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 3(l) - Inter Relation of Somayaga with other Yagas

The basic ritual according to Vedic tradition is yajna. The word yaga also has the same meaning, a worship in the form of offering oblations or a sacrifice for the Gods. It is also defined as the tyaga, giving up or offering for any specific Deity or some Deities at the same time. It is a link between the Gods and the human beings. One has to find the ultimate truth also through ritual; the truth that is the centre and source of the yaga260.

The Vedic texts are interconnected with numerous rituals, their references and ceremonies. The Somayaga is an important yaga of the Vedic period. The earliest mention of Soma and Somayaga is to be found in the Rigveda which is the oldest of the Vedas. Thus there is no doubt that Somayaga is as old as our Vedic history. Yagas have formed an important part of Vedic worship since the very beginning of Vedic religion and culture. Somayaga is related with many other yagas. These are discussed below:

Somayaga is closely related to Diksaniyeshti. One desirous of performing any yaga had to perform the Diksaniyeshti first. By this ceremony the ritual was initiated or ordained. It was believed that he was reborn; it was his spiritual birth which released him of past sins and limitations. It was said that after this Initiation ceremony a Kshatriya became a Brahmana. It was only keeping off his own weapons and dress and by taking the garb of a Brahmana that a Rajanya had access to yaga. Like the Brahmana and the Vaisya, Kshatriya also is a yajniya but he has no right to partake of the oblations of yaga. Sudras are entitled neither to perform yagas nor to partake of the oblations there of. However, Somayaga or Agnishtoma is related to Dikshaniyeshti. There are twelve statras sung in the Dikshaniyeshti. The last statra is called Agnishtoma. Since the yaga ends with the Samavedic stotra styled Agnishtoma, the yaga is also called Agnishtoma. On the first day of the Agnishtoma yaga, the yajamana invites these priests and engages them for the performances promising sacrificial fees or dakshina. This is called Ritvika-varanam. 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. Hence by the performance of the Dikshaniyeshti or the initiation ceremony, the initiation to the yaga is completed. 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. This ceremony is performed along with the sacrificer and his wife goes to take ablution which marks the end of the Agnishtoma. The sacrificer and his wife cast away the garments which they have been putting on since Initiation ceremony and wear new garments handed over to them by the priest named Unneta. In general the Dikshaniyeshti is the right which is performed by the sacrificer and his wife before the Somayaga. The person to be initiated has to sit with his head covered with cloth and a skin of black antelope is tied to his garment. He is to sit in this condition in silence until night comes. He is to take cooked milk which is the food appropriated for the consecration. The loneliness, the silence, and the lack of food all these provided to the yaga a psychological effect.

Somayaga has also relation with Rajasuya yaga. The Rajasuya or inauguration of king is a religious ceremony which includes amongst other rites the performance of a number of Somayagas of different kinds. The Rajasuya is a complex ceremony which, according to Shrauta Sutra consists of a long succession of sacrificial performances, spread over a period of upwards of two years. It includes seven distinct Somayagas, viz. Pavitra, and an Agnishtoma as the starting yaga and followed by the Abhishecaniya, an Ukthya yaga, being the consecration or anointing ceremony. Then follows the Dashapeya, an Agnishtoma, so called because ten priests take part in drinking the Soma juice contained in each of the ten cups. After another year’s interval during which monthly offerings are made, takes place the Keshavapaniya or tonsure ceremony, an Atiratra yaga, followed after a month, by the Vyushti-Dviratra or two night ceremony and finally the Kshatradhriti or the ‘wielding of royal power’, an Agnishtoma performed a month later. The round of ceremonies terminates with the sautramani, an ishti, the object of which is to make amends for any excess committed in the consumption of liquor.

The Coronation ceremony is mentioned in the Atharvaveda and the different Brahmana texts. The Abhiseka or Abhisecaniy literally means sprinkling, as a main item of the ceremonyconsists in sprinkling the king with holy waters collected from different sacred rivers and seas. The Consecration ceremony consists of five days, viz. One Diksha (Initiation ceremony), three upasads and one sutya or Soma-day;the paeticular form of Somayaga being the Ukthya. The initiation or diksha is performed immediately after the expiration of the dark fortnight following the full moon of Phalguna on the first day of Caitra. The rites and rituals connected with this ceremony are best described in the Shatapatha Brahmana[1].

Darshapurnamaseshti has relation with Somayaga. Darshapurnamasa yagas are of special value as they form the model for all yagas of the type called Ishti. The yaga that is performed on full moon day and new moon day are called Darshapurnamaseshti. The yaga that is performed on new moon day is called Darsheshti and on full moon day Pournamaseshti is performed. On Darsheshti the yaga is performed for Agni and Indragni and on Pournamaseshti for Agni ana Agnisoma deities. If the yajamana has performed Somayaga than 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 necessarily after Agnyadheya yaga[2]. Four or generally sixteen or seventeen priests[3] thorough masters of the Vedas, neither too young nor too old, with clear and loud voice and physically fit are employed in it. It is performed in the spring season (Vasanta) every year on the amavashya or purnima days[4]. The ritual is assumed to be performed precisely as in the new and full moon offerings but with the distinction that some special rite is inserted in the place of the essential features of these offerings, which are at the full moon offering a cake for Agni and Soma and at the new moon offering a cake for Agni and Indra. Moreover, at the latter offering some authorities allowed a milk mess made of sweet and sour milk for Indra or Mahendra while others restricted this offering to one who offered the Soma ritual. On the first day the ceremonies were in the main preparatory, the making ready of the fires and taking of a vow by the yajamana, which involved abstinence from meat, sleeping on the ground, the cutting of hair and beard and so on. If the milk mess were to be offered on this day, a twig of Palasa or Sami wood was cut to drive away the calves from the cows, for the milking of the latter. The ceremonies of the second day consisted in the preparation of the rice, its pounding and husking the cooking of the cakes, the preparation of the altar, the girding of the wife of the yajamana, the looking at a pot of butter, the covering of the altar with the grais and the sitting up of the partitioning sticks which were intended to keep off evil spirits. At the end of these preliminaries the real ritual begins; first come fifteen Samidheni verses accompanying the laying on of kindling wood. The verses are joined into a single whole by the device of pausing after the first half verse of each. Then come two libation of the butter, doubtless in part at least necessary to make the fire burn brightly, between them comes the Pravara, the enumeration of the seers who were claimed as ancestors by the yajamana or if he were not a Brahmana by his Purohita and the invitation of the Gods, whom Agni is invoked to bring to the offering in the order in which they were to be honoured. After the second of these Agharas comes the formal choosing of the Hotri by the Adhvaryu on the authority of the Agnidhra, in which the ancestors of the yajamana are again named. The Hotri then touches the Adhvaryu and Agnidhra, in order doubtless to establish a community between them. Then come the fore-offering of butter to the kinding sticks, the God Tanunapat or Naracansa, the sacrificial food (ida), the Gods who have been invited to the offering and are now honoured. Then come the ajya offerings of butter for Agni and Soma, which at the new moon must be accompanied by verse containing the word vridh, ‘grow’, and at the full moon by verses referring to the slaying of Vritra. There follows a cake for Agni, a butter offering made in a low tone for Agni and Soma, and then the offering, to Agni and Soma at the full moon, to Agni and Indra, with or without a milk mess for Indra, at the new moon.The close of the offering is marked by an offering to Agni-Svishtakrit, ‘the maker of the ritual correct’, in which all Gods are invoked. Then comes the tasking of the offering by the priest, the Brahmana has a special portion, the Pracitra, the Agnidhra another, the Sadavatta and all the priests invoke the Ida, which is taken from all the offerings and while doing so, they touch the yajamana. Then the cakes are given to them, and thereafter each has apart of the Ida. The Fathers are invoked to take part, and the fees are given, in this case the Anvaharya mess cooked in the Dakshina fire, perhaps merely because of the name. The distribution of the fees is followed by the Anuyajas, to the strew, Naracansa and Agni Svishtakrit, and the Suktavaka, which concludes with an invocation of prosperity for the yajamana and a prayer; at the end of this prayer the Prastara or bundle of grass which is supposed to represent the yajamana, is put in the fire. Then comes the Camyuvaka, an invocation of prosperity, accompanied by the burning of the enclosing sticks. The remains are offered to the all Gods then follow four Patnisamyajas, offerings to the gods with the wives of the Gods, to Soma, Tvashtri, the wives of the Gods and Agni (Grihapati). The third is offered under a covering while the wife of the yajamana touches the Adhvaryu, the offerings are of butter and made in the Garhapatya fire. Then come minor rites to accompany the burning of the strew, and to make good defects, the Rakshasas are given the fragments which have been produced in the husking of the rice, the wife’s girdle is loosened and laid down, the yajamana in imitation of and assimilation to Vishnu strides three steps from the south hip of the altar ground, which is made to be like the shape of a woman, to the east, pays reverence to the Ahavaniya and Garhapatya and then lays aside his vow.The rite is to be performed all one’s life, or for thirty years, or for fifteen only, in which case the two offerings are to be conjoined: in the Darshayana form it is celebrated everyday for a year only, both forms being used. In the case of the first offering of the new and full moon ritual, the Anvarambhaniya Ishti is offered, which consists of a cake on eleven potsherds for Vishnu, a pap for Sarasvati, and a cake on twelve potsherds for Saraswati. It is offered as an independent rite on the first full moon day after the Agnyadhana and Agnihotria. Each new and full moon ritual can be followed by an offering to Aditi and to Indra Vaimridha, and the ritual can be followed by an offering to Aditi and to Indra Vaimridha and the ritual can be carried out with Soma if desired and so also the other Haviryajnas.

Pashuyaga is closely related with Somayaga. The Pashuyaga, one of the haviryajna, is differentiated as ishtavidha and samavidha; preparation of (pranita) waters and carrying it, making Vishnu steps, offering certain limbs of the victim[5]. The Pashuyaga is a part of the Somayaga and is performed on the day of the Soma pressing and offering. Among the seven haviryajnas the Pashuyaga is also separately mentioned as a kind of haviryajnas and is named as Pashubandha[6]. There are, however, two types: the independent Pashuyaga generally known as Nirudhapashubanda, which is called nirmita (made) and explained as svatantra[7] and the Pashuyaga belonging to Somayaga, Agnisomiya, Savaniya and Anubandhya. We get a short description of the Pashubandha in the Sat.Br.[8]. The Pashuyaga as a part of the Somayaga is, however, described in details by Shatapatha Brahmana.[9] Shatapatha Brahmana.explains the distinctive nature of the Pashuyaga as follows: ‘One Pashuyaga is of the haviryajna order and the other of the Pashuyaga. Of the haviryajna order is that at which he (the adhvaryu) brings him (the yajamana) the fast food leads water forward and pours out a jarful of water and at which (the yajamana) strides the Vishnus trides. The Pashuyaga of the order of the Somayaga is that at which these rights are not performed[10].

The successive scooping of the beverage are each followed by a stotra of the Udgatri and his acolyties succeeded by a shastra, a recitation of one of the hotri officiants; then libations of Soma are made and the Soma is drunk by yaga and officiants who invite each other to drink from each other’s cup. The increasing elaboration, from the simple ahuti to the full Somayaga, brings with it an increase in the number of officients, four in the Ishti, six in the Pashubandha and the full complement of sixteen (or seventeen) being reached in the Somayaga.

Several elements of the Agnihotra are correlated with elements of great Somayaga. Agnihotra is mentioned in the Atharvaveda and described in detail in the Yajurveda Samhita and the Shathapatha Brahmana. The yaga is performed by a Brahmin priest for his own or the benefit of a yajamana.

The yajamana cleanses the garhapatya fire that is the yaga of initiation. That he cleanses the southern fire and the ahavaniya that is the introductory yaga. That he lays pieces of firewood on the fire, those are the upashad rites. That he offers in the garhaptya that is the morning libation of Soma. That he offers in the southern fire that is the midday libation of Soma. That he offers in the ahavaniya fire that is the third libation of Soma. That the yajamana cleanses himself, that is the final bath (avabhritha). That he gives food, thereby the obtainment of the udayaniya and udavasaniya is intended.

Footnotes and references:


Shatapatha Brahmana. 5. 3; 5. 4


Ashvalayana Shrauta Sutra. 4. 1. 1-2,

Shatapatha Brahmana. 7. 1


Tan. Br. 1. 1.;

Apastamba Shrauta Sutra. 10. 1. 1;

Dra. Shrauta Sutra. 1. 1. 10


Apastamba Shrauta Sutra. 10. 2. 2. 5;

Ka. Shrauta Sutra. 7. 1. 4


Apastamba Shrauta Sutra 8. 28. 1


Gopatha Brahmana. 1. 5. 7


Ashvalayana Shrauta Sutra. 3. 8. 3


Shatapatha Brahmana. 11. 7. 1. 1


Shatapatha Brahmana. 3. 6. 4. 1


Shatapatha Brahmana. 11. 7. 2. 1

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