Saturday, August 25, 2007

Soma : Drink Of Gods?

The Gods have usually had superior drinks for themselves, the secret ingredients of which have generally not either been revealed to humans or even hinted at. For if everything was revealed, then the very source of such delights would get ravaged, as humankind bears testimony to such acts. One such drink that ancient Gods favoured in India was Soma.

I was surprised that a recent BBC documentary, ( The Story Of India, Michael Wood) traced the origin of Soma to Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan, where the tree or leaves that ultimately produce the drink were found millenia before. It seems that following a wave of migration, this tree might have been or its seeds transported first to Northwest Hindukush mountains by people who started calling themselves Aryans. After sometime, the Aryans moved eastward, down and along the great Indian river Ganges and the plant seems not to have survived, because of humidity. Thus some origin of certain practices like drinking Soma might have originated elsewhere, in Central Asia and adopted or taken away by migrants.

The great Rigveda mentions it and it seems its writers or those who collected the hymns actually would drink good amounts of soma, for it would allay anxieties, heighten perception and improve more intelligent thought. The Hindu God Indra, God of thunder and rain, was used to drinking huge amounts of Soma, but being a God, it seemed to affect him less than other ordinary mortals. The Greek Ambrosia might be the Indian Soma, though interestingly, Soma does not seem to have survived in later day Hindu culture. It is interesting to note the more Central Asian origins of Soma and its migration westwards, giving the entire region a common Godly drink, something for its present day sons to mull over! Soma also has got aphrodisiac qualities. It seems to contain poppy, cannabis and ephedrine, and the latter will naturally lead to more sympathetic effects, for I understand it has cardiorespiratory effects. Others claim that it contains amanita muscarina, deadly mushroom.

Soma seems to be hallucinogenic and no wonder it was needed for more delicate and heroic thought. The whole history of mysticism is one unending convulsion followed by another, perpetuated by deep thought and spurred by Ambrosia, Soma, hallucinogens and so on. I am not sure if intoxicants are allowed in the Hindu faith but it would be a paradox if it was not so, for awareness of Gods was enhanced through mediums like Soma in more godly times. I am not sure what Manna was composed of, God granting it to Moses and Moses to his puerile disbelievers. The mention of manna is there in the Quran too, as food providing sustenance for the Israelites in the morning and Quails in the evening. More modern research has suggested that manna might have contained magic mushrooms or be akin to Soma. These are however pure speculatory ideas. Imagine many a King or sage refusing a heavenly drink! It would refute the very idea of benevolent shadow hood of God on earth.

The partaking of Soma was generally led to lead to the flowing of the rivers of poetry and deeper understanding of the heart; making it known as the God of speech, the elixir of life. Substitute it for inspiration and we have the same theme, minus ephedrine, minus palpitations and minus real poetic worth. We all do need intoxicants from time to time, of ego, of pride, of money and little useless fame, of the jingle of youth and the promise of sun, of worth, of ambition, of sterile desire. It seems that the primeval Gods were cleverer, for they knew the source of inspiration, and being perhaps politically incorrect, they snapped at it and drank it. How interesting it would have been to live then!

To end, I was just wondering where the sources of strength and inspiration come from, and more celestial powers need them too. A poet needs rhythm and beauty in verse, a writer of prose needs besides inspired talent, patience. Writing thus becomes a heavenly kind of trade. And it is then that man, sundered and thrown down, guilty and helpless, looks at the moon, fills the cup brimming with Soma and picks up the pen.

25 comments:

Alok said...

You are right in comparing it to Greek ambrosia, the secret drink of the Gods. It is interesting how there are these parallels in every culture. I sometimes think they must have plagiarised from each other!! :)

There is no injunction on intoxicants in hinduism (but then hindus dont have any standard book of laws either) and there is a long tradition of using narcotics for "spiritual" purposes, to break away from the confines of ordinary perception.

KUBLA KHAN said...

I noticed the resemblances between soma and ambrosia, maybe even manna.
profound differences or so similiar, people?

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea. To be honest comparison to the idea of ambrosia makes me think rather of that over heavenly liquid; Amrita

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