Do you know about this mind altering drink of the gods?

Soma : The Power

Humans, for thousands of years now, have been fascinated with substances that are mind altering. People have searched for reasons as to why these cravings exist, some viewing it as mere curiosity and recreation, other seeing it as a deeper,spiritual calling. Although we live in a generation where psychoactive and stimulants are consumed in large numbers and mainly for recreational purposes, it wasn’t always so. Since ancient times, humans have found and consumed these substances, and not only did it go on to affect their perceptions, but also art and culture, and even religion!

Today, we’ll talk about one such substance that has played a fairly important role in shaping the culture of our very own country. ‘’ was a ritual drink of high importance to the ancient Vedic people of India. It was important enough to have an entire ‘mandala’ (book) dedicated to itself in the Rig Veda. For ancient Indians, Soma was personified as a god. Speaking of gods, Indra, the king of the gods, was very fond of the drink and is said to have consumed it in copious amounts, usually before wars to get into a stimulated state of mind, and after, to celebrate the victory. Clearly, gods can have addictive personality disorders too……

Fun Fact : The Vedic and Zoroastrian cultures were related in ways more than one. One of these parallel connections was that the Zoroastrians also had a ritual drink known as ‘Haoma’. Coincidence?

As for us humans, Soma was used in a ritual context and was mostly consumed by the priests. In the Rig Veda, Soma was said to make a person immortal. It’s very evident that this plant was high influential for the Vedic people, but the funny part is that we still don’t know what it was! Scholarly theories on Soma can be divided into two main perspectives - i) that it was a hallucinogenic/ psychoactive substance; ii) that it was merely a stimulant. Let’s take a quick look at both these perspectives.

According to some historians and scientists (such as Terrence McKenna and Wendy Doniger), Soma was made of some kind of a magic mushroom ( Fly agaric or Psilocybe cubensis). There are lines in the Rig Veda which talk about light, truth and healing which sound like the person writing it was having some sort of a psychoactive experience, as similar descriptions from people doing hallucinogenics are recorded even today. Also an interesting fact is that Soma was associated with cows, and these mushroom are known to naturally grow in cow dung.

Other historians (such as Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron and Harry Falk), are of the opinion that Soma was a stimulant, the effects being more like cocaine or caffeine than a hallucinogen. In 1989 Harry Falk noted that, in the texts, both haoma and soma were said to enhance alertness and awareness, did not coincide with the consciousness altering effects of an entheogen. A major candidate for this view is the plant Ephedra. In the late 19th century, the highly conservative Zoroastrians of Yazd (Iran) were found to use ephedra, which was locally known as hum or homa and which they exported to the Indian Zoroastrians. This evidence has caused Ephedra to be viewed as the main candidate for Soma.

BUT in 2009, a bunch of Russian scientists claim to have found evidence that Soma was actually a mushroom ( you can read that here

All these theories have been confusing historians for quite a few decades now. We may never know the answer, but it’s certain that this substance did get people high, and that played a huge role in shaping our identities and perceptions. What do you think was the real identity of Soma? Drop your answer in the comments section!

WRITTEN BY  - Aditya Mohanan



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