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 2(b) - Medicinal Power of Soma

Soma is the name of one of the most sacred plants of the ancient world. The drink made from this divine herb was known not only as a panacea but also for its powers of rejuvenation and increasing longevity. Soma also gave its consumer paranormal abilities and a direct experience of immortality. Soma was a unique psychoactive and visionary elixir. The divine Soma drink was said to induce luminous ecstatic states that enhanced paranormal abilities. Consuming the drink induced the experience of inner light, which led to the development of an interior body of light or energy that was coextensive with a subtle universe behind matter. This subtle universe was conceived as the root cause and precursor of our physical universe. It was through the development of this spiritual body of light that human first gained immortality. The ritual use of the Soma drink was believed not only to rapidly aid in the spiritual development of this invisible immortal energy body, but to be the actual origin of the knowledge of such a body’s existence.

The therapeutic effectiveness of the ancient world’s use of sacred plants stems from the combination of medicinal compounds that work in a variety of ways upon the physical body with other psychoactive compounds that induce certain types of altered states of consciousness. The results of these combinations can have profound effects on the physical body, altering consciousness so as to induce it to use the body’s own healing systems. The ancient Soma ceremony is a type of medicinal ritual;it uses a sacred plant or plants to heal, rejuvenate, regenerate, induce paranormal affects and gain a lasting experience of immortality.

The original Soma plant and the various drinks that were prepared from it, along with its accompanying ritual, must be classified as inducing an entheogenic experience in the consumer based upon the description in the Rigveda. The unusual experiences mentioned in association with Soma are connected with divine ecstasy and these experiences are markedly different from hallucinations. Any plant that can induce an ecstatic state that leads to an expansion of consciousness of the divine could, by definition, be called entheogenic. All of the experiences described for Soma inebriation in the Rigveda can be attributed to ecstatic states. These ecstasies lead to paranormal activity and healing, which are not associated with mental illusions. Thus the term hallucination does not fit the experiences that are attained through the consumption of Soma as described in the Rigvedic hymns.

The consumption of the Soma drink helped priests come into contact, through the medium of light, with the Deity Soma, experienced as an inner radiant ecstasy. By the internal seeing of the luminous amrita, one was said to gain that amrita. The experience of the abode of Soma, which was a pure realm of light beyond the material universe.

In the Rigveda, the Soma drink induces effects that are called madana, madyati, in Vedic Sanskrit, which can be translated into English as ecstasy or rapturous joy, inspiration, heightened awareness and exhilaration respectively. These ecstatic effects were known to bestow holiness and the experience of immortality, moving consciousness into direct contact with the luminous nature of being. This ecstatic effect of Soma inebriation appears to have been the mechanism that mediated all other experiences and effects known to have been obtained from the consumption of Soma. The Rigveda says that Soma, when united with the heart, produces the ecstatic vision, an ecstasy that brings expansion beyond this world, a perception of vastness surpassing both heaven and earth[1]. Many hymns describe profound ecstatic states that come about through ingesting Soma juice, producing the experience of joy and bliss. In other hymns, Soma is referred to as the inspiring drink; Soma drinkers say “Let us drink Soma and become ecstatic, let us drink of the ecstasy that is Soma”, the Gods are said to imbibe ecstasy and the exhilarating nourishment of Soma, and priests become like the Gods after drinking Soma[2].

Both the bliss induced by Soma and Soma itself are referred to as madhu, nectar, which is the source of the madhu-vidya or honey doctrine. By drinking Soma, the God Indra enters a state of divine ecstasy and the hymns say that it was in this ecstatic state that Indra created the entire cosmos. The Maruts, who are Deities that help Indra are said to drink in the ecstasy of Soma. And it is through these deep ecstatic states that the priest, identifying with Indra, leaves his physical body and ascends to the dome of the sky beyond this world[3].

Soma, the plant with high medicinal properties is used in rejuvenation, vajikaranam and vitality and it acts as a stimulant and not a hallucinogen. It gives longevity of life and it protects from diseases and death. The plant is used as drug in heart diseases and psycho Soma tic disorders. One of the main contributions of Soma plant is believed to be its use in rasayana chikitsa (the science of potency) that is Kayakalpa chikitsa, the ‘kaya’ means body and ‘kalpa’ means treatment, completing rejuvenating the body with the juice of holy herb. The process of aging causes the body to lose its juices and fluids and therefore, wither. With the help of rasayana, one can retain, regain or enhance one’s youth, strength, stamina and health, virility[4].

Soma is also credited with powers of life extension as well as the regeneration of various parts of the physical body. Along with its power to renew and even create life, Soma is said to be able to sustain that life perpetually as long as one continues to drink it. Thus the Vedic Gods maintain their immortality by consuming Soma. The hymns say the nourishing; life renewing Soma bestows new life on the aged and gives long life. To those who have found its hidden light, Soma gives magical power, expansion of consciousness and eternal life: ‘The worlds expand to him who from before time found light to spread the law of life eternal’. By drinking Soma, the sages have become immortal[5].

The Soma drink was considered the most effective of all medicinal preparations. The Soma drink was an elixir that worked both psychoactive 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[6]. The use of the expressed juice of a Soma plant the lord of all medicinal herbs is followed by rejuvenation of the system of its user and enables him to witness ten thousand summers on earth in the full enjoyment of a new youthful body. Such a person bears a charmed life against fire, water poison and weapon and develops a muscular energy in his limbs which would be in no way inferior to the combined strength of a thousand excited rutted elephants, of the bhadra class (which are the most ferocious and irresistible) in their sixtieth year, equipped with such an excellent physique, he can easily and without any opposition cross the kshiroda (ocean) and go up to the abode of Shakro (the king of the Gods) and roam to the extreme confines of Uttara (northern) Kuru or to any other place he likes, He is invested with a beauty of frame which belongs to Kandarpa (the god of love) and his complexion (luster) vies with the beams of the full moon. The presence of such a beautiful man gladdens the hearts of all and the entire Veda with all their allied branches of knowledge instinctively down upon his consciousness. Like the Gods, he knows no failure in life and rooms about in the world in the full glory of divine majesty.

Soma protects the body, preserves from accident, removes illness, banishes trouble, gives joy and comfort, prolongs life, speeds to riches, scares away the powers of darkness, averts hostility, preserves from the wrath and malice of enemies, gives exhilaration, inflames and illumines, gives good thoughts, makes one think one is rich, appeases the anger of the gods and makes immortal.

Soma is said to heal eye diseases and give clearer sight. It heals the crippled by uniting and knitting their joints back together[7]. It initiates regeneration and replaces dislocated dimbs[8]. Soma prolongs one’s life soan[9] and it also replenishes one’s store of vital strength and gives the ability to beget many children through its aphrodisiacal and virility enhancing effects[10]. The juice of the Soma plant and the Soma mixtures were thought to have more magical potency than any other medicinal herb or plant mixtures on the earth.

Soma is the medicine for a sick man. Hence the God Soma heals whatever is sick, making the blind to see and the lame to walk[11]. Soma is the guardian of men’s bodies and occupies their every limb[12], bestowing length of life in this world[13]. He prolongs one’s life span and it also replenishes one’s store of vital strength and gives the ability to beget many children through its aphrodisiacal and virility enhancing effects. The juice of the Soma plant and the Soma mixtures were thought to have more magical potency than any other medicinal herb or plant mixtures on the earth. The Soma draught is even said to dispel sin from the heart, to destroy falsehood and to promote truth.

Soma bestows not only long life but also immortality. It bestows on him who drinks in the hope of being there where his ancestors are just as in his battles against Vritra, Indra himself acquires the strength through Soma[14], so does the prince, to whose Soma ritual Indra comes, gain the power to strike his enemies. The drink removes the sin from the heart and takes away the disease from the weak, for it is medicine for the infirm. It encourages truth and destroys untruth.

It bestows upon its worshippers the best of the worlds, namely the celestial world. It is medicine and confers health and longevity, victory over the attacks of the enemies; it elevates the hearts of the poor as well as of the rich. Soma is a medicine which gives health, long life and removes death. The wondrous virtues of the Soma drink do not end with its paranormal, rejuvenating and medicinal effects; it also gives its consumed immortality. During the Soma ceremony the Soma pas proclaims that they have drunk Soma and become immortal. Soma juice has a numerous array of medicinal benefits as well as significant psychoactive effects on the central nervous system. Soma could be a stimulant or even a strong sedative but it was also an entheogen that induced both interior and external light phenomena. A fairy large variety of psychoactive and medicinal compounds would be needed for the Soma drink to accomplish everything revealed in the hymns.

Footnotes and references:


Rigveda 10.119.8


Rigveda 1.165.15


Rigveda 5.40.4; Rigveda 8.14.7; Rigveda 9.7.7; Rigveda 9.8.1


Rigveda 9.66.21


Rigveda 9.94.4


Rigveda 8.48.11; Rigveda 8.72.17; Rigveda 8.79.2; Rigveda 10.25.11; Rigveda 10.97.18


Rigveda 10.25.11


Rigveda 8.20.26


Rigveda 1.136.6; Rigveda 9.106.8


Rigveda 1.126.6; Rigveda 1.136.6; Rigveda 6.4.8; Rigveda 8.83.5; Rigveda 10.25.8; Rigveda 10.144.5; Rigveda 8.91.1; Rigveda 8.31.5


Rigveda 10.25.11


Rigveda 8.48.9


Rigveda 1.91.6; Rigveda 8.48.4; Rigveda 8.48.7; Rigveda 9.4.6; Rigveda 9.91.6


Rigveda 8.92.17

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