Rgveda is unmistakably hemp and its derivatives marijuana and hashish” (Waradpande, 1995).[50]

"... Waradpande has highlighted with great ingenuity three interesting issues, namely, 1) repudiation of the mushroom and urine theory of Richard Wasson, 2) identification of Soma as hemp-plant, and its three products, hemp-juice (vamsu), marijuana and hashish (charas), and 3) interpretation of the Rgvedic mantras referring to Soma.... Waradpande ingeniously agitates that the Soma plant was an indigenous Indian plant with roots, branches, leaves, resin on the leaves and flowers on the basis of the hymns RV* 10.85,3; 9,86,46; 9.5,1; 9.25,2; 9.38,2; 9.67; 9.61,13; 9,70,1 and so on, He demonstrates that ‘all these verses can be interpreted as referring to both the Soma plant and the Moon’ and the adjectives referring to them can be interpreted accordingly. The descriptive characteristics of the Soma plant and the physio-psychological effects caused on consumption of the Soma can be compared with the contemporary knowledge about the intoxicating drugs hemp, marijuana and hashish. The leaf (patra) of the hemp plant is called bhanga (Hindi biarig), the flower (puspamanjari) ganja and the resin (niryasa) charas. Because of its medicinal qualities it is also called vijaya, jaja and matulai and because of intoxicating qualities it is called bhanga, madini and ganja. He concludes that Soma was nothing but bhang, ‘hemp’ and it was consumed by the Vedic Aryans in three ways, as a hemp-juice (soma-rasa) by drinking, the flowers of hemp known as marijuana by smoking and the resin on leaves known as hashish by smoking." [51]

Waradpande believed that by the time of the Indian commentator Sayana (died 1387) the identification of the Soma was lost, explaining that if Sayana had known that Soma was hemp, he would not have been puzzled by the description of Soma as samiddha, i.e., kindled and as being ’blown’ or ‘puffed’, now it is common practice to smoke bhanga as well as drink it, (Waradpande, 1995). Waradpande feels much of the confusion is due to the fact that many Vedic terms remain obscure regarding their derivation and denotation for want of adequate knowledge of the contemporary Vedic society. Patanjali, the grammarian of second century B.C. recorded that even during his time some of the Vedic words were considered to be obscure. Sayana's interpretations of Vedic terms are also doubted by later Western as well as Indian scholars. Besides the language factor, Waradpande feels that the loss of the knowledge of Soma’s identity was through the decline of the Vedic ritual, the Yajna, which came about under the influence and development of Buddhism. (Waradpande, 1995).[50]

In his book Food of the Gods, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna postulates that the most likely candidate for Soma is the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis, a hallucinogenic mushroom that grows in cow dung in certain climates. In India, Wasson identified Psilocybe cubenis as "easily identified and gathered, and are effective", and went so far as to hypothesize, "the possible role of Stropharia cubensis growing in the dung of cattle in the lives of the lower orders remains to this day wholly unexplored. Is P. cubensis responsible for the elevation of the cow to a sacred status?" McKenna cites both Wasson's and his own unsuccessful attempts using Amanita muscaria to reach a psychedelic state as evidence that it could not have inspired the worship and praise of Soma. McKenna further points out that the 9th mandala of the Rig Veda makes extensive references to the cow as the embodiment of soma. He draws comparison to other cultures who venerate the source of the ecstatic state such as the Chavin in Meso-America who venerate the cactus as the source of peyote.


History[edit]

The earliest use of Soma to refer to the moon is a subject of scholarly debate, with some scholars suggesting that the reference to moon as Soma is to be found in the Vedas, while other scholars suggest that such usage emerged only in the post-Vedic literature.[2] The Hindu texts state that the moon is lit and nourished by the sun, and that it is moon where the divine nectar of immortality resides.[4]

Iconography[edit]

Soma's iconography varies in Hindu texts. The most common is one where he is a white colored deity, holding a mace in his hand, riding a chariot with three wheels and three or more white horses (up to ten).[52]

Soma as the moon-deity is also found in Buddhism,[53] and Jainism.[54]

Zodiac and calendar[edit]

Soma is the root of the word Somavara or Monday in the Hindu calendar.[55] The word "Monday" in the Greco-Roman and other Indo-European calendars is also dedicated to the Moon.[56] Soma is part of the Navagraha in Hindu zodiac system. The zodiac and naming system of Hindu astrology, one that includes Moon as Soma, likely developed in the centuries after the arrival of Greek astrology with Alexander the Great,[57][58][59] their zodiac signs being nearly identical.[60][61]

Astronomy[edit]

Soma was presumed to be a planet in Hindu astronomical texts.[62] It is often discussed in various Sanskrit astronomical texts, such as the 5th century Aryabhatiya by Aryabhatta, the 6th century Romaka by Latadeva and Panca Siddhantika by Varahamihira, the 7th century Khandakhadyaka by Brahmagupta and the 8th century Sisyadhivrddida by Lalla.[63] Other texts such as Surya Siddhanta dated to have been complete sometime between the 5th century and 10th century present their chapters on various planets with deity mythologies.[63] However, they show that the Hindu scholars were aware of elliptical orbits, and the texts include sophisticated formulae to calculate its past and future positions:[64]

The longitude of moon =
Surya Siddhanta II.39.43[64]
where m is the moon's mean longitude, a is the longitude at apogee, P is epicycle of apsis, R=3438'.

References[edit]

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Links[edit]