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 ...

Chapter 1(e) - The Ninth Mandala of Rigveda

The Rigveda Samhita is divided into ten Mandalas. The Rigveda has 1028 hymns (suktas). The shortest sukta (hymn) has one verse, where as the longest has fifty eight verses and the total number of verses is 10,462. Each Mandala is divided into Anuvakas. An alternative scheme is to present them into Ashtaka (eights), Adhayaya (chapter) and Varga (class).

The Ninth Mandala of the Rigveda is known as Soma Mandala. It consists entirely of hymns addressed to Soma Pavamana (purified Soma). Soma, the sacret intoxicator is the lord of delight. Pavamana is another name for Soma. Pavamana also means that which flows and that which purifies. The Ninth Mandala is the collection of Pavamana-stotras;here practically every important statement about the preparation of the drink and cult of the God Soma is repeated ad nauseam. This is so because the Ninth Mandala is the collective Soma Mandala of all the Vedic Rishis fused by the redactor into a single corpus, to be recited by the Udgatars. Either the ritual aspect of these hymns was so obvious or compelling as to override any other consideration; or the hymns themselves, being associated with the traditional Rishi families only to a minor extent, and in a confused manner, resisted attempts at profitable historical arrangement.

The Ninth Mandala is the only major grouping in the Rigveda devoted to a single ritual procedure. All hymns of the Mandala are dedicated to Soma Pavamana, ‘self purifying Soma’. It treats the deified ritual substance, the exhilarating drink Soma, whose preparation and offering are the focus of the most important Vedic ritual, the Soma sacrifice, but it treats that substance at only a single episode in the whole elaborate ritual, the time when the Soma juice, which has already been pressed, is poured across the sheep’s fleece that serves to purify it that is, to remove the vegetable detritus still present in the liquid–before it is first diluted with water, then mixed with milk, and poured into the offering vessels.

There are no other hymns to Soma Pavamana in the Rigveda and only a few to Soma in his other aspects (1.91; 8.48; 8.79; 10.25), as well as a few dedicated to Soma and another God (e.g., Soma and Rudra 1.43, Agni and Soma 1.93).

It is little short of remarkable that the Rigvedic bards could take this ritual snapshot, consisting of what seems like extremely unpromising material and make it into high poetry not once, but 114 times and even the most devoted Vedicist approaches this mandala with some trepidation and with fear of the ennui to be induced by endless repetition of a few ritual tropes. What is truly surprising is that the poets for the most part managed to create an extraordinary variety of approaches to this limited theme and for readers interested in how the traditional poets of antiquity used all their ingenuity and poetic resources to trick out and ring changes on an invariant topic, the ninth mandala serves as a sort of laboratory to observe these skills in action. The hymns in the latter part of the mandala in trimeter meter especially display this richness of approach, but even the sixtyseven hymns in the short (24 syllables per verse) Gayatri meter are very different from each other.

One of the ways in which the poets imbue this ritual moment with gravity beyond the simple facts of the procedure is by animalizing all the elements deployed in the procedure and making them actors, rather than inert things acted upon. The Soma juice is configured as Soma, King and God, making a royal progress across the filter to his rendezvous with the Gods. Or he is a powerful charging bull or a swift racehorse or a bird in flight. The fleece filter is a ewe; the milk is regularly conceived of as a herd of cows, eager to mate with the bull Soma. These ritual elements are also given cosmic dimensions. Soma is a pillar between heaven and earth; the sheep’s fleece is the whole surface of the earth or of heaven; the waters for dilution are a vast sea into which the waves of Soma empty themselves; the milk in its gleaming brightness is the Sun or the day-lit sky. Once they have assumed these other poetic identities, the elements of the ritual then participate in still other metaphors and images that stretch those identities further. And the identities shift constantly within even brief hymns. However, in order to appreciate the artistry and the distance between the real subject and its ennobling verbal treatment, it is necessary to keep the physical facts of the ritual always in view.

The mandala is organized by meter, with the majority of the hymns in the diameter Gayatri meter (9.1–67), followed by smaller collections of trimester—Jagati (9.68–86) and Trishtubh (9.87–97)—then Anushtubh (9.98–101), Ushnih (9.102–106), Pragatha structures (9.107–108), ending with miscellaneous meters (9.109–114). Within each metrical group the hymns are arranged by length, from longest to shortest. Although the Gayatri, Jagati and Trishtubh collections end with some very long hymns, these hymns can easily be deconstructed into smaller hymns containing the correct number of verses. For example, the Jagati group ends with two apparently nonconforming hymns. After a long series of five-verse hymns (9.75–84) we find 9.85 at twelve verses and 9.86 at fortyeight. But 9.85 can be broken down into three four-verse hymns and 9.86 into sixteen tricas (three verse groupings). The longest hymn in the Rigveda is the final hymn of the Trishtubh group, 9.97 with fiftyeight verses, divisible into tricas (with a final, extra verse).

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[1] 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 is compressed is designated as amshu, i.e. shoot or stalk[2]. The shoots swelling give milk like cows with their udders[3].

The Ninth Mandala is most pronouncedly a ritualistic Mandala. The principle governing the original arrangement of hymns in the family Mandala s 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. Many scholars believe that Ninth Mandala was deliberately taken out of the other Mandalas, so that it could be easily for Soma ritual. The Ninth Mandala of the Rigveda mentions many desirable qualities of Soma.

The hymns say that Soma has the power to overpower everything and is considerable a sage and a seer inspired by poetry. 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 the sky and also drives away the enemy. It is believe that it is Soma who prevents the greedy from getting what they want. Through the Rigvedic hymns on Soma the worshippers has asked Soma to be merciful to them and not to wound their heart 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 of filtering Soma has been described as a 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 pasture 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. A belief which is expressed with the help of the hymns is that under the influence of the Soma a sage or a God starts praising himself. It is under the influence of Soma that a sage boasts of himself. 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 immortality to him. 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.

The entire Ninth Mandala is devoted to the knowledge of Soma. According to the Maharishi Apaurusheya Bhashya, the Rigveda unfolds knowledge sequentially. Therefore the entire knowledge of the Ninth Mandala may be located in seed form in the first Sukta of the Ninth Mandala, and in the first rica of the Ninth Mandala, and even in the first word of the Ninth Mandala. The entire Mandala is the detailed elaboration of the first word.

The first rica is sung in the Gayatri metre. The metre organizes the content of the rica into a specific form. In the Gayatri metre, 24 syllables are divided into three padas, eight syllables each. The first pada presents the adhyatmika knowledge of the rica;the second pada presents the adhidaivika knowledge of the rica and the third pada presents the adhibhautika knowledge of the rica. Together, the three padas present a complete package of knowledge, giving detailed expression to that specific law of nature as its influence traverses through the worlds of self, mind and body.

The first eight syllables, comprising two words of the first rica of the Ninth Mandala, therefore, present the knowledge of the adhyatmika value of the knowledge of Soma. Soma as it relates to the rishi, the knower, the experience. These words characterize the Soma that is they present the characteristics of the experience of the knower which invariably accompany Soma and may therefore be considered its distinguishing or defining characteristics. The words are “Svadishtaya” and “Madishtaya”. The word svadishtaya means characterized by the infinite or superlative degree of sweetness, refers to the characteristic of being able to make use of the full potential of all the functions of consciousness, the five senses, mind, intellect and ego. These two words characterize the Soma in terms of its objective and subjective sides respectively. Soma, linking subjectivity and objectivity, is itself not experienced directly—the linking value is a gap, a non-entity. The shores of the river which are connected together by the flow of Soma are seen, while the gap between them is not seen, it remains unmanifest. Thus these two words, characterizing the experience of the Soma in its objective and subjective modes, together point to the transcendent unmanifest value, which is the pure self. In this way, these two words, while at the same time describing the nature of Soma, are providing insight into the nature of the Atman, the unmanifest Self.

The word svadishtaya directly takes the attention to the field of infintiely intense sweetness, the field of virtually infinite energy for the biological organism, the source of all energy, the proton gradient within the inner mitochondrial wall. The word svadishtaya is thus an extremely compact short-hand for describing the fundamental feature of aerobic metabolism, the virtually unlimited fund of energy which the cell has available to draw upon.

The rest of the rica and indeed the rest of the Ninth Mandala may be understood as a detailed elaboration on the nature, evolution and application of that infinite reservoir of energy.

The second word, madishtaya, shows the other side of the energy equation, namely how that infinite energy is put to use in the service of the individual human being. The word mada is commonly translated as intoxicating, but its true sense is quite opposite. The intoxication brought about by alcohol, for instance, involves a deadening of the senses, and a restriction of mental powers. A person intoxicated with alcohol will perform poorly in all manner of perceptual and intellectual tasks. Alcohol interferes with the normal and efficient functioning of the nervous system. The word mada refers to an intoxication which sharpens, heightens the functioning of all the functions of consciousness. With mada, hearing becomes sharper, vision more acute and vigilant, touch more sensitive, taste more delicate, and smell more capable of discerning and distinguishing faint odors. The mada intoxicated mind is capable of more profound thought, with broader comprehension and at the same time greater ability of comprehension. The intellect becomes capable of delicate and more fruitful discriminations in favor of progress of the individual and the ego enjoys more happiness and positive uplifting values. This is the characterization of the kind of intoxication described by the word mada. Fulfillment, exhilaration, or enlivenment of the ability to use the functions of consciousness, conveys the sense of the word better than intoxication.

The madishta or superlative degree of enlivenment of the ability to use the functions of consciousness signifies the degree of enlivenment which raises the capability of performance of the senses to their highest level, the infinitely expanded and perfected capability of the functions of consciousness. This supreme degree of competence of the functions of the senses is familiar to us in terms of the ability of perception in the seventh state of consciousness, where the infinite value of the object of knowledge can be appreciated. The supreme value of functioning of each of the functions of consciousness may be described as raising these channels of consciousness, channels of intelligence to their full potential. Thus madishtaya means characterized by the enlivenment of the ability to use the full potential of all the functions of consciousness, senses, mind, intellect and ego. Whereas the first word of the ninth Mandala brought out the knowledge of the supreme level of physical existence. The second word describes the supreme level of expression of intelligence in the highest, most refined level of functioning of the human nervous system in unity consciousness.

Having on the one hand the appreciation of the full potential of the field of existence and on the other, the utilization of the full potential of the field of consciousness, the highest, supreme value of Soma is characterized in this first pada, dealing with the adhyatmika value, the knowledge of Soma pertaining to the Self. Two aspects of Soma are delineated: its objective aspect of infinite energy and its subjective aspect, of enlivenment of the full potential of consciousness. The second pada which delineates the adhidaivika aspect, the organizing power of the pure knowledge. Pavasva is the second person imperative of the root √pu. Pu means to part, to separte, to create a gap between. Creating a gap, a space, a place where there is nothing, a transcendental rift, is the key to the connection between existence and intelligence. In that gap is an intermediate space, a field which is neither strictly speaking intelligence, nor strictly speaking existence, nor a mixture; it is a third thing, the thing which separates. We may call it the gap. Fundamentally it is only a concept of relationship. Intelligence and existence, which is ultimately the same thing, are made separate, pulled apart. And that thing, which distinguishes, pulls them apart, separates and thereby affirms the positive existence of the two, is precious. It has created life. Life is the playfulness between existence and intelligence—two values which are not different, but when held apart, give rise to progressive levels of structure leading to the formation of the tremendous expressed complexity of the human nervous system, the human physiology. This is the secret how intelligence and existence are connected. They are connected by an abstract relationship which holds them apart and at the same time relates them to each other. They are connected by the gap, the division between their own intrinsic natures. The word pavasva is, therefore, the fundamental formula for creating life. Separate these two values, existence and intelligence, create a gap between the two; maintain that separation, even though it is only an abstraction, a concept.

Which is invoked or enjoined to create this separation between the highest level of existence and the supreme level of intelligence, is called Soma. The three preceding words have been sufficient to create a map, a graphic description of the creation of relationship between intelligence and existence. It is Soma which embodies that most delicate relationship at the finest level of creation which is the ultimate source of the field of existence and the field of intelligence.

The last word of the adhidaivika pada is dharaya. Dharaya, in the instrumental case, is giving the accompaniment to Soma, the characteristic of Soma. The word dharaya has several roots, which contribute to the overall sense of the word. Foremost is the root dhav, to flow. Soma is characterized by a flow, a liquid like movement, as in a stream, connecting the two banks with a flow that continually folds one into the other, creating a matrix, a structure of relationship that evolves into higher and higher levels or orders of complexity. Dharaya also comes from the root √dhri which means to support, sustain, hold in balance, maintain in equilibrium. From root √dhri comes the word dhara, meaning sharp edge or dividing line. Soma is characterized by all of these; Soma is the fine line of division between existence and intelligence. Soma is the supporter, the sustainer, that which holds the two fields of existence and intelligence in balance, which maintains equilibrium in their contact and Soma is an evolving flow of relationship, an activity, a movement in the gap, which has a liquid structure; Soma is a liquid.

The word Soma comes from the root √su, which means to extract, or to make ready, prepare. These two meanings of the root give the two faces of Soma. On the side of existence, extracting the finest quality of the foodstuffs in the process of metabolism and on the side of intelligence, preparing for all possible values of activity in the Soma is that thing which puts those two values together.

In this second, adhidaivika pada, the mechanics of relationship between existence and intelligence have been presented. The third and last pada is the adhibhautika pada. The third pada delineates what the end result is, that is what is the practical outcome of the mechanism which connects intelligence and existence, by establishing a balanced flow across the gap between them. If the second pada is understood as positing the play of life on the boundary of existence and intelligence, the third pada establishes the fruit of that fundamental relationship.

The first word of the third pada is indraya. This word means, "for the sake of Indra". Indra is the wholeness made up of all the parts. The fruit of the relationship that is created between existence and intelligence is for the sake of the knower, the consciousness of the individual human being who is that whole that is more than the collection of parts of individual cells contributing their separate activities. Consciousness is what is created by the relationship between existence and intelligence, by the flow of Soma across the gap. For the sake of that great wholeness, Soma flows across the gap between intelligence and existence.

This brings the entire consideration of Soma into focus. The second word, patave, means to drink or quaff. Indra drinks the Soma and by drinking the Soma becomes strong. Consciousness becomes whole, becomes integrated. That is the fruit of the Soma, whose flow is drunk by the consciousness of the knower, the consciousness of the individual in whose body the protons are flowing across the gradient. It is significant that it is not the relationship itself which is drunk, but the flow in that relationship which is drunk, enjoyed by consciousness. The Soma is a liquid, it is a flow, an ever evolving flux of relationship, and that flow of relationship is enjoyed, not on its own level, but on a much higher level. Not on the level of the individual cell, but on the level of the wholeness of the collection of all the cells, there the fruit of the flow is enjoyed, there the Soma is tasted.

The final word sums up the entire discussion: sutah means pressed out. The sense is, for the sake of Indra to drink, the Soma is pressed out. The proton gradient, which is an abstract relationship between charges, which we have understood to have at its basis the abstract relationship between existence and intelligence, is pressed out. It is congealed, made into concrete form. It is squeezed out, pressed out by the action of the coupling factors. Intelligence and existence are squeezed together, compressed, expressed in this one highly useful molecule with its high energy bonds.

The rica concludes by this reference to the juice of the Soma the concrete, manifest expression of the abstract relationship between intelligence and existence. The Maharishi Apaurusheya Bhashya teaches us that the knowledge of the whole is contained in seed form in its first expression. In this first rica of the ninth mandala, the mandala progresses from its abstract pole, the fullness point, at the beginning, to its concrete pole, the emptiness point, at the mid-point after the 57th sukta and back again to fullness at the end of the 114th sukta, that the entire spectrum of human consciousness from sleep to Brahman consciousness and the entire hierarchy of human physiology from organ systems to the finest abstract relationship of energy and matter and all the values of relationship between the two, consciousness and physiology will be exhaustively mapped out. The seed for this immense tree of practical wisdom of life has been set forth in this one rica, which shows the relationship of existence and intelligence put to work for the development of consciousness. We have seen that the ancient Vedic seers have uncovered the knowledge of the fundamental relationship between existence and intelligence at the basis of the life of the cell and have called it Soma.

Footnotes and references:


Rigveda 8.43.11


Rigveda 9.67.28


Rigveda 8.9.19

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