In the Vedic tradition, sóma (Devanagari: सोम) is a ritual drink[1][2] of importance among the early Vedic Indo-Aryans.[3] The Rigveda mentions it, particularly in the Soma Mandala. Gita mentions the drink in chapter 9.[4] It is equivalent to the Iranian haoma.[5][6]

The texts describe the preparation of soma by means of extracting the juice from a plant, the identity of which is now unknown and debated among scholars. Both in the ancient religions of Historical Vedic religion and Zoroastrianism, the name of the drink and the plant are not exactly the same.[7]

There has been much speculation about the most likely identity of the original plant. Traditional Indian accounts, such as those from practitioners of Ayurveda, Siddha medicine, and Somayajna called Somayajis, identify the plant as "Somalata" (Cynanchum acidum).[8] Non-Indian researchers have proposed candidates including Amanita muscaria, Psilocybin mushrooms, Peganum harmala and Ephedra sinica.


Soma is a Vedic Sanskrit word that literally means "distill, extract, sprinkle", often connected in the context of rituals.[9]

Soma's Avestan cognate is the haoma. According to Geldner (1951), the word is derived from Indo-Iranian roots *sav- (Sanskrit sav-/su) "to press", i.e. *sau-ma- is the drink prepared by pressing the stalks of a plant,[10] but the word and the related practices were borrowed by the Indo-Aryans from the Bactria–Margiana culture (BMAC).[11][12] Although the word is only attested in Indo-Iranian traditions, Manfred Mayrhofer has proposed a Proto-Indo-European origin from the root *sew(h)-.[13]


See also: Indo-Aryan migrations

The Vedic religion was the religion of some of the Vedic Indo-Aryan tribes, the aryas,[14][15] who migrated into the Indus River valley region of the Indian subcontinent.[16] The Indo-Aryans were speakers of a branch of the Indo-European language family, which originated in the Sintashta culture and further developed into the Andronovo culture, which in turn developed out of the Kurgan culture of the Central Asian steppes.[17] The Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era were closely related to the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion,[18][note 1] and show relations with rituals from the Andronovo culture, from which the Indo-Aryan people descended.[19] According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.[20] It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements"[20] which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"[11] from the Bactria–Margiana culture (BMAC).[11] This syncretic influence is supported by at least 383 non-Indo-European words that were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.[12] According to Anthony,

Many of the qualities of Indo-Iranian god of might/victory, Verethraghna, were transferred to the adopted god Indra, who became the central deity of the developing Old Indic culture. Indra was the subject of 250 hymns, a quarter of the Rig Veda. He was associated more than any other deity with Soma, a stimulant drug (perhaps derived from Ephedra) probably borrowed from the BMAC religion. His rise to prominence was a peculiar trait of the Old Indic speakers.[21]

Vedic soma

Further information: Somayajna and Mandala 9

In the Vedas, the same word (soma) is used for the drink, the plant, and its deity. Drinking soma produces immortality (Amrita, Rigveda 8.48.3). Indra and Agni are portrayed as consuming soma in copious quantities. In the vedic ideology, Indra drank large amounts of soma while fighting the serpent demon Vritra. The consumption of soma by human beings is well attested in Vedic ritual. The Soma Mandala of the Rigveda is completely dedicated to Soma Pavamana, and is focused on a moment in the ritual when the soma is pressed, strained, mixed with water and milk, and poured into containers. These actions are described as a representation of a variety of things, including a king conquering territory, the Sun's journey through the cosmos, or a bull running to mate with cows (represented by the milk). The most important myth about Soma is about his theft. In it, Soma was originally held captive in a citadel in heaven by the archer Kṛśānu. A falcon stole Soma, successfully escaping Kṛśānu, and delivered Soma to Manu, the first sacrificer. Additionally, Soma is associated with the moon in the late Rigveda and Middle Vedic period. Sūryā, the daughter of the Sun, is sometimes stated to be the wife of Soma.[22]

The Rigveda (8.48.3) says:

ápāma sómam amŕ̥tā abhūma
áganma jyótir ávidāma devā́n
kíṃ nūnám asmā́n kr̥ṇavad árātiḥ
kím u dhūrtír amr̥ta mártiyasya

Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton translates this as:

We have drunk the soma; we have become immortal; we have gone to the light; we have found the gods.
What can hostility do to us now, and what the malice of a mortal, o immortal one?[24]

In the Vedas, soma "is both a plant and a god."[25]

Avestan haoma

Main article: Haoma

The finishing of haoma in Zoroastrianism may be glimpsed from the Avesta (particularly in the Hōm Yast, Yasna 9), and Avestan language *hauma also survived as Middle Persian hōm. The plant haoma yielded the essential ingredient for the ritual drink, parahaoma.

In Yasna 9.22, haoma grants "speed and strength to warriors, excellent and righteous sons to those giving birth, spiritual power and knowledge to those who apply themselves to the study of the nasks". As the religion's chief cult divinity he came to be perceived as its divine priest. In Yasna 9.26, Ahura Mazda is said to have invested him with the sacred girdle, and in Yasna 10.89, to have installed haoma as the "swiftly sacrificing zaotar" (Sanskrit hotar) for himself and the Amesha Spenta.

Post-Vedic mentions

See also: Chandra

Soma has been mentioned in Chapter 9, verse 20 of Bhagavad Gita:

Those who perform actions (as described in the three Vedas), desiring fruit from these actions, and those who drink the juice of the pure Soma plant, are cleansed and purified of their past sins.
Those who desire heaven, (the Abode of the Lord known as Indralok) [26] attain heaven and enjoy its divine pleasures by worshipping me through the offering of sacrifices.
Thus, by performing good action (Karma, as outlined by the three Vedas), one will always undoubtedly receive a place in heaven where they will enjoy all of the divine pleasure that are enjoyed by the Deities.[citation needed][note 2]

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation-Sidhi Program involves a notion of "soma", said to be based on the Rigveda.[27][28]

Candidates for the plant

Main article: Botanical identity of soma–haoma

There has been much speculation as to the original Sauma plant. Candidates that have been suggested include honey, mushrooms, psychoactive and other herbal plants.[29]

When the ritual of somayajna is held today in South India by the traditional Srautas called Somayajis, the plant used is the somalatha (Sanskrit: soma creeper, Sarcostemma acidum)[8] which is procured as a leafless vine.

Since the late 18th century, when Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron and others made portions of the Avesta available to western scholars, several scholars have sought a representative botanical equivalent of the haoma as described in the texts and as used in living Zoroastrian practice. 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.[30]

During the colonial British era scholarship, cannabis was proposed as the soma candidate by Jogesh Chandra Ray, The Soma Plant (1939)[31] and by B. L. Mukherjee (1921).[32]

In the late 1960s, several studies attempted to establish soma as a psychoactive substance. A number of proposals were made, including one in 1968 by the American banker R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur ethnomycologist, who asserted that soma was an inebriant but not cannabis, and suggested fly-agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as the likely candidate. Since its introduction in 1968, this theory has gained both detractors and followers in the anthropological literature.[33][34][35] Wasson and his co-author, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, drew parallels between Vedic descriptions and reports of Siberian uses of the fly-agaric in shamanic ritual.[36]

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, and that "there is nothing shamanistic or visionary either in early Vedic or in Old Iranian texts", Falk also asserted that the three varieties of ephedra that yield ephedrine (Ephedra gerardiana, E. major procera and E. intermedia) also have the properties attributed to haoma by the texts of the Avesta.[37][full citation needed] At the conclusion of the 1999 Haoma-Soma workshop in Leiden, Jan E. M. Houben writes: "despite strong attempts to do away with ephedra by those who are eager to see sauma as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for the Rigvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands".[38][full citation needed]

The Soviet archeologist Viktor Sarianidi wrote that he had discovered vessels and mortars used to prepare soma in Zoroastrian temples in the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex. He said that the vessels have revealed residues and seed impressions left behind during the preparation of soma. This has not been sustained by subsequent investigations.[39] Alternatively Mark Merlin, who revisited the subject of the identity of soma more than thirty years after originally writing about it[40] stated that there is a need of further study on links between soma and Papaver somniferum.[41]

According to Michael Wood, the references to immortality and light are characteristics of an entheogenic experience.[42][full citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ See Kuzʹmina (2007), The Origin of the Indo-Iranians, p. 339, for an overview of publications up to 1997 on this subject.
  2. ^ trai-vidyā māṁ soma-pāḥ pūta-pāpā
    yajñair iṣhṭvā svar-gatiṁ prārthayante
    te puṇyam āsādya surendra-lokam
    aśhnanti divyān divi deva-bhogān


  1. ^ Monier Williams (1899), A Sanskrit–English Dictionary, Oxford, the Clarendon Press, OCLC 458052227, page 1249.
  2. ^ soma. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  3. ^ Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, p.43
  4. ^ Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God. Translated by Mukundananda. Jagadguru Kripaluji Yog. Chapter 9, Verse 20. ISBN 978-0-9833967-2-7. OL 28015595M. Wikidata Q108659922. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  5. ^ Toorn, Karel van der; Becking, Bob; Horst, Pieter Willem van der (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-8028-2491-2. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  6. ^ Guénon, René (2004). Symbols of Sacred Science. Sophia Perennis. p. 320. ISBN 978-0-900588-77-8. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  7. ^ Victor Sarianidi, Viktor Sarianidi in The PBS Documentary The Story of India
  8. ^ a b Singh, N. P. (1988). Flora of Eastern Karnataka, Volume 1. Mittal Publications. p. 416. ISBN 9788170990673.
  9. ^ Monier Monier-Williams (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press (Reprint: 2001). pp. 1136–1137.
  10. ^ K.F.Geldner, Der Rig-Veda. Cambridge MA, 1951, Vol. III: 1-9
  11. ^ a b c Beckwith 2011, p. 32.
  12. ^ a b Anthony 2007, pp. 454–455.
  13. ^ M. Mayrhofer, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen, Heidelberg 1986–2000, vol II: 748
  14. ^ Kuz'mina 2007, p. 319.
  15. ^ Singh 2008, p. 185.
  16. ^ Heesterman 2005, pp. 9552–9553.
  17. ^ Anthony 2007.
  18. ^ Roger D. Woodard (18 August 2006). Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult. University of Illinois Press. pp. 242–. ISBN 978-0-252-09295-4.
  19. ^ Kus'mina 2007, p. 319.
  20. ^ a b Anthony 2007, p. 462.
  21. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 454.
  22. ^ Stephanie Jamison (2015). The Rigveda –– Earliest Religious Poetry of India. Oxford University Press. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-0190633394.
  23. ^ "UT College of Liberal Arts: UT College of Liberal Arts". Retrieved 2018-10-04.
  24. ^ Stephanie Jamison (2015). The Rigveda –– Earliest Religious Poetry of India. Oxford University Press. p. 1129. ISBN 978-0190633394.
  25. ^ Stevenson, Jay (2000). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eastern Philosophy. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. p. 46. ISBN 9780028638201.
  26. ^ Bhagavad Gita on Indra Ch 10 verse 22
  27. ^ Williamson, Lola (January 2010). Transcendent in America. NYU Press. ISBN 9780814794708. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  28. ^ Hendel v World Plan Executive Council, 124 WLR 957 (January 2, 1996); affd 705 A.2d 656, 667 (DC, 1997)
  29. ^ Oldenberg, Hermann (1988). The Religion of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 978-81-208-0392-3.
  30. ^ Aitchison, 1888
  31. ^ Ray, Jogesh, Chandra, Soma Plant, Indian Historical Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 2, June, 1939, Calcutta
  32. ^ Mukherjee, B. L., The Soma Plant, JRAS, (1921), Idem, The Soma Plant, Calcutta, (1922), The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland (Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1921)
  33. ^ Furst, Peter T. (1976). Hallucinogens and Culture. Chandler & Sharp. pp. 96–108. ISBN 0-88316-517-1.
  34. ^ John Brough (1971). "Soma and "Amanita muscaria"". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 34 (2): 331–362. doi:10.1017/S0041977X0012957X. JSTOR 612695. S2CID 84458441.
  35. ^ Feeney, Kevin (2020). "Fly Agaric: A Compendium of History, Pharmacology, Mythology, & Exploration". ResearchGate. Retrieved 2020-12-27.
  36. ^ (Wasson, Robert Gordon (1968). "Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality". Ethno-Mycological Studies. New York. 1. ISBN 0-15-683800-1.)
  37. ^ Falk, 1989, p 87
  38. ^ Houben, 2003
  39. ^ C.C. Bakels (2003). "Report concerning the contents of a ceramic vessel found in the "white room" of the Gonur Temenos, Merv Oasis, Turkmenistan". EJVS. 9.
  40. ^ Merlin, Mark, Man and Marijuana, (Barnes and Co, 1972)
  41. ^ Merlin, M., Archaeological Record for Ancient Old World Use of Psychoactive Plants, Economic Botany, 57(3): (2008)
  42. ^ Michael Wood, The Story of India.