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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Soma: The Vedic Celebration of Life

The sages of the Rigveda do not oppose the Dionysian proclivities—in several hymns, they are imploring the gods for the good things in life: health, wealth, long life, prestige, and progeny. Their Dionysian concerns are most pronounced in their descriptions of the making and drinking of “Soma juice,” the elixir of the gods. The Soma plant is viewed as a god that has descended from heaven and made the mountain called Mount Mujavant its earthly abode. The hymns in Rigveda’s Mandala 9.74 and 10.94 provide an insight into the ritual of extraction and distillation of Soma juice from Soma plants. Even the gods crave for Soma juice because it carries assurances of immortality (Mandala 8.48 and 9.113). When the gods drink Soma juice, they become boastful. Here’s an excerpt from Mandala 10.119, which describes the gargantuan claims made by a god (probably Indra or Agni) after drinking Soma juice (translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1896): 

1. This, even this was my resolve, to win a cow, to win a steed: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

2. Like violent gusts of wind the draughts that I have drunk have lifted me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

3. The draughts I drank have borne me up, as fleet-foot horses draw a car: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

4. The hymn hath reached me, like a cow who lows to meet her darling calf: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

5. As a wright bends a chariot-seat so round my heart I bend the hymn: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

6. Not as a mote within the eye count the Five Tribes of men with me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

7. The heavens and earth themselves have not grown equal to one half of me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

8. I in my grandeur have surpassed the heavens and all this spacious earth: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

9. Aha! this spacious earth will I deposit either here or there: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

10. In one short moment will I smite the earth in fury here or there: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

11. One of my flanks is in the sky; I let the other trail below: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

12. 1, greatest of the Mighty Ones, am lifted to the firmament: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

13. I seek the worshipper's abode; oblation-bearer to the Gods: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

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