By Swami Harshananda
Usage of Word Soma
The word ‘soma’ has been used in several senses. One of the common meaning is Candra or the deity Moon. He is the presiding deity of Somavāra or Monday and one of the Navagrahas or Nine Planets. In the Vedas, it has been used to indicate the soma-creeper and also its juice, somarasa, which is extensively used to offer as oblations in Somayāgas.
Appearance of Soma Creeper
The twigs of the creeper were brown or tawny in color and would hang down. It used to grow on hills and mountains. Hence it was difficult for ordinary people to obtain it. Probably some of the hill-tribes were experts in collecting these creepers and supplying them.
Making of Somarasa
Crushing the stalks of this creeper to extract the juice was also a part of Vedic ritualism. This was called ‘abhiṣava’ or ‘savana’. The stalks were probably kept immersed in water and then crushed with the stones called grāva and adri, The juice was then filtered in daśāpavitra into a vessel called droṇakalaśa.
Vessels Used for Somarasa
Camu was the name of the vessel containing the somarasa for gods. The vessels used by the priests for drinking it were called kalaśa and camasa. In Somayāgas, the savana or the extraction of the soma juice from the creepers was done thrice a day:
- Morning - prātasavana
- Noon - mādhyandina-savana
- Evening - tṛtīyasavana
Presiding Deities of Soma
The presiding deities of these were Indra, Maruts and Viśvedevas for the first, Indra alone for the second and the Ṛbhus for the third. The soma juice is sometimes mixed with milk or curds or barley. Then it is called gavāśira, daddhyāśira and yavāśira respectively. Soma is a highly exhilarating drink that induces tremendous energy. Indra is said to be very fond of it and also the gods to whom it is offered as libation.
Alternatives of Somarasa
It is not at all an intoxicating drink like liquor though, sometimes, prejudiced and ignorant Western scholars dub it so. Soma seems to have become a rare plant and gone out of vogue even by the time of the Vedic Brāhmaṇas. Hence several substitutes like extracts of phālguna plants, putikā stalks, dub plants and greenish kuśa grass have been prescribed.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore