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


Kapadia (p.20) regrets that, "no pen picture or a vivid description of the process of preparation is laid at the disposal of the reader." But this is what was actually expected from a proper study of Rigveda. When we turn to Agni our position with regard to it is even worse. Yet Max Willer was able to show how the ordinary kitchen fire gradually rose in estimation until it became god Agni. In our case, not to know the plant is not to be sure how it was treated to produce the juice. This changes once we know the plant is ephedra. It is a plant, to use the words of Rigveda, possessing "thousand boughs" or numerous stalks. Such a plant growing in the fields would accumulate dust enough for it to pass along with the juice through whatever filter was used and thus pollute the juice. To prevent this, the plant as collected, had to be washed in a vat, full of water. Once washed the material could be stored as required. However, drying would result on storage and if dried stalks are crushed there would result enough powder or fine plant - particles escaping through the filter again, to contaminate the juice. To prevent these two impurities, sand and plant-particles contaminating the juice, proper precautions had to be taken. Thus the material to be crushed was moistened enough for it to become soft. Then it was either sprinkled with water to soften it, or dipped in water, in case the stalks were very dry. The idea was to crush or bruise the stalk, to deliver its juice, not to mince it to produce powder. In other words the material had to be soft or wet and crushing had to be controlled correspondingly.
Now Soma was consumed thrice a day. Morning and noon fresh material was used. The crushed stalks however still contained some ephedrine and, as bagasse, were allowed to remain soaked in water and thereby to swell. By evening these swollen stalks were crushed to provide drink. Thus the materials used earlier during the day were relatively hard and dry, while what was crushed in the evening, as bagasse, was soft and swollen. Then the same kind of crushing could not obviously apply to materials differing in hardness. If the same procedure were followed, then the swollen stalks, already partly crushed, would now be over-crushed and produce finn plant-particles challenging filtration. I am aware of such a problem from the sugar industry. When the cane is over-crushed, fine plant-particles are produced, which accumulate on the filter cloth and prevent proper filtration. It is therefore, feasible to crush less powerfully, when the plant particles would be relatively large and would not clog the filter cloth. However, in this case, the cane-bagasse would be left with more sugar. Likewise, when Soma stalks are somwhat poorly crushed the ephedrabagasse would be left with some ephedrine unextracted but the juice would not contain fine plant particles. It is such a case which is implied when Kapadia (p.37) observes that, "it was not possible to completely exhaust the stalk when pressed (between stone). Some juice is bound to remain in it. It was then immersed in water for swelling and the plant, in this process, is called Apayamana." Thus we have to consider:-
1. Washing plant stalks freshly brought from the field.
2. Crushing stalks softened by sprinkling with water.
3. Recrushing previously used stalks (bagasse) soaked in water and allowed to swell.
Item: 1. removes filterable sand.
Item: 3. Safeguards the danger of producing
filtrable fine plant particles.
For crushing an oxhide was used. On it were placed two flat stones for crushing the twigs, the stones functioning like anvil and hammer. To their left were placed the stalks to be crushed. We can visualize the size of these stones as about one foot across. This we do on the basis of knowledge that the crushing stones were substituted later on by a mortar and pestle. Normally a mortar would not be longer than one foot, with its inner cavity of about nine inches. This also means that the stalks would need to be reduced to pieces about nine inches long or less. In this connection Kapadia (p.11) writes that, "the Soma was having joints (which charcaterizes the plant as ephedra) and the stalk was cut into covenient pieces as long as the udder of a cow by press stones RV.I0.101.10." I was unable to confirm the sense indicated in this verse on consulting Griffith's translation, but can otherwise grant that the width of the cow's udder would be about six inches. The width of the cow's udder when full of milk would be some nine inches. This would also be the length of the concavity in a large mortar. Kapadia (p.8) further writes that, "the stalks were placed on the cow's hide.... (which also served as the seat for the lower stone) and the stalks were taken one by one for pressing." There is no text to support such a procedure which would not only be time consuming but also likely to produce enough powder to contaminate the juice with plant particles. Probably several pieces of cut-out stalks were crushed together. Such stalks would be bruised rather than minced. The crushed material was transferred into a vat with just enough water to soak it. It is here that the bruised stalks are macerated between hands and the juice really extracted. Crushing or pressing the plant gives the juice. However it was not possible to extract all the ephedrine and the extracted juice was separated and the crushed stalks, or ephedra bagasse, allowed to remain soaked in fresh water. The first crushing, was done in the morning and a similar crushing at noon. The ephedra-bagasse from the above two pressings, now as swollen stalks, were recrushed in the evening. If such stalks are pounded by themselves, they would get over-crushed and dust-fine plant material would result. To prevent this, barley grains were mixed. Hammering between stones would allow the pressure to be borne by the harder material, the barley grains, while the swollen stalks would suffer less and yield larger particles which would be retained by the filter. And if barley powder passes along with the juice it becomes a welcome additive in the drink. Now crushing the stalks may cause some juice to escape and collect on the hide. It would therefore be necessary to remove the crushing stones and collect the juice to be found on the hide and decant it into the vat where the crushed stalks were macerated. After the stalks had been macerated in the wooden vat the juice proper was obtained and passed over a sheep skin with long fleece. This served as the filter over which small quantities of the juice were poured with a laddle or small cup. Now this filter was the same as used for collecting gold particles from river beds. In the latter case, gold particles remained on the fleece. In the case of crushed Soma plant its particles were retained by the fleece. Later on wollen cloth was substituted for the fleece-skin. Even long wool held at one end of a container and the juice decanted through served as filter, the filtrate being collected in a bucket. This account takes us from the plant to the filtered juice. The unfiltered juice is called Rasa and the filtered one Pavaka. The Soma-bagasse or stalks crushed once and requiring recrushing would be Rijisha. We may now return to Rigveda for confirming what has been hypothesized above on the assumption that Soma was ephedra.
1. Washing the plant: RV.9.62.6. clearly says: Fair is the god loved juice; the plant is washed in waters pressed by men, the milch kine sweeten it with milk. 9.2.4. The mighty waters, Yea the floods, accompany thee, Mighty one, when thou wilt clothe thee with milk. 8.2.2., Washed by the man pressed out with stones. 9.72.4 washed by the men, stone pressed clear on the holy grass. 8.82.22 to waters speeds the restless one (the dust laden Soma plant for being washed).
8.82.23. Indra was sent Soma with might unto the cleansing bath. 9.3.6. This god dives into waters and bestows rich gifts upon the worshipper. Griffith comments to the effect that the above process merely indicates sprinkling the stalks with water. The text uses the word "dives", which indicates dipping the stalks into water and again taking them out. It may be argued that the verb "dives" in the text, refers to ephedra-baggase being left submerged in water for the evening crushing. Now the subject is god. The text says "god dives" and god would be the who).- uncrushed plant and not the mutilated bagasse. Thus the above verse clearly speaks of washing the whole plant or washing Soma, the god.
2. Spilt juice collects on ox-hide. 9.70.7 Soma, assumes his seat in the well-fashioned place; the cow hide, and the sheep skin, are his ornaments (accessories).
3. Macerating the crush stalks.
9.80.4: The men, the ten fingers, milk thee out for gods with thousand flowing streams.
4. Crushing and recrushing the stalks: RV. 9.2.3. says: "the well loved meath was made to flow, the stream of the creative juice. The sage drew waters to himself." Griffith comments that "Sage: Soma: Waters: with which the stalks are sprinkled." Sprinkling the stalks would soften them. Verse 10.85.5. says: "When they begin to drink thee, then, 0 God, thou swellest out again." Griffith comments upon it but over-looks that, Soma is made to swell again, when its stalks "being to drink." It refers to the second crushing as bagasse. 9.74.5: "The Soma stalk hath roared, following with the vave: he swells with sap for man, the skin which gods enjoy." 9.86.44 says "the juice is flowing onward like a mighty stream. He glideth like a serpent from his old skin." When Soma-bagasse had been made to swell and crushed large plant particles were left as filaments. The juice is poetically depicted as a serpent, which leaves its old skin, here the large plant particles. 8.9.19. says, "When the swollen stalks are milked like cows with (full) udders." This is the translation of the above verse in Wasson's book on Soma, p.43. Strange enough, the term "Swollen stalks" is rendered by Griffith as "Yellow stalks" when the words in Sanskrit as given by Wasson are "Apitaso amsavo." Apitaso should be "swollen", not yellow, which is Griffith's rendering. And to induce the stalks to swell they had to be properly soaked. Accordingly R.V.9.108.7. says, "press ye and pour him like a steed speeding through flood who swims in water, roars in wood." In Athervaveda 12.3.20 we read , "Grasp ye the stalks and in your hands retain them, let them be watered and again be winnowed." Griffith remarks: "stalks or joints: the pieces between the knots of the plants (as would be seen on ephedra stalk). Beware; sprinkled with water to strengthen and swell them, before the juice is extracted. The process is called Apyayanam". It is not clear whether Apyayanam is restricted to sprinkling the stalks or applies even to soaking them in water. Here is the nomad's filtration. He uses the winnowing sieve as filter. The pores of a sieve can filter a liquid with large particles. Since sieve is used as filter, filtration is called winnowing. To prevent the stalks being minced, barely was mixed. No explanation has been offered why this was done. R.V. 9.68.4. does state "the stalks is mixed with barley". And it has been explained that such a mixed material on being crushed yields a clearer filtered juice. And what is left on the filter is large plant particles better called filaments. Thus RV.9.110.5 says, "A never failing well for men to drink, borne on thy way in fragments from the presser's arms. "Griffith correctly comments that, "fragments signify pieces of the crushed stalk." When the stalks have been swelled with water crushing with barley would produce large fragments of plant material. The stages between the plant and its extracted juice would be:
1. Washing the plant free from dust.
2. Storing plant material.
3. Sprinkling with water to soften the stalks.
4. Breaking longer stalks into lengths of 6-9 inches.
5. Crushing such pieces between stones, on oxhide.
6. Macerating them with hand in a vat of water. This gives the real juice.
7. Filtering over fleece or with long wool, into smaller buckets.
8. Allowing ephedra-bagasse, Rajishi, to remain soaked in water.
9. Such swollen stalks were recrushed in the evening and filtered.

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

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