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Soma (Samskrit : सोमः) has been described as anna (grains) for the devatas in the Chandogya Upanishad. Primarily described as Soma lata (सोमलता), a creeper from which the Somarasa (juice) is prepared, it plays an important role in the Somayajna. The Vedas describe Indra, the Devadhipati, often being invited and offered Somarasa during the yajnas.
वेदेषु सोमः ॥ Soma in the Vedas
Soma is described in various occasions in different forms (it is represented as a devata, a medicinal creeper, water) in the Vedas according to many scholars, while we see a present day explanation as Knowledge based on research and development. It is primarily mentioned in the Vedas and associated literature. Notably
- Soma is mentioned as the Devata of Prthvi.
- In yajnas, the Somayajna is of superior quality.
- Vedas describe that Garuda brought Soma deva to bhumi in the form of Gayatri.
- Soma is also addressed as Pavamana (wind) in the Vedas.
- Soma is called Samudra Raja (ocean king) as it is considered as the raja of all rivers. Soma is addressed as the source of water as it provides rain and resides in water.
- Soma consumption bestows immortality and one develops the capacity to perform superhuman activities. Therefore, it is compared to amrta (nectar) or even described as amrta.
- Sometimes, Soma is compared to the Sun as it is seen as the dispeller of darkness and provider of light, one who spreads his rays towards the earth and Sky.
- Soma is the source of all aushadhi (medicine). He can cure all disease, restore vision to the blind and enable the lame to walk. He is all pervading and protects the human body.
- Soma essential dharma is to increase satya in us by removing our papas, which are ingrained in us.
Soma enhances our speech and pronunciation just as the boatman who plies the boat in the waters seamlessly, and is therefore known as Vachaspati (expert in the art of speech). It can invoke powerful feelings within our mind and directs us to Prarthana (prayers). He is the master amongst poets, Rishi amongst the brahamanas and the brahamanas worship him as the king. He is the heart of the yajna and the distributor of knowledge.
In the battle between Indra and Vrtrasura, he was the cause of Indra’s victory as He is the thunder weapon (Vajra) of Indra, hence known as the atma of Indra.
Those Brahmanas who drink somarasa, have the power to burn their enemies simply by the glance. In prithvi loka he resides in mountains. He has birds eyes view over every one. Anything, and any one has connection to soma is generally called as somya in vedic language.
Soma, or the moon, is one of the most important deities of the Rgveda. It is related to Surya the way purusha is related to prakrti. Soma is almost always the moon in the ninth book of the Rgveda. Soma, as a drink, was meant to celebrate the creative function of the moon as reflected in the tides, the menstrual cycle and the growth of plants.
Soma in Upanishads
Pitruyana marga outlined in detail in the Chandogya Upanishad describes Soma
मासेभ्यः पितृलोकं पितृलोकादाकाशमाकाशाच्चन्द्रमसमेष सोमो राजा तद्देवानामन्नं तं देवा भक्षयन्ति ॥ ४ ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.4)
māsebhyaḥ pitṛlokaṃ pitṛlokādākāśamākāśāccandramasameṣa somo rājā taddevānāmannaṃ taṃ devā bhakṣayanti ॥ 4 ॥ (Chan. Upan. 5.10.4)
Many western as well as "modern Indian" interpretations bereft of Vedic wisdom proclaim that सोम is an intoxicating beverage. Such versions about the nature of Soma reveals the malicious intentions to portray Bharatiya Vaidika Parampara and the rishis and maharshis in denigrating and frivolous terms. According to them suktadarshi is not rishi, they mention that the seer being intoxicated tends to "think of himself as a rishi".
One Christian priest (Religion of Rig veda by H.D. Graiswald, page 214-215)) may be under the influence of ordinary intoxicant rashly concludes that there is no difference between liquor and Soma rasa. The difference is one is used for yajna and other is used for general purpose of consuming. He further comes up with the fanciful theory that Somarasa helps in increasing sexual appetite.
The equation of the sacred Soma to alcohol (introduced along with opium into India and China by the East India Company nations itself to destroy Bharat) and also that Indians were drunkards is not only vicious but false propaganda.
A logical question would be that if the dharmic rishis were Somarasa drunkards as insinuated by Western evangelists, the Rig veda (XI, all 114 suktas) would not eulogise Soma and the rishis would not have performed yajna while honouring Soma. If it was an alcoholic beverage, why would drinking it only be restricted to three times a day. Soma is not a ordinary beverage, it is the symbol of divinity and only the most qualified brahamanas were able to drink (तत्त्वपणा | tattvapana) it, as concluded by the vedas.
सोमं मन्यते पपिवान्यत्सम्पिंषन्त्योषधिम् । सोमं यं ब्रह्माणो विदुर्न तस्याश्नाति कश्चन ॥३॥
somaṁ manyate papivānyatsampiṁṣantyoṣadhim । somaṁ yaṁ brahmāṇo vidurna tasyāśnāti kaścana ॥3॥ (X-85-3)
The Sayana Bhashya claims that those who desire sexual appetite, should consider Somarasa as an intoxication and extract its juice through the chemical method and drink it. Such persons consider Somarasa as ordinary juice, but the wise Brahamanas (brahmajnani) and the rtvik yajamanas understood the real essence of सोम. In other words, the soma is not some ordinary juice extracted from the creeper, but is critically important for attaining Brahmajnana as explained in the Vedas. Those who have actually honored the Soma, the brahamvadini, mahajnanis, those who are immersed in Brahman, explained the Soma differently;
अपाम सोमममृता अभूमागन्म ज्योतिरविदाम देवान् । किं नूनमस्मान्कृणवदरातिः किमु धूर्तिरमृत मर्त्यस्य ॥३॥
apāma somamamr̥tā abhūmāganma jyotiravidāma devān । kiṁ nūnamasmānkr̥ṇavadarātiḥ kimu dhūrtiramr̥ta martyasya ॥3॥ (VIII-48-3 Rik samhita)
Meaning: We have honored soma rasa, we have become immortal, achieved the param jyoti (highest light), have understand all the devas, what can the enemies do to us? Hey Soma, what can the enemies who are wicked to do me, even though I am mortal?
Similarly, the great Vamadeva Rishi, who drank the Soma, says, I have realised the secret behind the birth of Indra and others, previously my body which was like iron shackles did not allow me, to experience Brahman, because of being bound. Since I who took the dress of Garuda, I was split open the covering of body (since I drank soma rasa). Even though this body binds me, but I am not covered with ignorance, illusion, even the pain of being in the womb has been overcome by my power of wisdom. The ईश्वरः | Isvara, who is in the form of Soma) has helped me to conquer my enemies of the womb, he helped me to cross all the layers of air in the womb, that Isvara, is complete, and the source and inspirer of the entire cosmos. One who speak such profound words, Vamadeva, should he be considered insane or a great brahma jnani?
Even small children can understand this in India. One more thing is expressed by Vamadeva; to prove his complete surrender, he compares himself to body and the supreme being as the atma, hence it shows the paramatama’s complete body. (this is explained in the brahamasutras in regards to indrapranadhikaran shastra dhristhyatu upadesha vamadevatah Vedavyasa explained exactly in the above fashion) I was Manu, Sun god, Rishi Kashikavana, Arjuna,Kutsa and also krantadarshi, who is rishi named, Ushanasa. Hey all humans, please understand me who is very wonder. I gave earth to Manu, I was the one who gave rain to man who is engaged in yajna. I am the originator of rivers. All the devas follow my sankalpa (resolve) I was the one who became Indra, and gave protection to Divodasa rishi, who was from royal family. By my power he destroyed 99 towns of demon Shambarasura, and settled in 100th town. In this way (one who provided energy to me and divodasa) Garuda who brought the grain of devatas who are personified in Soma, from the brahma loka, in the form of suparna, for this reason let it become elevated (Rik sam VI- 26-27)
Then who is the soma, we will see this in the future pages.
Garuda, who was in the sauparna form (bird?) brought madhu (Soma) who was in the third position of Trivikrama, this story is there in the many part of Vedas, indicating symbolic meaning. This story specifically mentioned in Rgveda's aitareya brahmana, 13th chapter. It can be summarised; Once upon a time soma resided only in other world (para Loka). The devas and Rishis, who were always loyal to the principle of yajna were contemplating to bring Soma to lower lokas, they decided some plan; chandasas can bring him down (Chandas are the language which are used to cover the essential meaning of the Vedas) since the Veda aphorism have the power to reveal Para brahma to the world, hence the devas and Rishis decided to use Chandas is clearly delineated. Hence they prayed to Chandasas. The Chandasas agreed to undertake this endeavour. Since Param pada was very high, they decided to choose those being who had strong wings and very able. hence they chose few chandasas who disguised as birds. They were Jagati, Trishtubh and Gayatri. First Jagati tried to steal soma but being only four words for every pada, therefore had come back being exhausted. In this adventure Jagati lost three of its letters and when retuned with only one of his letter, the wealth of Tapasya was transformed into animal prosperity. Hence it is called as "Jagata hi pashavah" the Trishtapu was this capable to only produce cattle prosperity.
Second was the turn of Trishtubh chandas, it was tired half way through the journey and lost one of its letter and when it came back, it brought the yajna ingredient, Dakshina alone with it. Devatas then requested Gayatri to bring soma. They also chanted some mantras called "svastyayana" which consisted of "Pra" and "cha". So that Gayatri's journey would be free from obstacles. Eventually Gayatri was able to bring Soma, first by reaching there and by lifting him by her feet and mouth. Gayatri also brought back the four letter which were lost by other two chandasas while scaring the the protectors of soma named Somapla. The somapalas who were 7 in number and one of the Krshaan, cut of the left feet's nail, this became the porcupine's thorn and porcupine itself. The blood which came for the feet became dried that became cow. bones became (;??) snakes. The soma which was captured from Gayatri's right foot became pratah savan (morning oblation?). It is the most prosperous in all the shavanas. One who understand this is the best amongst the Yajna performers. Soma's part which was captured by the left foot became "madyandin savan". But because it slipped it was not as great as "pratah savana". That part of Soma which was captured by Gayatri in the mouth became "tritiya savan". Because it was drunk while flying in the form of Garuda hence it was less powerful than other two "savan".
Upanishads describe Brahma vastu as "Rasa" and the one who enjoys it is called ‘Anandi’ from the same perspective. || raso vai sah, rasaggam hevayam labdhva Nandi bhavati ||
The Vedas attach great importance to Soma, Garuda and Gayatri. Paramatma is called as Anandamaya (full of bliss) in the language of the Vedas. Indra, the King of the Gods (?) partakes of Soma rasa. Being central to the Vedas, the Soma tattva is relished by the Brahmanas at three times in the form of Gayatri is not surprising. Hence Soma is called as "Pavamana" the purifier. Being representation of brahmananda, the Brahmanas are offering the prayer to this soma Deva, "Oh pavamana Soma, please place me in the land where there is the brightness of Sun, light is eternal, to that nectar and inexhaustible land. That place where Vivaswanta's son and the pure water of Ganga and other water reside, there I would desire to be immortal. The place where the Paramatma, traverse with his three Pada (feet) and best amongst them, the place of Son god's light eminates without any hindrance or freedom, the place where all the lokas are established brightly, in those places make me immortal. Where all the desires are fulfilled, where all the ambitions are attained, the action place of Aditya, full of purity, the place where satisfaction and Anna is there to that place you settle me. The place where there is ceaseless brahmananda, happiness, satisfaction, As much as we desire, please place me there. ( ix-11-;3) with such background prayer, one should accept Soma rasa as he is. This Soma was born Trivijrama's third foot. Puranas extols how the shiva by carrying in his jatha and made him "somashelhar". This very significant. Soma has been described as king for the Brahmanas, in this way the soma tattva is famous for giving. giving adhyatmik import.
Once Gayatri came back from getting Soma, the Trishtubh and Jagati, requested Gayatri to return their letters. Gayatri argued that it belongs to her. The devas sided Gayatri. In this way Gayatri became "astaksharmtaka (8 lettered) Trishthupa became "trysksharatmaka (three lettered) and Jagati became ekaksharatmaka (one lettered). At the end other two chandasas became qualified in taking part in the Savanas. One who understand these tattva (concepts) he or she will attain glory and power and with grace of Chandasas one will attain all prosperity.
The same story is also narrated in Taittiriya samhita's 6 kanda (section) here is the summary.
Kashyapa and his two wives kadru and suparna these two had competition in regards their beauty. This is basically a symbol of conflict between the iha (in this world) and para (higher realm) to prove who is greater. This is an eternal transaction. Vedas illustrates it very beautifully. The earth is kadru, antariksha (higher realm) is Suparna. Chandasas are the children of suparna. Suparna lost in the competition. Kadru made Suparna her servant. Kadru put some condition to free Suparna. She wanted the Soma from the heaven's third division. The sons of Suparna, Chandasas decided to help and free their mother's woe. The Jagati and Trishtubh failed in their attempt (the letters are different from the previous story. But at last Gayatri was able to accomplish with the help of "Aja" who was in the shape or form of jyoti (light). Who flew along with Gayatri to get soma. Gayatri brought Soma and other letters which were left behind by two other Chandasas. Even though Gayatri is the smallest amongst the Chandasas but because he brought the soma which main oblation for yajna, he attained superior position amongst the Chandasas. This the opinion of the brahma dais. The most part of Rgveda is in the Gayatri, Trishtubh and Jagati chandasas, in other words they are complied with these Chandasas. There are also other thirteen Chandasas. But Gayatri has primary position. (almost 2500 are in this Chandasas). This story is very famous and symbolically indicates enmity between Garuda and snakes. Hose who have brhamabhuti can understand the import of this story as the conflict between mundane and divine consciousness and their reject the conclusion of those who claim it is only clash between two race. In this way Gayatri has been considered as Garuda, in the Vedas and pancharatra shastras. It makes clear indication that the Lord Narayana who is carried by Garuda is the (pratipadya) and Param brahma vastu. The faithful has to understand whatever had been compiled in the Vedas, Puranas is the same principle but defined in different ways. The story of Garuda bringing nectar is nothing but Gayatri brining soma. Soma is indicated as brahma experience. Soma creeper is physical self and the squeezing the creeper to stone is the suffering of this world.
- Narayanacharya K. S. (2011), Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya (Volume 1), Hubli:Sahitya Prakashana.
- Dr. Subodh Kumar in https://subodh-vedainspirations.blogspot.com/search?q=soma
- Subhash Kak (2000), Astonomy and its Role in Vedic Culture, Chapter 23 in Science and Civilization in India, Vol.1, The Dawn of Indian Civilization, Part 1, edited by G. P. Pande, Delhi: ICPR/Munshiram Manoharlal, pp. 507-524.
- Rgveda, Mandala 10, Sukta 85.
- Rgveda, Mandala 8, Sukta 48.