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Books - The History and Natural History of Ephedra as SOMA
Written by S. Mahdihassan   


Commentators of Soma maintain that it became obsolete and unavailable. The Aryans in India had gradually moved eastward and ephedra does not grow in the mainland of India. But Soma was primarily a domestic drink consumed thrice daily, and only secondarily, and occasionally, used in the Noma ceremony. If Soma plant was substituted by other herbs in rituals, what then was the substitute for Soma as the daily drink? Here authorities are unanimously silent. However, the explanation here is simple enough. With . the change of pastoral life into that of agriculture, the demand for over-exertion had ceased, so that an energizing drink was no longer needed. It is strange that while Soma of Vedic Aryans is compared with Haoma of Iranians none considers that even in Iran Haoma is no longer the domestic drink that was formerly consumed twice daily. In Iran ephedra is commonly available so that if the plant went out of domestic use this was because the Aryans there had taken to agriculture while Haoma had been the drink of pastoral nomads. Haoma was always available. Thus with the absence of demand followed the absence of the use of Soma drink. And for ritual the plant was easily substituted by other herbs in India. Now for the support of the idea by some that Soma was not used because it was not available even during the period of Rigveda, and it had to be substituted by some other plants, they cite to verse, 10.85.3 which says "One thinks, when they have brayed the plant, that he hath drunk the Soma's juice. Of him whom Brahmans truly know as Soma, no one ever tastes." Griffith's translation. As typical explanation Wasson (1968; 14) comments that, "This verse and the late hymn of which it forms a part, may have been composed at the very moment when the original Soma had fallen into disuse, when only priests still remembered what it was and when substitutes were currently accepted as the genuine article." This clearly implies that even during Rigveda times the genuine Soma had become obsolete. On the contrary, two independent facts can be affirmed, contradicting this contention. Firstly, during this period, the Aryans had remained pastoral people and they had not moved eastward and, secondly, they had been consuming Soma drink thrice daily. The above verse from Rigveda has not been correctly interpreted. Let us now take the very next verse to it, 10.85.4. This says "Soma, secured by sheltering rules, guarded by hymns in Brihati. Thou standest listening to the stones: None tastes of thee who dwells on earth." If, according to the former verse", no one ever tastes" the genuine Soma because the plant was replaced by others,then according to the very next verse, "none tastes of thee who dwells on earth." Soma had become a drink of immortality and as such, a drink conferring immortality cannot be tasted to acquire the same while one dwells on earth." To drink it in reality is to become immortal which is possible only in the next world. The early thinker looked upon such an entity as Soma, as concrete and also as abstract, with some qualities immediately recognized while others by deffered action, fully revealing in the distant future. Such a dual natured belief did characterize most primitive thinkers. Radin (1957;262) has clearly expounded it. He writes that "among the Dakota (Red Indians) the priests taught that one can never see the sky but merely one aspect of him the blue heavens. Similarly we can never see the earth or rock but only their divine semblance." Likewise the Aryan merely tasted Soma served as a sweetened drink, while he can never consume it as the drink of immortality living_ on this earth, and Soma was nothing if it was not a drink of immortality. This explains that "none tastes" Soma, according to verse 10.85.3 and clearer still, "no one tastes (Soma) who dwells on earth", 10.85.4 for he becomes immortal only in heaven.
We have explained that Soma, as ephedra, in potentially red and obviously ever-green or perennial. Redness is incorporated in so far as its berries are red and its pith is red-ochre in colour. Belonging to the pine family it is ever-green. Those Aryans who entered Iran learnt from the Balylonians of the existence of the indegenous plant, the pomegranate tree. If ephedra bore red berries the pomegranate fruit was full of blod red seeds. And the plant was also ever-green. Thus in every way pomegranate was better than ephedra. Hence for making fire ever-burning or for consecrating it the pomegranate was considered superior which accordingly replaced ephedra. But neither the fruit juice nor the extract of the twigs had any energizing properties so that here ephedra continued to hold its original position as supplier of the drink. This explains how in Iran ephedra continued to supply the original Hoama drink, but for consecrating fire it was substituted by pomegranate, now called Baresman. In India there was no pomegranate nor any plant with such bright red edible seeds. Hence for consecrating fire and also as source of drink the Hindus retained ephedra. These two uses continued to remain as long as Rigveda was being composed.
But soon after the time of Satapatha Brahmana the Aryans in India had moved for eastwards. But the plant was still required for rituals. In the mainland ephedra does not grow. It had to be brought from some distance and then cart-loads to last for some time. Here Sat. Br. (Eggeling 1886;79) states, "Cart carrying Soma has a piece of wood fasltened to the back of cart to prevent its running backwards when going up hill. "Incidentally this unequivocally speaks of the natural product being required in a relatively large amount to last for a long time for rituals. Such would be the case with a plant like ephedra. No mushroom would be collected in cart-loads Later it was felt expedient to substitute ephedra by other plants and save all the trouble of procuring Soma from a great distance. It must be understood that this was some centuries after Rigveda had been completed.

Our valuable member S. Mahdihassan has been with us since Sunday, 24 March 2013.

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