Soma

Because the Soma sacrifice was at the heart of the RV ritual, the god Soma is one of the most prominent deities. With over 120 hymns addressed to him (all in Mandala ix, and about a half-dozen in others), he ranks second only to Agni (i. 1). Because the plant and its juice are constantly present in the poet's mind, his anthropomorphism is less developed than that of India or Varuna.

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Soma wields terrible and sharp weapons in his hand, including a bow and a thousand-pointed shaft. He has a heavenly car drawn by a team similar to Vayu's. He is also said to share a car with Indra. He is the best charioteer there is. As a dual divinity, he is associated with Indra, Agni, Pusan, and Rudra in about a half-dozen hymns. The Maruts, Indra's close allies, occasionally accompany him. He arrives at the sacrifice and accepts the offerings on the sacred grass.

The intoxicating Soma juice is often referred to as mádhu or sweet draught, but it is most commonly referred to as ndu the bright drop. Soma is brown (babhr), ruddy (aruná), or, more commonly, tawny (hári). The entire ninth book consists of incantations chanted over the tangible Soma, while the stalks are pounded by stones and the juice flows into wooden vats, where it is offered to the gods on the litter of sacred grass (barhs). In an infinite number of variations, these processes are overlaid with perplexed and mystical imagery. The pressing stones used to crush the shoot (ams) are known as ádri or grávan. The pressed juice that flows clear after passing through a sheep's wool filter is known as pávamana or punaná.

This purified (unmixed) Soma is sometimes referred to as suddhá pure, but it is more commonly referred to as sukrá, or sci bright; it is almost exclusively offered to Vayu or India. The filtered Soma is poured into jars (kalása) or vats (dróna), where it is mixed with water and milk, which sweetens it. This addition of water and milk is referred to as mrj cleansing. Soma has three types of admixture (asr): milk (gó), sour milk (dádhi), and barley (yáva). Soma is described as 'decked with beauty,' referring to the admixture as a garment or bright robe. Soma is pressed three times a day: the Rbhus are invited to the evening pressing, Indra to the midday pressing, which is solely for him, and the morning libation is his first drink. The three abodes (sadhástha) of Soma mentioned are most likely three tubs used in the ritual.

Soma's admixture-induced connection with the waters manifests itself in a variety of ways. He is the drop that grows in the waters; he is the waters' embryo or child; they are his mothers or sisters; he is the lord and king of streams; he produces waters and causes heaven and earth to rain. The sound produced by the trickling Soma is frequently alluded to in hyperbolic usage, with verbs meaning to roar, bellow, or even thunder. He is thus commonly called a bull among the waters, which figure as cows. Soma is also swift, often compared to a steed or a bird flying through the woods. Soma's brilliance is the physical aspect most emphasised by the poets due to his yellow colour. He is then frequently compared to or associated with the sun.

Soma's exhilarating power led to its reputation as a divine drink bestowing immortal life. As a result, it is known as amrta draught of immortality. All the gods drink Soma in order to gain immortality; it grants immortality not only to gods but also to men. It also has medicinal properties: Soma heals whatever is ailing, allowing the blind to see and the lame to walk. Soma is also known as the "Lord of Speech" because it stimulates the voice. He arouses eager thought: he is a hymn writer, a poet's leader, and a seer among priests. As a result, his wisdom is much pondered; he is a wise seer, and he knows the races of the gods.

The poets emphasise Soma's intoxicating effect as the stimulus it provides to Indra in his conflict with hostile powers. Innumerable passages mention Soma energising Indra for the fight with Vrtra. Through this association, Indra's warlike exploits and cosmic actions are independently attributed to Soma. He is a battle-hardened victor who was born to fight. As a warrior, he obtains various types of wealth for his worshippers.

Though Soma is described as dwelling or growing on the mountains (similar to Haoma in the Avesta), his true origin and abode are described as being in heaven. Soma is heaven's child, heaven's milk, and heaven's purification. He is the lord of heaven; he resides in heaven, and his abode is in the highest heaven. He was then brought to Earth.

This belief is embodied in the myth of the eagle bringing Soma to Indra, which is discussed in detail in hymns iv. 26 and 27. Soma is said to have been born as the lord (páti) of plants, who also have him as their king; he is a lord of the wood (vánaspáti), and has created all plants. Apart from his connection with herbs, Soma is referred to as a king, as are other leading gods: he is a king of rivers, a king of the entire earth, a king or father of the gods, and a king of gods and mortals. Soma begins to be mystically identified with the moon in a few of the most recent RV hymns; in the AV. Soma several times means the moon; and in the Brahmanas this identification has already become commonplace.

We know that the preparation and offering of Soma (the Avestan Haoma) was already an important feature of Indo-Iranian worship. It is stated in both the RV. and the Avesta that the stalks were pressed, that the juice was yellow, and was mixed with milk; in both it grows on mountains, and its mythical home is in heaven, from which it descends to earth; in both the Soma draught has become a mighty god.

The belief in an intoxicating divine beverage, the home of which was in heaven, may have originated during the Indo-European period. It must have been considered a type of honey mead (Skt. mádhu, Gk. methu, Anglo-Saxon medu) at the time. Soma (= Haoma) is derived from the root su (= Av. hu) press and means pressed juice.

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