Soma (drink)

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Soma is a drink used in ancient India, in the (Vedic) culture. It is written of in the Vedas, in which there are many hymns praising it.

Ephedra alata

It was probably a juice made from a mountain plant or the haoma plant. In the Vedas, Soma is both the sacred drink and also a god (deva). It is not known for sure what Soma actually was.

Soma is similar to the Greek drink, ambrosia. According to their beliefs it is what the gods drink, and what made them gods. Indra and Agni are known for drinking a lot of Soma. Mortals also drink it, giving them visions that are thought to be divine. The Rig-Veda (8.48) states, "We have drunk the Soma; we have become immortal; we have gone to the light; we have found the gods." The Ninth Mandala of the Rig Veda is known as the Soma Mandala. It is mostly hymns to Soma.

History[change | change source]

The Soma/Haoma cult originated in the Andronovo culture.[1] It is noted that other early Indo-Europeans did not drink Soma except Indo-Iranians (cf. Norman 1990: 292f.), and therefore making it unlikely that this cult started with Proto-Indo-Europeans.[2] Based on the flower-clusters of the Ephedra alata, Soma-drinking is especially associated with Indra and the Sanskrit name for the colour Yellow, हरि ("hari"). A similar plant-colour system exists in Turkic sarï-msak ("garlic"), a plant which is called after its yellowish-white root developed from Turkic sarï 'yellow' (Tenisev: 2001, p. 144).[3] Buryat hara-ana and Bashkir harï-na show the closest phonetic affinity with Sanskrit.[4] The original meaning is preserved in Chuvash šură ("white, light colored; clean, uncontaminated").[5]

Etymology[change | change source]

Russian linguist Alexander Lubotsky is sure that the Soma cult was borrowed by the Indo-Iranians from the Andronovans and gave rise to the Avestan word stem su- ("Haoma plant").[6] The Vedic tradition of Indra and Zoroastrianism evidently adopted the cultic drink from the earlier Bronze Age religion of Central Asia.[2] There are different theories about the further etymology of the word. According to one theory:

  • 1. the word may ultimately come from Turkic qumlaq/xumlaq ("hop"). The word is thought to be borrowed into Scythic *xumallag and Ossetian хуымӕллӕг. The Turkic word may be related to the Germanic word for 'hops', compare Old Norse humli, humla, humall. Either from Turkic or Germanic it has been borrowed into Latin humulus, Greek χουβέλι and Slavic xъmeľь.[7][8] The Iranian derivation of Osset. xumälläg 'hop', however, raises some phonetic and morphological problems and is therefore to be considered rather weak. The ultimate Turkic source of the Volga-Finnic, Iranian and other late European names for 'hop' can not be excluded.[8][9][10]

Another theory interprets the Soma/Haoma drink as an "offering to gods" (via Chinese shuma and Sun 蓀) which is associated with the Turkic origins of the Zhou people in c. 1046 BC. This theory suggests that Soma:

  • 2. may have its origins in the Turkic second person pronoun “san/sin” ("thou, you"), specifically in the respectful form “su” found in the modern Uyghur and Kazak languages. In the Turkic group of languages sun and su seem to be interchangeable. Both sun and shuma are clearly shown as plants and associated with the deity Siming in the Nine Songs of the Chinese tradition. A Turkic-Iranian extension via Chin. wu 巫 "priest" is considered.[11][12] In Turkic languages sun- also means “to hold out, offer, present”.

A last option derives the word :

  • 3. from Turkic xum ("sand/earth"), from the Proto-Turkic root *kum through a mediation from "hemp", indicating the place where plants grow.[13]

The most ancient forms for garlic plants seem to have been preserved in Siberian Turkic and Mongolian dialects, since they show typical signs of evolutionary rhotacism (l~r) and initial consonant mutation (k/h~s/š) which are ancestral to all Indo-European forms: Altaian, Teleut kalma, Tuva xylba, Lebedinskij-Tatar, Shor, Khakas kalba and Mongolian xaliar.[3]

References[change | change source]

  1. George Erdosy (2012), The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity, Walter de Gruyter, p. 371.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Asko Parpola, in "The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity", Walter de Gruyter, 1995. Volume 1 of Indian philology and South Asian studies, ISSN 0948-1923 quote p. 370: "...a central element in Indra's cult was a drink originally called *Sauma: Vedic Soma, and Avestan Haoma, the cultic drink which Zoroastrianism evidently adopted from the earlier Bronze Age religion of Central Asia." quote: p.371: "Other early Indo-Europeans did not drink Sauma (cf. Norman 1990: 292f.). Therefore, it seems unlikely that this cult was started in the Pontic-Caspian steppes, which was probably the Indo-European homeland, ..." Harri Nyberg quote p.395: "The stems and flower-clusters of E. alata are green in the spring and then turn yellowish-green, golden and finally coppery-orange, making a striking impression against a rocky desert background (Ibid). This brings to mind the colours most often associated with soma/haoma: the colour of the [plant] aṃśu- (Avestan asu-) is hari (Avestan zairi; ("yellowish green to green" (Falk 1998); "golden" (Brough 1971)) or aruṇá (Avestan aruṣá: "reddish" (Falk 1989;)"
  3. 3.0 3.1 Maria Magdolna Tatár: "A EURASIAN ETYMOLOGY: SARMYSAK < *K'IRMUS(V)/KERMUS(V)/KARMUS(V) 'GARLIC'", Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 55, 2002, pp. 243-244 (PDF) DOI:
  4. see Maria Magdolna Tatár (2002), p. 243
  5. Starostin, SergeiDybo, AnnaMudrak, Oleg (2003), “*si̯ā̀jri”, in  (Handbuch der Orientalistik; VIII.8), Leiden, New York, Köln: E.J. Brill
  6. "It seems further obvious ta me that the Soma cult was borrowed by the Indo-Iranians. [...] Av. su- 'Haoma plant'" Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archaeological Considerations, University of Helsinki, 8 -10 January, 1999, Vammala 2007, pp. 308-310. ISBN 952-5150-59-3
  7. David Stophlet Flattery, Martin Schwartz, "Haoma and Harmaline: The Botanical Identity of the Indo-Iranian Sacred Hallucinogen "soma" and Its Legacy in Religion, Language, and Middle-Eastern Folklore", University of California Press, 1989, pp. 129-130.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Starostin, SergeiDybo, AnnaMudrak, Oleg (2003), “*Kumlak”, in  (Handbuch der Orientalistik; VIII.8), Leiden, New York, Köln: E.J. Brill
  9. Riho Grünthal, Johanna Laakso, Oekeeta asijoo: "Commentationes Fenno-Ugricae in honorem Seppo Suhonen sexagenarii 16.V.1998, Volume 1998", Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura, 1998 p.5 quote: "Among the Volga-Finnic languages Mordvin shows komula, while others, like Cheremis, have borrowed umla ~ əməla through Turkic. [...] Indian scholars derived the form soma from a root *su- 'to press', but it could not be the Humulus lupulus, since this has flavour but does not possess any intoxicating qualities. It has also been said that Humulus did not grow wild in India. [...]. Vasmer (R. Sl. VI p. 174) also admitted the possibility of deriving xiiméli from Iranian, but in REW III p. 250 f. he regarded it as “nicht annehmbar”. Räsänen in TEW derived all words from Turkic, and Hubschmid and others followed him. The renowned Swedish orientalist and historian of religion, H. S. Nyberg, supported the Opinion that the plant in question was Cannabis sativa, or hemp. The Swedish school of Iranists has in general accepted this interpretation of the haoma ~ soma."
  10. Lajos Ligeti, Studia Turcica; Akadémisi Kiadó. Volume 17 of Bibliotheca Orientalis Hungarica, 1971. p.31 quote: "[...] of the above Chuv. word may also be possible; very widely spread is again Chuv. gamla, Turkic qumlaq «hop» (> Osset. gumaelle «id.»): Sogdian rum, Av. haoma, OP hauma (-varga) (in the name of a Scythian tribe) «the holy beverage», Sanskr. soma."
  11. Zhang He, Is Shuma the Chinese Analog of Soma/Haoma? A Study of Early Contacts between Indo-Iranians and Chinese. Sino-Platonic Papers, Victor H. Mair (Editor). Number 216 October, 2011.
  12. compare W. Eberhard, "Çin Tarihi" on the Zhou origins (original: "Chinas Geschichte" in Bibliotheca Sinica. 1, ZDB-ID 419856-6), Ankara 1947, p.33. translated from German into Turkish by Dr. Hasan Bahar: "Türkistan'ın coğrafi konumu ve ilkçağ kaynaklarına göre tarihi", p. 240.
  13. source will be submitted, I lost the paper