|The Secret of the Soma Plant||| Print ||
|Written by David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva)|
| The Secret of the Soma Plant|
By David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)
Note: the following article is based upon Dr. Frawleys extensive study of Vedic texts in the original Sanskrit and his work with Ayurveda and herbs.
Soma is a great deity, cosmic power and spiritual principle in Vedic thought. It also had its counterpart in the plant kingdom. There has been a long search for the identity of the original Soma plant was and several plants have been proposed as representing it.
My view - based upon more than thirty years of study of the Vedas in the original Sanskrit, as well as related Ayurvedic literature - is that the Soma plant was not simply one plant, though there may have been one primary Soma plant in certain times and places, but several plants, sometimes a plant mixture and more generally refers to the sacred usage of plants. Soma is mentioned as existing in all plants (RV X.97.7) and many different types of Soma are indicated, some requiring elaborate preparations. Water itself, particularly that of the Himalayan rivers, is a kind of Soma (RV VII.49.4). In Vedic thought, for every form of Agni or Fire, there is also a form of Soma. In this regard, there are Somas throughout the universe. Agni and Soma are the Vedic equivalents of yin and yang in Chinese thought.
Some modern scholars emphasize the plant ephedra (Ma huang in Chinese herbalism) as being the main Soma plant and connect it with Afghanistan and Iran, where ephedra is a common plant. They note that ephedra was the main Soma plant of the Persians. Ephedra commonly grows in different places in India even today, and is sometimes Somalata. So we can argue it has been one of the Soma like plants, but it does not appear to have been the only type, nor does it resemble the characteristics of the primary Soma plants described in the Rig Veda.
Soma is part of a vast watery and oceanic symbolism of Soma in the Rig Veda. The Rig Veda describes Soma as a watery plant, growing near water (RV VIII.91.1) and as flowing with a milky juice gained by crushing the plant. Ephedra, on the other hand, is a dry plant with very little juice.
Other scholars propose that the original Soma was the Amanita muscari mushroom, which is used by many shamans, particularly in Siberia. While I cannot say for certain that this mushroom was not a kind of Soma for some people, the Vedic Somas are described in very different ways. The Soma plant is described with leaves, which mushrooms do not have, and is often said to grow in water. Sharyanavat, the main Rig Vedic Soma land also refers to a lake and means ‘abounding with reeds', with shara (Saccharum sara) being a type of reed related to sugarcane. Shara was mainly used to make arrows and was sacred to both Agni and Soma. Another later great Soma land of Munjavat also means ‘abounding with reeds' with munja being a type of reed related to the same plant as Shara and considered to be the best of the Somas. This again shows Soma growing in marshy or aquatic areas and being some sort of reed.
Some scholars have gone so far as to identify Soma with the sugar cane, another Saccharum species cultivated in ancient India.