This is an analysis of the claim that Vedas talk about alcoholism or intoxication by use of some narcotic called Soma. As mentioned in a previous article, the growing popularity of Vedas in recent months seems to be the catalyst for a sudden surge in this allegation.
We received a challenge few days ago to explain our stand on this issue. We would get straight to work, explore the truth and address some of the allegations.
All leading scholars have asserted that Vedas speak of merits of consuming Soma or intoxicants. All Vedic Rishis were addicts of Soma.
The above statement is not at all an allegation. On contrary its a fact. And its a fact that makes us admire Vedas so much. Its a fact that has compelled renowned intellectuals of the world to admire Vedas in awe. Its a fact that drives us to put our best efforts to spread the culture of Soma consumption across the world.
What needs to be understood is that this intoxication of Soma is no ordinary intoxication. It is that intoxication which inspires noble souls to relentlessly pursue the vision of universal well-being and even face harshest of miseries with a peaceful smile.
Multiple meanings of Soma
Soma has multiple meanings. However the core essence is that Soma refers to something that produces happiness, peace, relaxation and enthusiasm. Probably that is why in later era, its usage as synonym of alcohol or intoxicant got popular. After all, a hungry dog sees only meat in every body! Same goes for perverted beings.
Let us now review some alternate meanings of Soma:
– Soma refers to Moon because moonlight provides peace. That is why Mo(o)nday is Somvaar. Now is Moon a wine-shop that it is so called (assuming that Soma means alcohol or narcotic)?
– A peaceful and amicable person is called Saumya. Now if Soma means an intoxicant, then why people across different parts of India name their children Saumya? One is invited to read any dictionary to know what Saumya (सौम्य) means. Refer dictionaries of Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Bengali, Malayalam etc and you would find scores of words derived from Soma that mean friendliness.
– The famous temple of Gujarat (that was plundered by a butcher called Mahmud Ghazni) is called Somnath. If Soma means intoxicant, then perhaps the temple should have allowed it! But as referred earlier, it means a gentle lord or lord of the moon.
– Soma also refers to certain medicines that promote longevity and act as relaxant. For example, Giloya which is very useful in heart diseases and provides a cooling effect on body.
Primary meaning of Soma in Vedas
In Vedas however, in most places, Soma refers to God or Ishwar focusing on those qualities of Ishwar that provides us with peace, bliss, satisfaction and global vision. In few places esp in Atharvaveda, it has come to mean certain medicines. But nowhere can it be termed to mean a mundane intoxicant.
Thus, Rigveda 1.91.22 states that:
“O Soma, You alone create the medicines that heal us. You alone create the water that quenches our thirst. You alone create all moving objects, sense organs and living beings and also give us this life. You have provided expanse to this universe and you alone enlighten the world to eradicate darkness.”
Now only a fool would claim that Soma refers to any intoxicant or alcohol when Soma is said to be creator of universe, stars, life, objects etc. Very clearly Soma refers to the Supreme Lord – the Ishwar or God.
And hence, Soma intoxication implies entrenching oneself completely in devotion to that Supreme Lord. To see Him everywhere and guide oneself solely by His inspiration is Soma intoxication. To follow only the inner voice that communicates with us every moment and rejecting all worldly and sensory pressures is Soma intoxication. To rise completely above the old habits, past tendencies and false ego is Soma intoxication. To surrender totally to Him is Soma intoxication.
A rough analogy would be with Superconductivity. Once a material is taken below a certain threshold temperature, suddenly resistance becomes zero. Similarly when we have practiced following our inner voice sufficiently, suddenly the world seems to different – so enlightening, so refreshing, so blissful and so blessed by Him everywhere. This stage of heightened association with Ishwar is the stage of Soma intoixcation that Vedas describe in detail.
And yes, it is only when Rishis have reached this stage that they get Vedic inspirations and are able to comprehend meaning of Vedic mantras. It is then that the Rishis ‘see’ the Vedic mantras through the eyes of intellect. In fact, one is called Rishi only after she or he has reached this enlightening stage of Soma intoxication.
Ayurveda very clearly defines what an intoxicant is:
Sharngadhar 4.21: A substance that destroys intellect is called an intoxicant.
To understand Soma better and see why it cannot refer to any material/mundane chemical even closely related to alcohol, intoxication or narcotics, let us review a few more mantras on Soma.
Soma is not only pure in itself but also purifies everything else. Some is extremely sweet and promotes noble qualities. It destroys sinful tendencies.
Even a dumb person that understand that Soma refers to something intellectual and spiritual and not something as disgusting as alcohol or narcotics
O Soma, purify us from everywhere. Enter us with excitement and strengthen our speech. Inculcate a sharp intellect within us.
Thus while alcohol or narcotics is taking to dumb the mind, Rishis yearn for Soma because it sharpens the mind and gears them into noble actions.
O Soma, You purify everything. You are the best source of enlightenment. You lead us towards immortality.
Should we say more!
Ordinary people consider that as Soma which is used as medicine. But the enlightened ones seek the Soma of intellect which materialistic minds cannot even comprehend!
If we review the Pavamana Parva of Samaveda Purvarchika, we can get a wider glimpse of the Vedic Soma.
It is described as something that brings enthusiasm, tolerance and valor.
1.2: O Soma, purify me.
1.3: O Soma, you are source of vitality and bliss.
1.4: O Soma, your intoxication is worth imbibing.
6.5: O Soma, you give birth to our intellect.
6.8: Use Soma to produce intellect.
9.2: Soma provides us with intelligence.
7.12: Intelligence seeks Soma.
9.6: Soma enhances intellect.
Thus while Soma produces intoxication, this intoxication actually strengthens our intellect and reduces dumbness.
2.5 of Pavamana Parva describes Soma as Chetan or living. Thus Soma is not something inert. It is a living force that enhances intellect. It is the Supreme Lord!
How can thus a sensible person relate it with a mundane narcotic?
This Parva of Samaveda provides some more adjectives of Soma:
3.2: One who sees everything actively (Vicharshani)
5.9: Extremely intelligent (Vipra)
5.9: Best of the scholars (Angirastamah)
9.1: Expert (Vichakshanah)
8.4: Knows self (Swarvidah)
2.10: Sees everything clearly (Kavi)
3.6: Knows his duties perfectly (Kratuvit)
11.1: An intoxication that inspires us to perform duties perfectly (Kratuvittamo Madah)
8.4: One who knows the path clearly (Gatuvittamah)
1.7: Adept (Daksha)
1.8: Source of adeptness (Dakshasadhana)
4.2: Adeptness that provides happiness (Daksham Mayobhuvam)
5.11: Provides strength (Vajasatam)
6.7: Protector of world (Bhuvanasya Gopaa)
If this be not enough, the Parva also states Soma to be:
5.1: One seated on the home of immortality
6.3: One who inspires noble minds towards fundamental truth (Rita)
6.2: Speaks to us (Inner voice)
2.3: Destroys hatred
4.12: Inspires towards friendship and solidarity
4.14: Destroys meanness and violence
10.11: Destroys corrupt mindset
8.4: Devoid of sins
6.6: Provides whatever is worth obtaining
6.1: Greatest donor
7.4: Carrier of life force
4.3: Desired by non-violent minds
This is merely a small sampler from the copious references from Vedas that very clearly establish Soma as the pure blissful Ishwar and its intoxication as complete surrender to the Supreme Lord.
Vedas and intoxication
Almost every other mantra of Vedas yearn for enhancement of intellect/ health and repulsion towards all those tendencies and articles that destroy these. Be it the Gayatri Mantra or the Mrityunjaya, all exemplify this.
To conclude the discussions, let us provide a few references from Vedas that condemn intoxication.
One becomes sinful if he or she crosses even one of the 7 restraints. Yaskacharya defines these 7 sins in his Nirukta as: Theft, Adultery, Murder of a noble person, Abortion, Dishonesty, Repeating misdeeds and consumption of alcohol.
Those who consume intoxicants lose their intellect, talk rubbish, get naked and fight with each other.
An action performed as per the inner voice does not lead to sins. Dumb arrogance against inner voice, however, is source of frustration and miseries in same manner as intoxication and gambling destroy us. Ishwar inspires those with noble elevated thoughts towards progress and propels down those who decide to think lowly. Lowly acts performed even in dreams cause decline.
Weak minds are attracted towards meat, alcohol, sensuality and womanizing. But O non-violent mind, you focus your mind towards the world in same manner as a mother cares for her child.
In summary, intoxication is considered as recipe for weakness, failure and destruction!
Even Vivekananda has asserted that Vedas justified alcoholism. How do explain: “The old gods were found to be incongruous — these boisterous, fighting, drinking, beef-eating gods of the ancients — whose delight was in the smell of burning flesh and libations of strong liquor. Sometimes Indra drank so much that he fell upon the ground and talked unintelligibly. These gods could no longer be tolerated.” This is taken from http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_2/jnana-yoga/maya_and_the_evolution_of_the_conception_of_god.htm
First, a lot of writings of Swami Vivekananda as published by RK Mission appear questionable as it contradicts his own writings. Many are said to be translation of his speeches. They were published after his death. We have reasons to believe that they are not authentic. In fact, almost all such allegations form part of some speech he delivered and not what he wrote by his own hands.
But even for a moment, we assume that all this is indeed written by Swami Vivekananda, it only shows that he had not studied Vedas properly and his thoughts on Vedas were influenced by western indologists.
While we respect Swami Vivekananda as a charismatic Yogic personality, powerful orator and impressive writer on neo-Vedanta, he is not an authority for us in matters of Vedas, if this is what he wrote.
We have provided with specific references from Vedas that beef and alcohol have no place in Vedic dharma. Instead of quoting personal views of Swami Vivekananda or any person for that matter, one should quote from Vedas to refute the stand that has been taken by us as well as all sages from inception of Vedas till date. Why hide behind a saint instead of arguing coherently?
By the way, another interesting point to think about is that if indeed Vedas recommend beef and alcohol, why have been the traditional Vedic Brahmins farthest from these vices for ages? Just food (not beef or alcohol!) for thought.
Vedic scholars like Radhakrishnan and K M Munshi – founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan – have also stated that Vedic rishis used to drink alcohol and eat beef.
We are not sure about Dr Radhakrishnan, but we agree that K M Munshi held such views that he expressed in his novel Lopamudra. We would only say that many works of K M Munshi have been derogatory to our ancient heritage and role models as well as are completely baseless. Several of his novels are full of vulgarity. His series on Krishna was extremely offensive. Same goes for Lopamudra. He was a political person and it is unfortunate that he treaded into an area that he shouldn’t have unless he had the right competence. The works of Bharati Vidya Bhawan in this area have been most damaging and misleading. Please refer “Vedon ka Yatarth Swaroop” by Pt Dharmadeva which comprehensively addresses false allegations of Vedic Age, Lopamudra and other derogatory texts.
But regardless of views of personalities howsomuch famous or influential – Dr Radhakrishnan, KM Munshi, Swami Vivekananda or whosoever – we would seek specific and logical references from Vedas instead of empty quotes.
If Soma means a medicinal plant that no one knows, then all the verses of Vedas that talk of Soma become useless today.
We have already shown earlier that Soma means bliss-providing Ishwar. But even if Soma means a medicine that no one knows today, that does not make Vedas irrelevant. That only imply that humanity should strive to explore such useful medicines. A book like modern Quran that demands blind acceptance without having even the time to understand it (there is only one life as per modern scholars of Quran!) has huge number of verses that are supposed to be Gaib or incomprehensible for humans. Then what is the problem with having a vast number of verses in Vedas that are not understood by dumb minds today? After all Vedas provide you with a long cycle of rebirths to finish your homework! It also does not demand that one should complete the course of Vedas or even believe in Vedas to achieve some Heaven and escape some permanent Hell.
If Vedas do not talk of alcohol or intoxication, why do we have words like Soma, Mada, Madhu in Vedas that relate to intoxication.
This is most stupid argument.
1. Vedas offered the first words that depicted root essence. Based on that later vocabularies were built. For example, Soma means bliss giving. Intelligent people used it to depict friendly people etc. But for people on path of decline, even alcohol is apparently bliss giving. Same for other words.
2. Don’t we have similar examples in other languages? Gay means a happy person. But what it means today is known to all of us. Interestingly older dictionaries would not even have homosexual as a meaning for gay. Meat not only means flesh but also substance of a point. In fact almost all words have multiple meanings. Only dumb people would try to distort meaning of a sentence through wrong usage.
In conclusion, the only reasons why one would see alcohol in Vedas are either they have not studied Vedas or have an antipathy towards Vedas.
For rest of us, Vedas only encourage for enhancement of intellect and knowledge. And thus condemn anything that diminishes these.
The Soma Ras of Vedas is the divine devotion of the Supreme that elevates us from all miseries, all frustrations, all doubts, all sins and galvanizes us towards virtuous actions with unimaginable enthusiasm and ultimate bliss.
May we all work together to spread pursuit of this Soma in entire universe and pray for immortality of all.
The call of Soma is for the brave. The call of Soma is for the Yajna (noble selfless actions). The call of Soma is for those warriors who have glorified themselves through constant struggle and relentless efforts. O Soma seekers, destroy the dogs of lust and greed and listen to the most beautiful melody of Soma. (Rigveda 9.101.13)
Works of Pt Chamupati, Prof Rajendra Jijnasu and Prof Dharmadeva Vidyamartanda.
This post is also available in Hindi at http://agniveer.com/soma-alcohol-and-vedas-hi/.