Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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SOMA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The juice of a milky climbing plant (Asclepias acida), extracted and fermented, forming a beverage offered in libations to the deities, and drunk by the Brahmans. Its exhilarating qualities were grateful to the priests, and the gods were represented as being equally fond of it. This soma juice occupies a large space in the Rigveda; one Mandala is almost wholly devoted to its praise and uses. It was raised to the position of a deity, and represented to be primeval, all-powerful, healing all diseases, bestower of riches, lord of other gods, and even identified with the Supreme Being. As a personification, Soma was the god who represented and animated the soma juice, an Indian Dionysus or Bacchus.


In later times, the name was appropriated to the moon, and some of the qualities of the soma juice have been transferred to the luminary, who is Oshadhipati, or lord of herbs. So Soma is considered the guardian of sacrifices and penance, asterisms and healing herbs.

In the Puranic mythology Soma, as the moon, is commonly said to be the son of the Rishi Atri by his wife Anasuya, but the authorities are not agreed. One makes him son of Dharma; and another gives his paternity to Prabhakara, of the race of Atri; and he is also said to have been produced from churning of the ocean in another Manwantara. In the Vishnu Purana he is called "the monarch of Brahmans;" but the Brihad Aranyaka, an older work, makes him a Kshatriya.

He married twenty-seven daughters of the Rishi Daksha, who are really personifications of the twenty-seven lunar asterisms; but keeping up the personality, he paid such attention to Rohini, the fourth of them, that the rest became jealous, and appealed to their father. Daksha's interference was fruitless, and he cursed his son-in-law, so that he remained childless, and became affected with consumption. This moved the pity of his wives, and they interceded with their father for him. He would not recall his curse, but he modified it so that the decay should be periodical, not permanent. Hence the wane and increase of the moon.

He performed the Rajasuya sacrifice, and became in consequence so arrogant and licentious that he carried off Tara, the wife of Brihaspati, and refused to give her up either on the entreaties of her husband or at the command of Brahma. This gave rise to a wide-spread quarrel. The sage Usanas, out of enmity to Brihaspati, sided with Soma, and he was supported by the Danavas, the Daityas, and other foes of the gods. Indra and the gods in general sided with Brihaspati. There ensued a fierce contest, and "the earth was shaken to her centre." Soma had his body cut in two by Siva's trident, and hence he is called Bhagnatma. At length Brahma interposed and stopped the fight, compelling Soma to restore Tara to her husband. The result of this intrigue was the birth of a child, whom Tara, after great persuasion, declared to be the son of Soma, and to whom the name of Budha was given: from him the Lunar race sprung.

According to the Puranas, the chariot of Soma has three wheels, and is drawn by ten horses of the whiteness of the jasmine, five on the right half of the yoke, and five on the left.

The moon has many names and descriptive epithets, as Chandra, Indu, Sasi, 'marked like a hare;' Nisakara, 'maker of night;' Nakshatranatha, 'lord of the constellations;' Sitamarichi, 'having cool rays;' Sitansu, 'having white rays;' Mriganka, 'marked like a deer;' Shivasekhara, 'the crest of Siva;' Kumudapati, 'lord of the lotus;' Swetavaji, 'drawn by white horses.'

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM