Saras... (Soma vessel)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Wed May 27 19:57:33 EDT 1998

George Thompson has answered this already; I wanted to
check Geldner's handy summary again which I could not do at home

On Tue, 26 May 1998, Lakshmi Srinivas wrote:

> I do not know if the list members are generally aware of I.
> Mahadevan's theory that the IVC Cult Object represents a Soma filter.

Well, Soma/Haoma is a purely descriptive Indo-Iranian word, based on the
root su "to press out." Supposing it comes from the Indus people/language,
one would expect a local (Dravidian, for Mahadevan) word. -- Be that as it
may, more importantly, is it a Soma filter? -  No (below).

> The hypothesis itself seems to have been well received in the world of
> South Asian archaeology. (See Possehl, Indus Age: The writing system,
> Philadelphia, 1996.)

Indeed, Possehl, p. 131 singles hims out as "certainly one of the few
decipherment efforts that deserves further attention."
I also like his cautious approach and his combinations and would proceed
in a somewhat similar fashion if I were to start working on the script...

But, Possehl also has to say:  M's "approach to the Soma press is a
departure from his method of parallelisms. It is based mainly on common
sense and the development of an argument."

However, whatever the object on the seals and in ivory may be, AGAIN, it
does not fit the Rgvedic evidence.
Even if it were a Soma filter/sieve, this filter looks different in the
RV:  We need a sheep skin and a vessel into which Soma flows.

Short description in Geldner, RV translation, intro to book 9.

>  the cult object ... found in Harappa ....
> confirm the suspicion that it is some kind of a filter e.g., it has
> deeply drilled holes in the bottom etc..

Whoever the Harappans/Indus/Ghaggar-Hakra-Nara people were and whatever
their religion was, the Soma filter in the RV and Mahadevan's do not fit.

Geldner says, RV translation vol. III (Harvard Oriental seies 35) p. 5:
(I translate from the German and summarize:)

* watering the soma stems; repeated dipping, shaking, and watering

* pressing the soma on a stone with the help of another stone
  --  above a cow skin (sorry!!)
  perhaps also by using 2 (wooden) pressing boards

        (it sometimes seems that this pressed fluid runs down directly into a
        watery vessel) << I may add that Ahalya does all of this with
        just her teeth... and Indra comes running >>

* the pressed juice is poured on a sieve made of ***sheep hair***.
  and is cleansed of its filament remnants

  on this sieve, Soma moves about in circles and flows down through it,
  with 'spouts/beams/rays' (Strahl = dhAra) into the large Soma
  vessel or vessels  below it.

* water is added in order to water down the Soma and make it drinkable.
  Water is either poured into the vesel or it flows down via the sieve

* Soma is then drunk pure, or mixed with milk, or with sour milk

The RV soma vessels apparently were all made of wood; later, <<in the
post-RV "classical">> ritual partly of clay.They are simply called

Thus Geldner.

There are no (100) holes drilled in the RV sieve. Rather the texts speak
about Soma running like rivers to the samudra ... not into caves/holes....

A pity that one item after the other doesn't work out... One has to look
for REAL survivals/matches, such as the system of weights...

Michael Witzel                       witzel at

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