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


How was Soma discovered? Who was its first user or discoverer? Why did he take to it, what was his urge? These. are the questions next indicated in our "proforma of conviction", devised for integrating all legitimate inquiries and weeding out hypothetical ones.
If we are to construct a history of Soma, beginning with it as a medicinal plant, we have to follow a chronological order. History is nothing if it is not chronological. It is obvious that the plant must have been discovered before its juice came to be appreciated as euphoriant and as energizer. Yet the present etymology of the word Soma identifies it as juice and not as plant. Moreover even before the plant, there was its discoverer and he would be best conceived as the product of his times. It was some urge that characterized the discoverer of Soma and it was the times, in which he lived, that created his urge. We must then begin with the times that made the seeker of Soma. The decisive question, why he looked for a plant like Soma or how he selected Soma amongest many other plants has never been taken up as a problem. As indicated before this information is required by our "proforma of conviction".
There are six conditions which may be looked upon as the gates of knowledge, being also those which enable us to remember an object. Although they are six but being bipolar they are three pairs of opposites; Beauty/ Ugliness; Universality/Rarity; Utility/Harmfulness. There is moreover a seventh condition, Relativity. If many are reduced to two, one is finally known in terms of the other, but left as one, this becomes unknowable. Relativity, as condition of knowledge, is well recognized and may not be discussed further. Let us then explain the other six conditions. If we come across a beautiful sight or an ugly object neither is forgotten. Then if we visit a new locality and find a particular plant distributed all over this region it will be remembered later on. In fact the art of advertisement thrives by the universality of announcements. As the inverse, if we are shown a postage stamp, the like of which does not exist any where, it sufficies for us not to forget it. Finally if a herb be shown as cure for headache and another as a poisonous plant both will be remembered equally well. Now of the above six conditions, utility is the most impressive and a useful object, is least likely to be forgotten. Now consider a drug having anti-malarial properties. Its value is highest in the case of a chronic malarial patient who has tried several remedies but found them to be useless. Here the drug and the patient would represent supply and demand the more specific the demand the more particular or powerful would be the drug in its properties. Turning to Soma, we want to know its intrinsic virtues which made it indispensable to its user. And, as indicated, we find that Soma was primarily valued as energizer and euphoriant. Thus Soma was like the Coca plant and the Khat of Yemen, capable of bestowing physical strength as also of promoting happiness. Once it proved to be indispensable it was extolled as a blessing and even as a deity. Now nothing appeals as real more than what proves to be useufl. A plant if it is an energizer and an euphoriant is decidedly useful. This would be a realistic approach to an object hitherto unknown. The traditional approach to the problem however looks for what is beautiful and universal about Soma. A representative of this traditional school would be Dr. B. Mukhopadhyay (1979). According to him (p.15) "Soma was originally looked upon as life-force of this universe" so that the first" question comes, what was the conception that the seers had in mind about the nature of Soma." By seers we might understood the composers of hymns in Rigveda. But they came centuries later than the first user. Looking at the situation in another way we find the stand-point here by-passes utility. Another author who does not assign the plant the first place in considering the Soma-cult is Taraporewala (1922). He, in fact, inverses it. According to him, "the Divinity of Haoma is mentioned in close connection with Haoma, the plant. In fact it would not to be too far wrong to say that he was responsible for introducing the Haoma cult among the Aryans and it is very likely that the plant used at the sacrificial ritual derived the name from him." Taraporewala was professor of comparative philology at Calcutta, but he wa a Zoroastrian by faith which explains his stand-point.

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

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