Indian Alchemy: Soma in the Veda

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The book is an epoch-making work - a paradigm-shift in Vedic studies - which identifies soma as electrum (gold-silver metallic compound). Soma is referred to in the Rgveda as the soul of the yajna (atmayajnasya). The path-breaking identification is based on textual evidence and a penetrating analysis of the Indian alchemical tradition, spanning nearly five millennia.

The author is also the discoverer of the integrating role played by the mighty Sarasvati river adored in the Rgveda as the best of mothers, best of rivers and best of goddesses, Sarasvati and soma are no longer mythology but relevant to present-day children, respectively, as the repository of groundwater sanctuaries in north-west India and the metallurgical tradition starting with the Bronze Age civilization, c. 3000 BC.

Sarasvati and soma are the symbols of the great Indian traditions of devi worship and personification and deification of natural, material phenomena. The tirthas along the rivers are reminders of the critical nature of water management problems all over India and soma as in integral part of the yajna process, is the embodiment of the scientific, technological and materialist temper of ancient India.

 

About the Author:

 

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, is an Indologist and has contributed to the History of Science and Technology in Ancient India (collaborating with Dr. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya), compiled a multi-lingual comparative dictionary for twenty-five Indian languages. He has also designed and maintained the websites.

 

Preface

 

Focus of the Rgveda
Soma is the very soul of the yajna elaborated in the Rgveda.

The adhvaryu takes the skin (carma or tvac) and puts on it's the filaments or shoots of the soma (amsu). He then takes two boards (adhisavana), puts one on top of the soma shoots, and beats them with the stones (gravana). Then the soma is put between the two boards, and water is poured on them from the vasafivari pot. Soma is then shaken in the hota cup (camasa), wetted again with vasafivari water and put on a stone. Grass is laid on them, and they are beaten so that the juice runs out. The juice is allowed to run into the trough (ahavaniya), then strained through the cloth (pavitra or dasapavitra) which is held by the udgata. The filtered soma is caught in another trough (putabhri). Libations are poured from two kinds of vessels: grahas or saucers, and camasas or cups. [Adapted from Haug's notes from Sayana's commentary on Aitareya Brahmana].

Soma as electrum and soma as a process (jajna).
Soma is meant for the gods; thus, gods in the Rgveda are an allegorical personification of the purifications processes (of soma), just as Soma is an apri deity, together with other materials and apparatus (ladles and vessels) employed in the yajna, accompanied by rcas (or, agnistoma).

If soma is electrum and indra is burning embers (such as charcoal, indha, used in a furnace), the yajna can be interpreted, at the material level, as a process of reduction (or, paritram, purification), using ksara, of a metallic ore compound (maksika or quartr or pyrites) to yield the shining metals: potable (pavamana, rsa-raso varjrah, cf., RV, 9.48.3, i.e., rasa, vigorous as a thunderbolt) after oxidizing the baser metallic elements (in the unrefined pyrite ores) such as lead (naga or ahi or vrtra) and copper (sulba).

Reducing agents include alkaline as well as combustible materials-vegetable and animal products-such as: herbs (ksara), barley-grains and cooked panda, milk, curds, clarified butter, viands (animal fat), bones (used in cupellation processes, and for making crucibles, during the Bronze Age), sheep's hair or wool (reminisced as golden fleece).

For e.g., soma is described as parvatavrdhah in a verse, that the pyrites are from the mountain slopes: 9.46.1. Begotten by the stones the flowing (soma-juices) are effused for the banquet of the gods' active horses. [Begotten by the stones: or, growing on the mountain slopes.]

The exchange value of gold and silver in Vedic times, is elaborated in metaphorical terms related to wealth and lineage: such as food, cattle, rain, and progeny.

The vedi (altar) is the earth and as the agni (fire) raises towards the heaven, the poetic imagination of the rsis (priests) expands into realms of cosmological thoughts, unparalleled in recorded history of early human civilizations. Thus, at a cosmic level, the Rgveda raises profound philosophical questions which have been the fountain-head of Indian philosophical traditions.

In such a perspective, the entire Rgveda can be viewed as an allegory, the human quest for achieving material which has exchange value. In transcending the material level to realms of philosophical explorations, and in expanding the semantic and morphological limits of language to attain new insights into the very concept of "meaning," using language, through metrical, chanted mantras, as a means of understanding the atman and the paramatman, thereby, attaining svarga, or bliss.

All the suktas are thus, governed by a framework of four principal metaphors, rendered in scintillating, ecstatic, spiritual poetic resonance: work, prayer, gods, material well-being. An epitomy of this framework may be seen from the following selections:

Sarasvati river is adored in the Rgveda as: ambitame, naditame, devitame (best of all mothers, best of all rivers, best of all goddesses). She is a mother because she nourished a civilization on her banks. She is a river which had flowed from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea carrying the glacier waters which are today carried y the Sutlej and Yamuna rivers. Over 1200 of the 1600 archaeological sites of the civilization unearthed during the last 70 years have been found on the Sarasvati river basin. For e.g. sites of Ropar, Rakhigarhi, Kunal, Banawali, Kalibangan, Ganweriwala, Kotdiji, Chanhudaro, Dholavira (Kotda), Rojdi, Lothal, Bet Dwaraka where the typical civilization artifacts such as seals with inscriptions, Bronze Age metal weapons and tools, beads, jewellery, weights and measures, water-management systems have been found.

She is a goddess adored ever since all over India as the goddess of arts and crafts, as the goddess of learning. The civilization nourished by the Sarasvati had transformed the chalcolithic (copper and stone) age into the Bronze (copper-tin, copper-arsenic alloys or bronze and brass) Age resulting in a revolutionary way to relate to the material phenomena of the world, using hardened metal tools and weapons. She is a goddess of the Saptasindhu region; her vahana is a peacock or a hamsa. She carries a vina (lute, string-instrument) on her hands. As Mother Goddess, she is also depicted as Durga who is adored with weapons in her multiple hands, as Mahisasura-mardini (the killer of the demon, Mahisa, of the bull form).

The river was desiccated due to a number of geological reasons: Yamuna (called Chambal earlier) cut a deeper channel and captured the tributary of Sarasvati (Tons river) at Paonta Sahib (Himachal Pradesh, a famous Sikh pilgrimage centre). Hence, the cherished memories of the people of Triveni Samgam at Prayag (Allahabad) where Yamuna brought in the waters of the Sarasvati to join the Ganga river. Sutlej (which originated from Mansarovar lake in Mt. Kailas, Tibet) which was a tributary of Sarasvati river, joining the latter at Shatrana (Punjab), took a 90-degree turn at Ropar (due to tectonic disturbances) and migrated away from the Sarasvati and joined the Sindhu (Indus) river. The phenomenon called amdhi (sand-storms) which is common even today, resulted in the build-up of sand-dunes on the bed of the Sarasvati in the areas close to Jaisalmer (Thar or Marusthali desert, also called Cholistan in Pakistan area). Thus Sarasvati river got ch


Item Code: IDE220
Cover: Hardcover
Edition: 2004
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN: 8121508800
Language: English
Size: 8.9" X 5.9"
Pages: 348
Other Details: weight of book 572 gms