Soma in Vedic Mythology and Ritual (study)

by Anjana Chakraborty | 2017 | 51,491 words

This thesis is called: A study of the evolution of Soma in vedic mythology and ritual. It represents a thorough discussion on the characteristics of Vedic Gods, Soma and Vedic rituals. As the ritual plays a very important role in Rigveda it is only natural that Soma, the plant, the juice of which is so much used in the ritual is deified as one of ...


The proposed research work entitled ‘A Study of the Evolution of Soma in Vedic Mythology and Ritual’ is divided into five chapters. The first chapter provides an introduction to the present work with a discussion on the Vedic Gods, association of Soma with other Gods, Vedic rituals and the ninth mandala of the Rigveda. The second chapter deals with characteristics of the God Soma and his medicinal power. The third chapter deals with the rituals of Somayaga and interrelation of Somayaga with other yagas. The fourth chapter deals with a study on the synchronization of rituals and myths of the God Soma and the fifth chapter resumes to its major findings and provides for the concluding observations of the proposed research work.

The God Soma is one of the prominent deities of the Veda. The poetry of the Rigveda is mainly connected with the Soma ritual. As the ritual plays a very important role in Rigveda it is only natural that Soma, the plant, the juice of which is so much used in the ritual is deified as one of the most important of Vedic God Soma. Soma, the Vedic God or Soma ritual is the making of synchronization of myth and ritual.

Vedic Gods are thirty three in number, this total being several times expressed as thrice eleven. Eleven of the Gods are addressed as being in heaven, eleven on earth and eleven in the waters. The Gods obtained immortality by drinking Soma, which is called the principle of immortality in the Vedas. The benevolence of the gods resembles that of human being while the Soma is pressed, the offering is cast in the fire and priests attend to the intricate details of the ritual. The beverage of the God is Soma. The abode of the Gods is variously described as heaven, the third heaven or the highest step of Vishnu, where they live a joyous life exhilarated by Soma. Soma is an all powerful God. He is further like Vishnu, Indra and Varuna, the supporter of heaven and earth, of all Gods and human being.

Indra, who credits one fourth of the extent of the Rigveda, is associated with Soma both in the mythology and rituals of the Vedas. Indra’s excessive love for the Soma drink is beyond controversy. He is the best consumer of Soma. Before his confrontation with Vritra, he drank rivers of it to gain the strength needed to overcome the fearsome Vritra. It is Soma who gives strength to Indra and enables him to conquer his enemy Vritra. Invigorated by Soma, Indra fights his enemies, kills them and devastates their cities. When Indra is entangled in long battles, his wife also offers the Soma drink to him in the house. Invigorated by Soma Indra exhibits his martial feats; in the battlefield he enjoys Soma the best. Indra drank Soma just after his birth. He is the best Soma drinker and he is the lord of Soma. Indra is the only deity to enjoy all the three oblations and the midday oblation was solely for him. Soma has an intimately close connection with Agni because of the equality that is drawn between its inebriating qualities and the subtlety of flames respectively. Both Soma and Agni were major rituals described in the Rigveda; therefore, they were both distinctly connected in their roles regarding communication with the other Vedic deities. Agni is the fire of ritual and this mediator between men and the Gods and Soma is the hallucinogenic drink of the ritual. Varuna is the most prominent of the celestial Deities. He is very closely associated with Soma, in Soma’s incarnation as the drink of the Gods. Varuna sits on the strewn grass at the ritual and like other Gods he and Mitra drink Soma. Gandharva is moreover, in the Rigveda often associated with Soma. He guards the place of Soma and protects the races of the Gods. Observing all the forms of Soma, he stands on the vault of heaven. Together with Parjanya and the daughter of the Sun, the Gandharvas cherish Soma. Through Gandharvas mouth the Gods drink their draught. Soma is further said to have dwelt among the Gandharvas or to have been stolen by the Gandharva Vishvavasu, but to have been bought from the Gandharvas, as they were fond of females, at the price of the Goddess Vac. Maruts are also associated with Soma. In rituals, the Maruts are offered with the usual Soma libation. The Maruts are the regular enjoyers of the midday Soma libation along with Indra and with other Gods as well.

God Vishnu is associated with Soma. During the Atithya ishti of the Soma ritual which is dedicated to him before the Upashad during the Udavasaniya of the same. Vishnu is introduced into Soma ritual through Indra. The tittle attention paid to the God is all the more striking since during the Soma ritual Vishnu is not at all mentioned in the verses, but he is drawn into association in this ritual, as in others with various implements, particularly with the havirdhana cart. Brihaspati or Bramhanaspati is also associated with God Soma. He, like Indra is called the Soma drinker. The twin divine physicians, the Ashvins hold an important position in the Vedic Gods. The Rigveda singers generally offer Soma libation to the Ashvins. For about fifty times they have been offered Soma in fifty one hymns dedicate to them. There exists a special relationship between Soma and Surya. The verses of Rigveda tell us of the meeting of Soma and the Goddess, the daughter of Surya. It is known that Soma is also Vacaspati. Soma and Rudra are invoked together in one and the same hymn of the Rigveda. They are dual divination, co-operative powers. The Apah or waters are associated with God Soma. The waters of the sea are encompassed between heaven and earth. They flow in the wake of the Soma juice which is collected in vats as waters of the sea. The streams of Saraswati and Sindhu have also the same course and may be identified with the Soma juice. The stream of Saraswati is said to be pure, flowing from the mountains; she fills the terrestrial regions and wide atmospheric space and occupies three abodes. She invoked to descend from the sky to the ritual.

Soma is associated with Parjanya. The three reservoirs that pour their treasures around Parjanya are the three vats through which the Soma juice flows when purified. Soma is also associated with Yama. Soma is pressed for Yama, ghee is offered to him and he is besought to come to the ritual and place himself on the seat. Yama is invoked to lead his worshippers to the Gods and to prolong life. Along with Varuna, the Ashvins, Yama and Pushan, King Soma is also prayed to far deliverance from death and to save the worshipper from the south, the quarter of Yama. Terrestrial Soma is compared to the milk of Aditi and milk only can be meant by the daughter of Aditi who yields to Soma as he flows to the Vat. There may be similar allusion when priests with their ten fingers are said to purify Soma on the lap of Aditi. Soma in the Ninth Mandala of Rigveda is in intimate relation to Vivasvat. Soma dwells with Vivasvat and is cleansed by the daughters of Vivasvat. The streams of Soma flow through the sieve having obtained (the blessing) of Vivasvat and producing the blessing of dawn.

The rituals are the first origin and basic dharma according to Rigveda. The sacrificial fire is central to all Vedic rituals. Ritual is the bearer of holiness, sin saver and well wisher for all. Ritual is performed to attain some desired fruit. Soma played an extremely important role in Vedic rituals. Soma ritual is one of the most important one which gradually assumed a cardinal and all important position in Vedic religion.

The Ninth Mandala of the Rigveda is known as Soma Mandala. It consists entirely of hymns addressed to Soma Pavamana (purified Soma). The Ninth Mandala is most pronouncedly a ritualistic mandala. The principle governing the original arrangement of hymns in the family mandalas seems to have been determined by three considerations–deity, metre and the number of verses contained in the hymns concerned. The Ninth Mandala is distinguished from the rest by all its hymns being addressed to one and the same Deity Soma and by its groups being based not on identity of authorship, but of metre. The Ninth Mandala of the Rigveda mentions many desirable qualities of Soma.

In the Rigveda the Ninth Mandala comprises incantations sung over the tangible Soma while it is pressed by the stones, flows through the wooden strainer into the wooden vats in which it is ultimately offered on a litter of grass to the Gods as a beverage sometimes in fire or sipped and drunk by the holy priests. Soma in creeper from is crushed for procuring its juice for its useful role in the ritual. The portion of the Soma plant which compressed is designated as amshu i.e. shoot or stalk. The shoots swelling give milk like cows with their udders.

The entire Ninth Mandala is devoted to the knowledge of Soma. The hymns say that Soma has the power to overpower everything and is considered a sage. He heals the sick and helps the blind and the lame. The Soma also has the capacity to drive away all sorts of evil from the earth and sky and also drives away the enemy. It is believed that it is Soma who prevents the greedy from getting what they want. Through the Rigveda hymns on Soma the worshippers has asked Soma to be merciful to them and not to wound their or to terrify them. The worshippers have also asked Soma not to enrage them. The prayer also says that Soma should help mankind to keep away from all evils and to free their minds from all kind of hatred and failures. In the hymns the process which is similar to the milking of rain out of the cold and the down pouring of the torrents upon the earth and to the pouring of seed into a womb to produce children and to the winning of race. Soma is further identified with more abstract and general forms such as navel of order, the pillar of the sky and the posture or lap of Aditi which is considered the highest heaven. The hymns say that honey of Soma is a great feast and is for the man who follows the right path. According to the hymns Soma bring in supreme ecstasy and Indra drinks it for its sweetness. In one part of the hymn it has been mentioned that the composer of the hymn had invoked Indra to have Soma and in the process he had also tasted the ecstatic drink. It was under the hallucinating effect of the drink that he had asked the God for granting immorality to him. Finally it can be said that the hymns celebrate the effects of Soma, particularly the feeling of being set free and released into boundless open space and the belief that the drinker is immortal.

Soma has various characteristic features. Soma is the God of inspiration, the intoxicant who stirs the minds, lures the Gods and brings them to the place of worship. He caused the Sun to rise, impelled it, obtained and bestowed it and caused the dawns to shine.

Soma is said to have born as the lord of plants. He receives the epithet Vanaspati, ‘lord of the wood’ and is said to have generated all plants. He with the plants is invoked to remove sin and confers bless. The branches of the Soma plant were used for the extraction of the juice, but not the fruits. The part of the Soma plant which is pressed is called amshu, shoot or stalk. Soma is the name of a mysterious plant from which a drink is pressed that is said to have a certain effect on the mind. Soma juice is glorified as a drink of longevity.

Based on the mixture of water with the juice, the connection of soma with the water is expressed in the most varied ways. Streams flow for him. The waters flow his ordinance. He flows at the head of streams.

He is lord and king of streams, lord of spouses. The waters are his sisters. As leader of waters, Soma rules over rain. He produces waters and causes heaven and earth to rain. He streams rain from heaven. The Soma drops themselves are several times compared with rain. Soma regarded as a divine drink which bestows immortal life. Hence it is mythologically called amrita, the draught of immortality. Soma is immortal and the Gods drank him for immortality. He places his worshippers in the everlasting and imperishable world where there is eternal light and glory and makes him immortal. The Soma drink was considered the most effective of all medicinal preparations. The Soma drink was an elixir that worked both psycho actively upon the brain and nervous system to induce an altered state of consciousness as well as medicinally upon the human body to cure it of various diseases. When imbibed Soma stimulates the voice, which he impels as the rower his boat. He is also said to raise his voice from heaven.

Soma is the soul of ritual, a priest among the Gods and apportions to them their share of ritual. Soma is a great fighter. He is a victor, unconquered in fight, born for battle. He is the most heroic of heroes. Soma is a fighter against darkness. He can also afford protection from foes. He drives away goblins and like some other Deities but more frequently, receives the epithet of goblin slayer. Soma is the only God who is called a slayer of the wicked. Being a warrior, Soma is said to have weapons. He is described as armed with a thousand pointed shafts and his bow is swift. The conception of Soma comes to be extended to that of a being of universal dominion, who is lord of the quarters, who performs the great cosmic actions of generating the two worlds, of creating or establishing heaven and earth, of supporting heaven and of placing light in the Sun.

As the Moon, Soma became equated with the God Candra, who originally was the Moon Deity. The Moon was considered the cup which held the drink Soma for the Gods, and one reason that the Moon waxed and waned, it was because the Gods were drinking down all the Soma; as it waxed, the God was recreating himself, only to be consumed again once the cup was again full. As the Vedic age ended and the Brahmans asserted themselves, the power of the Gods no longer came from Soma but instead from rituals made by humans; Soma came more and more to be just a God of the Moon. In later times, the waxing and waning of the

Moon was due to a curse put on Soma. Soma had twenty seven wives (who correspond to the twenty seven stations of the Moon). They were all the daughters of the Daksha. Daksha felt that Soma was paying too much attention to one of his daughters, thereby neglecting the rest. He cursed Soma to die a withering death. But Soma’s wives intervened, and so the death became only periodic, during half of the month slowly dies away, but is reborn and comes around again to full vigour.

Soma is the name of one of the most sacred plants of the ancient world. Soma, the plant with high medicinal properties is used in rejuvenation, vajikaranam and vitality. By the power of Soma both Gods and humans are able to produce the most unusual paranormal feats. The Soma drink was considered the most effective of all medicinal preparations. The Soma drink was an elixir that worked both psycho actively upon the brain and nervous system to induce an altered state of consciousness as well as medicinally upon the human body to cure it of various diseases.

The Soma drink was considered the most effective of all medicinal preparations. The Soma drink was an elixir that worked both psycho actively upon the brain and nervous system to induce an altered state of consciousness as well as medicinally upon the human body to cure it of various diseases. Both weakness and disease disappear in the physical body immediately after one drinks Soma, a unique and divine medicine. Among its benefits, Soma is said to heal eye diseases and give clearer sight. It heals the crippled by uniting and knitting their joints back together. It initials regeneration and replaces dislocated limbs. It is medicine for a sick man. Hence the God Soma heals whatever is sick, making the blind to see and the lame to walk. Soma is said to heal eye diseases and give clearer sight. It heals the crippled by uniting and knitting their joints back together. Soma is the guardian of men’s bodies and occupies their every limb, bestowing length of life in this world. Soma refers something that produces happiness, peace, bliss, relaxation, enthusiasm, satisfaction and global vision. Soma is not only pure itself but also purifies everything else.

Soma played an extremely important role in Vedic rituals. Somayaga is divided on the basis of duration of time in three categories, namely the Ekaha, the Ahina and the Satra. The yaga which is performed in one day in three savannas is called Ekaha. The yaga which take more than one day but not more than twelve days is Ahina and the yaga lasting from more than twelve days to thousand years is called Satra. There are seven types of Somayaga viz Agnishtoma, Atyagnishtoma, Ukhthya, Shodasi,

Atiratra, Vajapeya and Aptoryama. The Agnishtoma which is the first of the seven Somayagas is the prakriti or model. Every year in the Spring this ritual is to be performed by twice born caste with his wife. The Somayaga can be performed only by the dvijas or twice born, viz Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. The juice of the creeper Soma is the main oblation in this ritual. The constraction of the yajnashala requires precise measurement which is to prepare in such a place away from cremation grounds, temples or temple grounds.

The priests after having been selected by the yajamana decide a suitable and proper place for ritual (devayajana) in the morning. The three sacred-fires, namely the Ahavaniya, the Garhapatya and the Dakshina are established respectively with proper vidhi, in their holes (kundas) prepared already for them. In these fires, the other rituals like Agnihotra or Darshapurnamasa etc are not performed. The Pracinavamsashala having four door and ventilation for air and light constructed over the established fires and the adjacent are according to the requirement.

In the afternoon the Dikshaniyeshti begins. The yajamana gets his nail cut and shaved his hair and beard. He takes bath with the water kept in a special pot-already placed in the north to the yajnashala. After taking bath he steps towards the north-east and wears a new but washed dress. The wife of the yajamana goes through these rites too (except cutting of the hair) guided by the Pratiprasthata-priest.

In this ishti, ekadasakapala-purodasa for Agni and Vishnu and the caru for Aditya are prepared. The Adhvaryu anoints butter (navanita) from head down to the feet, on the body of the yajamana, who stands to the east of the yajnashala. After purifying the yajamana with the pavitries, the Adhvaryu makes him inter the shala along the back of the Ahavaniya and to the front of the Garhapatya and performs Audgrabhanahoma.

The Adhvaryu spreads two pieces of krishnamriga-carma in the north of the Ahavaniya in such a manner that the upper parts (neck etc) of the carma should face the east. The yajamana and his wife sit on these carmas. The priests cook the prescribed food for them on the Garhapatya and Dakshina–fires as per rules. The food for yajamana is served in an iron pot and for his wife in a copper pot. After this rite the yajamana observes specific rules in his behaviour.

Next day begins the Prayaniya-ishti (the opening sacrifice) in which the special-offering of caru, cooked in milk is offered to Aditi and the ajya to Pathya svasti, Agni, Soma and Savita. The svishtakrit-oblation is offered to Agni- svishtakrit. The mantras of the Anuvakya are recited in place of yajya mantras and vice-versa in this ishti.

After the ‘Prayaniyeshti’ comes the Somakrayani-rite, in which the Soma, the king of herbs is taken in exchange of cow, gold, he goat and bull etc. The purchased Soma is brought to the yajnashala in a sakata following the prescribed procedure; this Soma is placed to the south of the Ahavaniya. Atithyeshti Ritual is performed to welcome the Soma. The navakapala-purodasa is offered to Vishnu in this ishti. The ajya is placed in the pot called tanunaptra-patra, named after the deity Tanunaptra. All the prists and the yajamana touch the ajya for the sake of mutual cooperation. After that the yajamana takes the Avantara-diksha and does not sleep that night.

At the end of the Atithyeshti, the upasada ishti is performed two times daily for three days. The offerings of ajya are made to Agni. Soma and Vishnu, after taking the ajya eight times, with chamas in juhu and four times in upabhrita. The Brahma unites the Soma herbs and all the priests praise the Soma by reciting the mantras and touch the Soma at the same time.

The Adhvaryu goes to the south of the Ahavaniya after taking the Juhu and Upabhrita filled with ajya and offers its oblations to Agni, in the east, from the central point of Ahavaniya, to Soma in the centre and to Vishnu in the west from the central point of Ahavaniya.

The follow the Pravargya and the Upasada rite respectively or vice versa. Both are done twice a day in the morning and in the afternoon, at least for three days. The pravargya rite is performed either by laying out the Pravargya-apparatus in the form of a human body or by throwing them in water. In the Upasada ishti the offering of ajya, taken from juhu are made to Agni and Soma, and from upabhrita to Vishnu. Mahavedi is constructed on the second-day of the Upasads and Pravargyas.

The Agnipranayana rite (Bringing fire from the Ahavaniya to the Mahavedi) takes place on the fourth day, after performing the Upasadas and the Pravargyas in the centre of the Mahavedi becomes Ahavaniya for all rites in the Soma rituals and the original Ahavaniya becomes Garhapatya. When the fire is led to the Mahavedi, two Havirdhanamandapas are constructed, one in its north and the other in the south.

Then four Uparavas (pits) are dug in the southern Havirdhana-mandapa. The Kusha-grass is strewn around these pits and adhisavana and falaka are placed on it. A particular spot named Khara is made to the east of the uparavas. A shed called sadas and six dhisnya fire-holes are also constracted. Other preliminary rites of the Agnishtoma ritual are also performed before the main ritual.

The fifth day is called the Sutyadivasa because the Soma is pressed-out on this day and offered to the Deities. The priests get up in the second half of the night of the Upavasada-day i.e. the fourth day prepare the materials and perform the preliminary rites for pressing out the Soma, thrice, on the fifth day. Meanwhile the oblations are prepared for offering to Indra, Vishnu, Pushan, Saraswati, Mitra and Varuna in the principal ritual. The Adhvaryu first of all gives thirty three yajnatanuofferings of ajya in the Agnidhriya-fire. Then the various patras and other sacrificial materials are placed on their respective place. The Hota-priest recites the prataranuvaka and then the Adhvaryu assisted by the Pratiprasthata, Neshta and Unneta performs the Mahabhisava (the great pressing of the Soma). The Adhvaryu sprinkles special nigrabhya-waters on the Soma herbs and presses them three times, with the help of adhisavana-falakas and collects the Soma in the Upamsu-patra. The same method is adopted to collect the Soma in the Antaryama-patra, Aindravayava-patra, Maitra-Varuna-patra, Ashvina-patra and Dronakalasa. The offering of Soma is given in the Ahavaniya-fire, after chanting the respective shtomas and storas for various Deities in the Pratah-savana.

Then begin the Madhyandin-ssavana. It is the climax of the ritual, first of all is performed the Mahabhisavana rite, in which the Adhvaryu fills the sukra-patra, Manthin-patra, Agrayana patra, Ukthya-patra and Marutvatiya-patra with Soma. Then the priest and the yajamana come out of the Havirdhana-mandapa and recite the Pavamana-stotra in the Sadasa. After the gharma-offerings, the Pashupurodasa is offered to Agni and Soma. After that the Adhvaryu offers the pradhanahoma-oblations followed by one offering of Ida in the end. The offering of Soma from the various parts are made to the dvidevatas, namely the Indravayu, Mitravaruna and Ashvinau. The priest and the yajamana eat the yajnashesha in the end.

In the evening the Sayam-savana or the Tritiya-savana begins. In the savana the method of abhisavana is the same as in the pratah and Madhyandin-savanas, but the Deities, the offerings the stotras and the shtomas are different. The Adhvaryu first of all fill the Aditya-patra then the Agrayana, Samitra, Vaisvadeva Patnivrata, Hariyojana, Atigrahya, Shodasi, Daghigraha, Adabhya and Amshugraha-patras with Soma, by pressing the Soma herbs and offers their oblations respectively to the respective deities after reciting the shtomas related to them. Then the yajamana and the priests come out of the Havirdhana mandapa and recite the Pavamana-stotra. Then the Pashupurodasa is offered to eleven Deities, namely Agni, Sarasvati, Soma, Pushan, Brihaspati, Vishvedeva, Indra, Maruta, Aindragna, Savita and Varuna. (It is the Vikriti of the Agnisomiya-Pashuyaga). Then the yajamana and the priests eat the yajnashesha (the remains). The Sayam-savana ends with the Patni-samyaja offerings.

After the tritiya (Sayam) savana the rite of Avabhritha, ‘final bath’ is performed. The priests, the sacrificer and his wife go to the river, taking with them almost all the upakaranas and the patras used in the savannas, smeared with Soma or ghrita and put them in the river, after taking the final bath. After that they return to the yajnashala and perform the concluding rite the Udayaniyeshti, following the method adopted in the Prayaniyeshti. The principal Deity in this ishti is Agni. One offering of astakapala-purodasa and one of pancakapala-purodasa are offered to Agni. Only the anuyaja-offerings are made in it not the prayaja-offerings. The anuvakya mantras are recited in place of yajnamantras in it. The Dakshina to the priests is given separately according to the vidhi. Thus the Agnishtoma goes to an end with the Udayaniyeshti rite.

Somayaga is an important ritual of the Vedic period. Soma ritual has obvious affinities with the ceremonies which all over the world have been used to realize the feeling of ecstasy which makes man attain the divine bliss and realization. To sum up, Soma ritual occupies an important place among the literature of the Vedas.

The Vedic texts are interconnected with numerous rituals, their references and ceremonies. The simplest and most popular form of Soma ritual is Agnishtoma. The Agnishtoma is obligatory like Upanayana for all the Dvijaties i.e. the Brahmana, the Kshatriya and the Vaisya. This Soma ritual has close relation with other rituals. Dikshaniyeshti is related to Agnishtoma or Somayaga. There are twelve statras sung in this type of ritual. The last statra is Agnishtoma. On the first day of the Agnishtoma sacrifice, the sacrificer invites these priests and engages them for the performances promising sacrificial fees or dakshina. This is called Ritvikavarana [Ritvikavaranam]. This is followed by the Initiation ceremony named Dikshaniyeshti. In the Dikshaniyeshti the yajamana and yajamanapatni are initiated. Both of them observe certain ceremonies like new born babies. That is why the initiation in the yaga is regarded as the second birth. After initiation the yajamana and his wife perform all the sacrificial rites of the Agnishtoma. In the Agnishtoma, the oblation of Soma is followed by the oblation ceremony styled Avabhritha ishti. In general the Dikshaniyeshti is the right which is performed by the sacrificer and his wife before the Somayaga.

The Rajasuya is a religious ceremony which includes amongst other rites the performance of a number of Somayagas of different kinds. It includes seven distinct Somayagas, viz, Pavitra, an Agnishtoma as the starting yaga and followed by the Abhisecaniya, an Ukthyayaga, being the consecration or anointing ceremony. Then follows the Daspeya, an Agnishtoma, so called because ten priests take part in drinking the Soma juice contained in each of the ten cups. The Consecration ceremony consists of five days, viz, one Diksha (initiation ceremony), three upasads and one Soma day, the particular form of Somayaga being the Ukthya.

Darshapurnamaseshti is related with Somayaga. The yaga that is performed on New Moon day is called Darsheshti and on Full Moon day Paurnamaseshti is performed. On Darsheshti the yaga is performed for Agni and Agnisoma Deities. If the yajamana has performed Somayaga then for one year he has to perform Darsheshti for Indra and Mahendra Deities. This yaga is performed before or after Somayaga also. Somayaga is generally performed after the Darshapurnamasa, the Caturmasya and the Pashubandhayaga, but one can perform it even before these yagas but necessary after Agnyadhyayaga. This Pashuyaga is a part of the Somayaga and is performed on the day of the Soma pressing and offering the seven haviryajnas the Pashuyaga is also separately mentioned as a kind of haviryajnas and is named as Pashubandha.

Rituals are actions that synchronize the world with myth. In Vedic thought, myth and ritual have both been regarded as very close to each other. The Brahmanas have demonstrated the possibility of multifold interpretation of the Vedic myth. The Vedic ritual also has similarly been interpreted at various levels. The components of the yajnika pattern are seen as corresponding to the various organs and faculties of a human being and the coordination of mind, intellect and speech is desired for the performance of the ritual.

The myth, as it is presented the Shatapatha Brahmana, starts with the session (satra) for a Somayajna held at Kurukshetra on a night of full moon, by a select group of Deities including Indra, Agni, Vishnu, Soma, Makha, Vishvadeva, Ashvins. All these Deities are connected, in one way or another with pravargya. After the usual preparations, the Devas desire a deeper knowledge of the ritual they are about to perform. So, they enter into a contest among themselves to see who will succeed in being the first to attain the end of the ritual. The palm of victory will be luminous glory to be then shared by the rest of the group. The winner is Vishnu, a Deity relatively new to the Pantheon, who beings to acquire prominence precisely because of this victory for which he became the ritual. But Vishnu is puffed up by his triumph which sets him on his way to becoming the Supreme God and forgetting the agreement to share his glory with the rest of the group, he takes up his bow and three arrows for self-defense and withdraws to a place apart, waiting and at the same time resting, erect and with his head reclined on the end of the bow. The other deities, defeated, sit around him, keeping a respectful distance from him, not daring to reclaim their share of the glory. Then, some ants (varmi), of the upadika species, offer to help them to recover the lost ritual in return for the gift of finding food and water even in the desert. The Deities agree. So the ants secretly approach Vishnu and start gnawing away at the bowstring. Finally it snaps, and the end of the bow on which Vishnu is confidently resting his head, is suddenly cut loose and severs his head clean off. With a ‘ghrn’ sound, the head falls and becomes the Sun, while the rest of the sacrificial body of the Deity lies stretched out pointing towards the East. Hence the names gharma and pravargya Vishnu, still resplendent even though decapitated is admired by the deities and finally recognized to be the great hero.

Again the Deities enter into a contest to take possession of the beheaded yet glorious sacrificial body of Vishnu. The winner this time is Indra who reaches him first and stretching himself out of him, limb on limb, takes on himself the glory of Vishnu. The Deities, then, now in possession of the ritual through Indra, their leader, proceed to it toil round it and enjoy the headless body as it is. Indeed, it seems that they take their delight precisely because it is headless. They divide it into three distinct parts: the morning-pressing, the midday pressing and the afternoon pressing which they then share among themselves in accordance with their needs. To the Vasus and Agni is offered, with the Gayatri, the morning one; to the Rudras and Indra, with the Tristubh, the midday one; to the Adityas and Vishvadeva, with the Jagati, the evening one.

While the Gods go on, thus satisfied with their headless ritual, there appears on the scence a rishi of the Atharvan family, Dadhyanc Atharvan, who having spied on the Gods from a far, now knows about the mystery of the sacrificial decapitation. He knows too how to put the head back on the Soma ritual and offers to demonstrate it to the Gods. These however, there and then turn him down. What is more, far from permitting him restore the head to the ritual, Indra forbids the rishi from divulging the secret for otherwise he would cut off his head. Indra is overheard by the Ashvins who, we recall, were absent from the Somayajna and understanding the Dadhyanc Atharvan knew a great liturgical secret went to him and insistently begged him to disclose to them the secret of how to make the sacrificial body whole again. The rishi hesitates for he fears, the anger of Indra, now the Lord of the Gods. But the ingenious Ashvins deveins a stratagem by means of which they replace the rishi’s head with that of a horse so that when Indra, enraged at the transgression of his command, makes good his threat and cuts off the talking head, they, the heavenly doctors, can easily return him his original head. When Indra sees that the secret is now out, he accepts in his own name and in that of the other Gods, even though reluctantly, the re-incorporation of the ‘head’ in the Soma ritual by means of the pravargya rite.

Even though the myth does not directly concern us, it is significant enough to have it narrated in such detail. It seems to refer to the time when pravargya, a simple morning offering to the Ashvins was incorporated into the whole complex of the Soma ritual offered to other Gods. It also reflects the resistance to it on the part of the traditionalists who maintained that it was possible to continue performing the Soma ritual as they had always done, without any addition of any sort. They had always regarded the rite of the three Soma-pressing perfectly complete in itself without needing any ‘head’ to be joined to it. Moreover, the inclusion in a rite already so potent by itself, of still another rite which is a potent as pravargya, could give rite as in fact happened to an excess of sacred power causing problems within the performance of the rite. The myth’s purpose is not only to teach deeper saving knowledge. Its principal purpose is to justify a liturgical reform and especially to explain how it is that a sacrificial session. At the same time, the myth points out the danger in which spiritual exaltation, unless adequately controlled, can put him who experiences it.

Soma is all powerful God. He represents a multifaceted state in the whole extent of the Vedic literature. Soma is the name of the plant from which Soma juice is extract and offered to the Gods. Being the most important of herbs Soma is said to have born as the lord of plants. He receives the epithet Vanaspati, lord of wood. So much of the mythology of Soma is clear enough; the actual plant lies immediately behind the God and explains his characteristics.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: