soma सोम

Definition: Was the famous plant which was used for the prepara­tion of the libation of Soma made at the Vedic sacrifice. Its importance is sufficiently shown by the fact that the whole of the ninth Maṇdala of the Rigveda, and six hymns in other Maṇdalas, are devoted to its praise. Nevertheless, little is actually known of the plant. Its twigs or shoots are described as brown (babhru), ruddy (aruna), or tawny (hari).s Possibly its twigs hang down if the epithet Naicāśākha refers to the plant as Hillebrandt thinks. The shoot is called amśu, while the plant as a whole is called andhas, which also denotes the juice. Parvan is the stem. Kξip, ‘finger,’ is used as a designation of the shoots, which may therefore have resembled fingers in shape; vaksanā and vāna also seem to have the sense of the shoot. There is some slight evidence to suggest that the stem was not round, but angular. The plant grew on the mountains, that of Mūjavant being specially renowned. These notices are inadequate to identify the plant. It has been held to be the Sarcostemma viminalc or the Asclepias acida (Sarcostemma brevistigma). Roth held that the Sarcostemma acidiim more nearly met the requirements of the case. Watt suggested the Afghan grape as the real Soma, and Rice thought a sugar-cane might be meant, while Max Mūller and Rājendralāla Mitra suggested that the juice was used as an ingredient in a kind of beer—i.e., that the Soma plant was a species of hop. Hillebrandt considers that neither hops nor the grape can explain the references to Soma. It is very probable that the plant cannot now be identified. In the Yajurveda the plant is purchased ere it is pressed. Hillebrandt considers that the sale must be assumed for the Rigveda. It grew on a mountain, and could not be obtained by ordinary people: perhaps some special tribe or prince owned it, like the Kīkatas. As it stands, the ritual performance is clearly an acquisition of the Soma from the Gandharvas (represented by a śūdra), a ritual imitation of the action which may have been one of the sources of the drama. Owing to the difficulty of obtaining the real plant from a great distance, several substitutes were allowed in the Brāhmaṇa period. The plant was prepared for use by being pounded with stones or in a mortar. The former was the normal method of pro¬cedure, appearing in the Rigveda as the usual one. The stones are called grāvan or αdn, and were, of course, held in the hands. The plant was laid on boards one beside the other (Adhiṣavana), and, according at least to the later ritual, a hole was dug below, so that the pounding of the plant by means of the stones resulted in a loud noise, doubtless a prophylactic against demoniac influences. The plant was placed on a skin and on the Vedi—-which was no longer done in the later ritual—Dhiṣaṇā in some passages denoting the Vedi. Sometimes the mortar and pestle were used in place of the stones. This use, though Iranian, was apparently not common in Vedic times. Camū denotes the vessel used for the offering to the god, Kalaśa and Camasa those used for the priests to drink from. Sometimes the Camū denotes the mortar and pestle. Perhaps the vessel was so called because of its mortar-like shape. The skin on which the shoots were placed was called Tvac, or twice go (‘cow-hide). Kośa, Sadhastha, Dru, Vana, Droṇa, are all terms used for Soma vessels, while Sruva denotes the ladle.’ Apparently the plant was sometimes steeped in water to increase its yield of juice. It is not possible to describe exactly the details of the process of pressing the Soma as practised in the Rigveda. It was certainly purified by being pressed through a sieve (Pavitra). The Soma was then used unmixed (βukra, śuci) for Indra and Vāyu, but the Kanvas seem to have dropped this usage. The juice is described as brown (babhru),"tawny (hart), or ruddy (aruna), and as having a fragrant smell, at least as a rule. Soma was mixed with milk (Gavāśir), curd or sour milk (Dadhyāśir), or grain (Yavāśir). The admixtures are alluded to with various figurative expressions, as Atka, ‘ armour ’j Vastra or Vāsas, 'garment'; Abhiśrī, 'admixturerūpa, ‘beautyJ; śrl, ‘splendour’; rasa, ‘flavour’; prayas, ‘ dainty ’; and perhaps nabhas, ‘ fragrance.’ The adjective tīvra denotes the ‘ pungent ’ flavour of Soma when so mixed. The Soma shoots, after the juice has been pressed out, are denoted by rjīsa, ‘residue.’ It seems probable that in some cases honey was mixed with Soma: perhaps the kośa madhti-ścut, ' the pail distilling sweetness,’ was used for the mixing. It seems doubtful if Surā was ever so mixed. There were three pressings a day of Soma, as opposed to the two of the Avesta. The evening pressing was specially connected with the Rbhus, the midday with Indra, the morning with Agni, but the ritual shows that many other gods also had their share. The drinker of Soma and the nondrinker are sharply discriminated in the texts. Localities where Soma was consumed were Árjīka, Pastyāvant, śaryaṇāvant, Suṣomā, the territory of the Pañcajanāh or ‘five peoples,’ and so on. The effects of Soma in exhilarating and exciting the drinkers are often alluded to. It is difficult to decide if Soma was ever a popular, as opposed to a hieratic drink. The evidence for its actual popularity is very slight, and not decisive.


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