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This article is in specific for the reader who have gone through a book called as "The Immortals of Meluha" where in the book the author describes about a juice called as soma rasa. The moment when I had read that particular juice called soma rasa, it really grabbed my attention and was desperately looking for information on it.

Now since i did find the information on it, i would like to share this to all the meluhan's readers, hope you would enjoy reading the articles that i would be writing on the soma rasa. Let us understand the meaning of the soma rasa plant and it's nature as been described by Sachidananda Padhy and Santosh Kumar Dash; Let us see what they have to say in this regards.

In Rig Veda (R.V.), ‘Soma’ is projected as an ambiguous entity, being attributed to multifarious forms such as : Soma as light; Soma as dawn; Soma causes the sun to shine; Soma as a constellation and luminous species; Soma as bird; Soma as child; Soma as support of the sky and Soma as the King, which ultimately characterized as if a mythological form. Above all, the Vedic literature supports that Soma was a sacred plant, the juice of which (Soma-Rasa) was considered as the divine drink offered to Gods, contemplated with medicinal efficacy, used as natural restorative for health that makes the consumer awakened and alert. In Law Books, Soma is regarded as a purified drink and is characterised to an extent that a Braahmana (yogic elite) by drinking Soma, was supposed to acquire the powers, which could kill others merely throwing a glance. Moreover, the alternative name of the Moon God ‘Chandra’ is Soma, who is the controller to generate medicinal properties in plants and the authority of Amruta (i.e. Nectar), the so-called elixir of immortality, for which the man wonders.

Description of Soma Rasa Plant:

The description of the Soma plant can be traced out in Rig Veda, especially in the ninth Mandala and few more hymns in other Mandalas. However, the difficulty in interpretation of Sanskrit literature and clear-cut non-specifications of the morphological features of the plant has created problems for the scholars for ascertaining its exact botanical identity. The details of the Vedic description on it, is being depicted in our recent review (Padhy et al, 2001). However, for the benefit of readers, the description of Soma plant given by Haug, 1875 (c.f. Hillebrandt, 1891), is mentioned here to give a brief idea on it. The Soma plant is not mere a plant; but a creeping, somewhat twisting, semi-shrub with a series of leafless shoots, which contain an acidulous milky juice. On the other hand, there are evidences for the search of alternatives to Soma plant in the Vedic age itself, which indicate the scarce availability or extinction of the plant proper, in course of time.

Aayurveda, known as the fifth Veda in which, two Samhitaas (Charaka and Sussruta) are highly significant. The amount of research carried out on Soma drinking in Aayurveda tops the list among all the efforts made by Aryans to explore the benefits of the plant. Sussruta Samhitaa (S.S.) has mentioned 24 varieties of Soma based on the differences in their habitat, name, shape and specific potencies. As a general characteristic, all the Soma varieties were furnished with 15 leaves, the character contradicting to the Vedic description that the plant was leafless. However, all the varieties had possessed a bulb, a creeper like morphology and secreted milky juice. Interestingly, the emergence of 15 leaves in all these 24 varieties, one by one daily keeping pace with the Tithis (lunar days) of bright fortnight (Ssukla Paksha)and becoming well furnished with 15 leaves on full-moon day (Poornami). Subsequently, they lose the leaves one by one in the same order of Tithies of dark fortnights (Krishna Paksha) and finally on no-moon day (Amaavaasyaa) remained in the form of a leafless stump (SS. IXXX. 20, 21 and 22).

Further, the Chapter XXX of Sussruta Samhitaa, has focused on 18 more plants with their brief morphological descriptions, their availability and allied therapeutic action like Soma.All these plants, have a lot of morphological and ecological variations with a common feature of possessing a latex containing bulb. However, the multifarious brief descriptions of all these 24+18 = 42 plants could not ascertain, so far, to pinpoint on the Soma plant. The nonavailability of the detailed phytography of these plants, is due to the general practice in the ancient days to learn the identification of the plants from the Guru and mostly, the phytographic know-how of identifying characters were limited only to the expert (i.e. the Guru concerned). The same practice of non-revealing the drugs is still continuing with the quacks and tribal physicians with the claim (a falsehood) that the therapeutic potency of the plant be lost if revealed out. On the contrary, the non-declaration of the drug bears a positive implication of long-term sustainability of it ecologically; while it suffered negatively, by dwindling / deterioration / extinction of the knowledge.

As per the habitat perspectives of the plants, Vedic description has mentioned that it used to grow in mountains, which indicates the plant as xerophytic. On the contrary, Sussruta Samhitaa has mentioned that some varieties of Soma used to grow in the hillocks and mountains of ancient India, like Himalayas, Arbuda, Sahya, Mahendra, Malya, Sree Parvata, Devagiri, Devasaha, Paariyaatra and Vindhya, while few other varieties are reported to grow in aquatic habitats restricted to Devasunda lake, Sindhu river and the little Maanas lake in Kashmir. All these above narrations create impediments to concentrate on the ecological niche of the plant either as xerophytic or hydrophytic.

Present day research has focused on 20 different plants as Soma, alphabetically mentioned as:

Amanita muscaria, Asclepias acida, Basella cordifolia, Cannabis sativa, Ceropegia decaisneana, Ceropegia elegans, Eleusine coracana, Ephedra sp., Ichinocarpus frutescens, Periploca aphylla, Ruta graveolens, Saccharum sp., Sarcostemma acidum, Sarcostemma brevistigma, Sacrostemma brunonianum, Sarcostemma intermedium, Sarcostemma viminale, Sorghum sp., Vitis vinifera (Afgan grape/vine) and Humulus lupulus (Hops).

The above list is the outcome of the perception from different schools of thoughts based on the interpretation of Vedic view, from their own angle and still fails to pin point on a plant as Soma. Sarcostemma – a succulent angiosperm, supported much by the old school of thought (Fig. 1); while Ephedra – a gymnosperm, enriched with the active drug principle ephedrin, is not a natural habitat of India, where the Soma culture existed. The mushroom Amanita muscaria, the latest identified plant as Soma, has gained much consensus for its intoxicating and hallucinogenic properties. But, it suffers from objections as the prime vedic age human ethical compendium Manusmruti claims that, mushrooms are prohibited food for human beings; then how can they be offered to Gods?; and be a divine plant of Vedic age;

This legendary plant which occupied a significant place in Aryan cult for thousands of years; yet remains without any established identification of its integrated original characteristics; ecological niche and still continued to be a botanical enigma.

Read the part II of the article here


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