Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A god as a plant on Earth - Soma


NOTE: This blog post is an extract from a more formal note with some informal elaboration, from
An earlier article described how holy basil plant is regarded as a goddess that has taken birth on earth as a plant, yet there was a plant of earth that grew around Himalayas that was regarded by ancients as a powerful god that had taken the shape of a plant on earth. While the foremost effect of Tulsi the goodess are at spiritual level and therefore not visible to all, the effects of Soma the god are at the physical and intellectual level first.

Ancient Indo-Aryans saw a god in all parts of nature and the universe, all parts of one infinite God. Amongst plants this god was seen as the plant called Soma. It was so precious that it was harvested to extinction even in ancient times and thereafter ancient civilizations from South Asia, Iran. Turkey etc. made use of substitutes such as ephedra or mixtures of opium, ephedra and cannabis in order to approach the same effect, even calling the resulting potion by similar names but none came near the magical Soma of lore.

The Rig Veda is the world’s oldest and largest of spiritual text consisting of over one thousand Hymns, containing over ten thousand verses divided into ten books. The drink from Soma is mentioned in several hymns as not just the preferred drink of both gods and men but the plant a god in its own right.

Soma could bestow power of gods upon mortals. When consumed by humans the effect represented temporary replacement of sensory pleasure with that of bliss.  Patanjali in his text on yoga also mentions that yogic bliss may be attained, at least temporarily through use of organic substances. The effects of this bliss included immortality, ethical behavior, poetic insights, enhanced fertility, alertness, wakefulness, ability to heal, attainment of wealth, and great physical strength useful for warriors. However the drink was neither intoxicating nor hallucinatory and that rules out many of suggestions of modern scholars about what it might have been. It seems that humans stopped to age while under the effect of Soma and it had the potential of turning a human into a near immortal.

The Sacred Hymns of Rig Veda were composed by Soma drinking seers and sages and the drink seems to have given them autistic like powers of memorizing entire volumes even before writing had perhaps been invented. Many of these Soma hymns ring with ecstatic praise of the Soma drink. Some of these Hymns poetically describe the mountainous natural habitat and brilliant red or gold appearance of the Soma plant.

Unfortunately, the plant from which soma was extracted is not explicitly described in the early Vedas, thus, there has been much speculation as to what the original Soma plant actually was. Very few clues as to the characteristics of the plant are provided within the Vedas. The plant is described as growing in mountains, near lakes at times yellow or tawny in color or at times red with long stalks. Through the centuries, knowledge of the plant was lost and it is very likely that it has become extinct. In case some of it still exists, the place to search for it would be on the shores of yet undisturbed Himalayan lakes. A few such still exist in the Nainital district of India about which this author has written some books and devoted an entire blog.

A green, golden, brown or red hued liquid was expressed from the plant material after crushing with stones. It seems Soma was both sweet and also sweet scented. It was filtered through woolen cloth and collected in a large bowl or vat of wood. The filtering process through wool is repeatedly described as an essential step before producing the drink. It is possible that the unfiltered drink contained components that were harmful or reduced the potency of the drink. The differences in colors is an intriguing clue suggesting that there were different varieties of the same plant or different colors during different stages of its growth. Some hymns suggest that the plant started as green when young, then turned golden, golden brown and finally red at its full height ( reaching up to heavens). At every stage the juice was potent, of a different color but with somewhat different effects. Hymns suggest that the green hued gave most physical strength but the red one most wisdom, poetic insight and autistic like power to the brain. However the golden or brown were the most common color when the plant was harvested and probably resulted in a balance of both physical, intellectual and spiritual powers.

The resulting extract was first offered to the gods, fire, lakes and rivers as sacrifice, was mixed with milk or curds and was consumed by humans and those who consumed it became like gods. The drink was neither hallucinogenic nor intoxicating. It does seem that in other parts of the Aryan regions where Soma was not available or became unavailable with time, substitutes were used in the hope of producing some similar effect.

There has been much speculation concerning what is most likely to have been the identity of the original plant. There is no consensus on the question and the plant seems to have become extinct even in ancient times. Some scholars propose that the original Soma was a variety of cannabis but the  description is not similar others the Amanita muscari mushroom, which is used by many shamans, particularly in Siberia. Vedic Somas are described with tall stalks, at time bearing flowers, which mushrooms do not have, and are often said to grow in water or near water. Further mushrooms do not have tough stalks that need much crushing and pressing by stones. The main Rig Vedic Soma land also refers to a lake perhaps abounding with reeds. Saccharum speicies are a type of reed related to sugarcane and it is entirely possible that a variety existed in the past that contained other potent compounds. As regards plants the possibilities are endless in nature, and it is not impossible that in the past a plant existed that was something of a mix of a tall hemp, sugar cane and an ephedra plant plus more. In future, modern genetic science may be able to recreate such a plant or it may emerge on the planet through natural processes once again.

While each scholar is enthusiastic about his assumption of what plant Soma was and offers evidence in support, the fact is that none of the proposed plants come anywhere near the original Soma drink in its effects that were real enough for warriors to proceed for battle become highly accurate in use of bow and arrow and win after drinking it, and not hallucinatory like that with some mushrooms. Much more research is required to locate the original plant if some of it still exists or to recreate something close to it in future through modern plant genetics.

Later Mixtures

Ever since ancient times, after the disappearance of Soma, mankind has been attempting to simulate the effect through a mixture of different plants, some even going as far as saying that the original Soma drink was prepared that way too. None of these attempts have been successful so far. Perhaps the original organic compounds that existed in Soma do not exist widely in other plants, although from the effects as originally described it does seem that ephedrine may have been one of the compounds, but not alone. The original Soma was a single plant that had the status of a god and none of the known species of ephedra as known to modern man are similar to the original descriptions, not even Ma Huang (Ephedra Sinica) as claimed by a few. Although Ma Huang has a few of the stated properties of Soma to a far lesser degree it also has potential harmful effects, it is a much smaller plant whereas Soma was a tall plant requiring many persons to hold it for pressing and reached up to the sky in some descriptions like a tall bamboo. Ma Huang also does not have the scent, sweetness and color of Soma. An important difference is that Ma Huang is a warm arid area plant growing in sandy soils whereas Soma is a cool and moist area plant growing in grass lands near lakes as per Rig-Vedic descriptions.

Several genetic modifications of an existing plant by perhaps crossing with an appropriate Saccharum species perhaps Saccharum Officinarum permitting the plant to produce a living organic mixture rather than a dead one in a lab or kitchen may yield a plant closer to Soma than any existing one. When a viable naturally perpetuating plant produces a mixture of compounds it is a part of life and balanced for life. On the other hand a mixture prepared in a lab especially with potent compounds is very likely to produce dangerous primary or adverse side effects. No scientist can match the intelligence of the universe that created all life. They may make only minor alterations to it like a novice artist who can not produce the work of a master but may be able to add a touch of paint for restoration here and there.

Perhaps some hemp like genes may be a possible addition to a new plant. The reason for mentioning some cannabis compounds here is that it seems after the disappearance of Soma, some Himalayan sages have been able to attain a degree of yogic bliss by consuming cannabis combined with meditation. However while hemp might have done that it does not produce the other physical effects as attributed to Soma. A second hint that Soma may have contained some of the active compounds of hemp is the necessary use of milk in preparing the Soma drink. The active cannabis compounds are known to be compatible with milk however while some have suggested that Soma was hemp it may be mentioned that hemp juices have neither the color nor the sweetness of Soma and that must be an essential guide in the search of the plant god of ancient Indo-Aryans - Soma aside from its divine scent and the effects it produces on mind, body and soul without causing any adverse side or after effects.

In modern times even if a plant is found or created that is similar to Soma, the drug companies might perhaps lobby through researchers, perhaps even to declare it as schedule I drug just as they might have done with cannabis, or a drug company or a GM company might patent its extracts so as to make them prohibitively expensive, making the plant, a god on earth, a victim of greed rather than godliness. There are only a few Jose Mujicas or Bernie Sanders in the modern world to fight against that sort of greed rather than feed on it.

An example of a recent scientific study on some new and old mixtures attempting to mimic Soma is here


Although Soma became extinct in the Himalayas in ancient times in the areas it was usually collected from, there is no reason why it should not persist in other parts of the Himalayas and the world that were not populated much and where people did not know of its full processing and use. Today with the help of the internet one can search all over the world for the plant and that is what this author has precisely done. The result is described in the next most recent post identifying this plant with a well known American one Cornus Sericea. Other cornus species bearing red twigs also need to be explored for similar properties. The world does not know yet how to process it for the drink of the gods, but they shall soon after these posts. If this plant turns out to be the right one, may it remain in the public domain for all to benefit and not become a subject of patents, commercial greed and control by big corporations, for this one plant is a god. Read more at:
However, it must be mentioned that although Cornus Sericea fits the description in many way, it does not do so in all. Two of the characteristics of the original plant, an abundant and frothy juice that is sweet seem to be missing. These latter are very much like the sugar cane plant that fits the bill, in other ways too, such as the different colors and tall stalks but modern varieties if sugar cane do not have the other magical properties of sugar cane and the final answer to the search may not have been found yet

A few selected Soma Hymns from

Thou by thine insight art most wise, O Soma, strong by thine energies and all possessing,
Mighty art thou by all thy powers and greatness, by glories art thou glorious, guide of mortals...
And, Soma, let it be thy wish that we may live and may not die:
Praise-loving Lord of plants art thou.
To him who keeps the law, both old and young, thou givest happiness,
And energy that he may live.
In thee be juicy nutriments united, and powers and mighty foe-subduing vigour, Waxing to immortality, O Soma: win highest glories for thyself in heaven. Do thou, God Soma, with thy Godlike spirit, victorious, win for us a share of riches.

O Soma flowing on thy way, win thou and conquer high renown;
And make us better than we are.
Win thou the light, win heavenly light, and, Soma, all felicities;
And make us better than we are.
Win skilful strength and mental power. O Soma, drive away our foes;
And make us better than we are.
Forth on their way the glorious drops have flowed for maintenance of Law,
Knowing this sacrifice's course.
Dear, golden-colored, in the fleece he sinks and settles in the wood:
The Singer shows his zeal in hymns.


When through the filter thou art poured, we clothe thee with a robe of milk
To be a gladdening draught for Gods.
When purified within the jars, Soma, bright red and golden-hued,
Hath clothed him with a robe of milk.

Sing a praise-song to Soma brown of hue, of independent might.
The Red, who reaches up to heaven.



Ashok said...

While some blog posts are easy to write, others are difficult and have to be edited several times before becoming satisfactory. This was one like that and I had to edit it quite a few times before I was satisfied. Hope the reader likes it.

Vinod Khurana said...

Really wonderful and well researched article which may open doors for further research on this magical plant.
With warm regards

Vinod Khurana said...


Soma is no ordinary plant
it grows in the heavens
much loved by the gods
who rule over the earth
and drink of it much
to quench their thirst
and multiply their prowess

Sages who love gods
and pray for the mankind
and welfare of one and all
they are so dear to gods
and were gifted such a gift
Soma the king of plants

But such is human greed
it appropriates everything
what was a gift of god
to sages who knew its worth
it vanished from the earth

Those who care to know
they shall find out for sure
if still somewhere it grows
and offer it as a gift
as did the gods to sages
for the benefit of mankind
and do it a great service!

With warm regards

Ashok said...

Dear Vinod, Thanks you very much and your poenm is a wonderful modern addition to the ancient hymns in praise of Soma from Rig Veda, Hope you also read the second note on this identifying the plant.

Ashok said...

Dear Vinod do you realize that your Poem in praise of Soma may be the first one after 3000 years, after the poems of priase of Soma in Rig Veda?

Ashok said...

Dear Vinod I shall be writing one more post on Soma soon after some more study and would highlight and include this modern Soma hymn in it, while giving you its credit.

Vinod Khurana said...

Thanks a lot,dear Ashok ji. Wish you all success in this noble endeavor.

David Mutschler said...
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