The Rig Veda has about 1,000 hymns composed as groups of Indo-Aryans migrated in waves from the Indus river valley to the Gangetic river valley over 500 years between 1,500 BCE to 1,000 BCE. These hymns are organised in the Gangetic plains by the Kurus into ten chapters known as mandalas. The ninth mandala compiles over a hundred hymns focusing on Soma, an herb, which is given the status of a deity.
Every day the Vedic Aryans would crush the Soma herb, filter its juice and mix it with milk and honey and then offer it to Indra, three times a day—in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. Soma was Indra’s favourite drink. It made him alert, energetic, aware, took away sloth, filled him with radiance and positivity, in exchange for which he granted success to those who invoked him thus.
Soma was clearly consumed by those who offered the drink to Indra. It gave them inspiration, positive energy, took away laziness, energised them, and motivated them to action. In many ways, it was like our habit of drinking tea. Like Soma, tea wakes us in the morning and afternoon. We drink tea to energise us, to awaken us, and to inspire us. Tea is for us what Soma was for Vedic Aryans.
Most people assume that the Vedic Soma is something magical and mystical. For a long time, people thought Soma was mind-altering, a drink that was consumed by shamans to get into a transcendental state and discover things. Many romanticised the idea of the Vedas and Vedic mantras. The connection of Soma with mushrooms, or with hallucinogenic and narcotic substances like cannabis, emerged in the 1960s and 1970s during the hippie period.
A careful reading of the hymns, however, reveals many characteristics of this herb. It grows in mountainous areas. It is a leafless, tubular, cane-like plant that is sweet-smelling. The juice is astringent. The colour is red gold. Similarly, descriptive hymns are found in the Zoroastrian scripture that are composed in Persia—the Yasht and the Yasnas of the Avesta. They refer to a drink called Homa.