On soma in the veda - Part 2

s. kalyanaraman s._kalyanaraman at mail.asiandevbank.org
Fri Feb 10 09:19:15 UTC 1995

Re: Soma in the veda and Indian Alchemy
Author: s._kalyanaraman at ctlmail.asiandevbank.org (until 28 February 1995); 20/7 
Warren Road, Mylapore, Madras 600004, India; Tel. 91-44-493-6288; Fax. 

Soma is the ONLY PROCESS elaborated in Book 9 of the Rgveda and in a number of 
rks in the veda. When put together, the rks mean a perfect 
chemical/metallurgical code which is further elaborated in the brahmanas which 
constitute elaborate manuals for the process. So far as these rks referring to 
SOMA are concerned, they can be viewed as a metallurgical allegory par 

It is important to decipher the term SOMA to gain a clearer perspective on the 
life-activities of the authors of the rks. The oldest interpreters of the Rks, 
Sayana and Yaska are emphatic that the rks have to be understood in the context 
of the lingua franca. Yaska emphasizes the allegorical nature of the references 
to the gods in many rks in the unparalleled etymological work of great 
antiquity: Niruktam. The continuity of the vedic tradition in the brahmanas 
(including srauta sutras), in the descriptions of the polity in Kautilya's 
Arthasastra, in ancient epigraphs provide a firm basis to unravel the SOMA 
PROCESS in a rational, cultural-socio-economic perspective, isolating the 
interpretation from religious/ transcendantal overtones. 

Indo-European and South Asian etyma provide a substantive foundation to confirm 
the decipherment of SOMA as electrum (silver-gold ore/processed product). 
Needham observes in his magnum opus, History of Science and Civilization in 
China the extraordinary linkage between references to soma and gold in hundreds 
of verses from the Satapatha Brahmana (an extraordinary text, extremely 
difficult to interpret); when a reference to soma occurs, reference to gold 
almost immediately follows. Note the refrains: amrtam aayur hiranyam; hiranya 
garbham garbhastham, hemabeejam vibhaavasoh. In the Tamil tradition, vedi-iyal 
refers to alchemy (transmutation of material into gold); soma-maNal = sand 
containing silver ore (Winslow's and Madras Univ. Tamil lexicons). 
Ashaadha-bhuti is a cheat (Tamil); Ashaadha brick has an important role in the 
brahmanas which describe the yajnas (cf. agni-rahasya). If soma were any product
of creepers (bhang, ephedra etc.) or even a mushroom or bhang, if subjected to 
incessant firings on the vedi, day after day, night after night, it will be 
reduced to pure carbon. Asvamedha (performed by Soma-rajnas) can be explained as
use of bones in the reduction/oxidation processes (to sublimate the impurities 
in the ore).[This may also explain adequately the bizarre, explicitly sexual but
allegorical references to the queen's role; cf. the role of the queen as a paid 
official, in Arthasastra]. So can the use of plant products in the yajna be 
explained as the use of kshaara oxidants. In the gypsy tradition, SOMNAKAY means
gold; Old Egyptian ASSEM, ASEMON means electrum; there are also 
phonetic/semantic concordant references in Indo-European etyma, for e.g. Carl 
LANGUAGES, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1949. Heading 9.64, p.609; 

"Lat. aurum (> Romance and Celtic words, also Alb. ar), fr. *AUSOM (Sab. AUSUM, 
Festus); OPruss. AUSIS, OLith. AUSAS, Lith. AUKSAS; here also prob. Toch. WAS 
'gold' beside WSI 'yellow'; all prob. as 'reddish' fr. *AUS-(WES-) in words for 
dawn, Skt. Ushas-etc. The view that the Baltic words were borrowed in very 
ancient times fr. Lat. *AUSOM is improbable. Walde-P. 1.27. Ernout-M.94.Walde-H.

[References: Ernout-M. A. Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue latine, 2nd 
ed.; Walde-H. Lateinisches etymologisches Worterbuch, 3te Aufl., von 
J.B.Hofmann] Of course, Rigveda refers to ayas prob. as 
'bronze'; Lat. aes copper, bronze; aurichalcum brass; Rumanian. arama copper. 
*AUSOM could be a compounded aes + som? sommu (Telugu) is treasure; Rum. 
comoara, fr. Slavic, SCr. komora 'chamber, 
treasury', Slov. komora chamber, etc. fr. Latt. camara, camera vault, arch, in 
VLat. room, treasure room. Tiktin 396. Berneker 555f. loc. cit. Buck, p. 777.

Almost all epithets attributed to SOMA (such as amsu [: metallic ore protrusions
analagous to shoots of a plant], golden, yellow, shining, resplendent, flowing, 
filtering: pavitram; crushing on stones; provenance of soma in mountainous 
terrain) can be explained by this metallurgical-allegorical decipherment. Even 
the reference to the seller from Mt. Mujavant who is paid and chased away after 
taking delivery of the ore product can be explained in the brahmana days 
involving the secretive alchemical processes (agni-rahasya; somanala yantra); 
these practices continue into the Arthasastra days with an extraordinary role 
played by the Adhvaryu in a political nexus within the king's domain. It is not 
a mere coincidence that Sulba sutras also have sutras shrouded in 
geometrical-allegorical terms: sulba = copper! Katyayana says that his sutras 
have their meaning concealed. So too can the reference to maakshika in RV. 119.9
(fly, pyrite ores!) be explained.

A detailed monograph of about 300 pages by the author: Indian Alchemy, Soma in 
the Veda provides an exhaustive review of the subject, in the context of the 
alchemical traditions of antiquity and re-interpretation of the vedic texts rk, 
by rk.


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