By – Sathyakāmā Jabala


Soma plant finds frequent mention in the Vedas. It was of great importance in the Vedic religion. Soma plant is said to have stems and leaves and used to grow in the mountains, Soma plant as a whole, as well as Soma Ras (juice), are also called Andhas. Soma the mythical plant is extinct. Let us not discuss its botanical features since this article deals with only intoxication in Hinduism. Soma drink was prepared from the leaves of Soma plant by pressing them between stones. It was mixed with water, milk, curd, and few other edible things probably to lessen its intoxicating effect. As per Nirukta 11.2 the word Soma is derived from the root “Su” which means “To Press.” As per Nirukta 1.11 the word Sura (liquor prepared from grains) is also derived from the root “Su” which means “To press.” Both the words Sura and Soma are derived from the same root. Before we begin let us have a look at what prominent Hindu scholars said about Soma,


Swami Vikvekananda the founder of Ramakrishna Mission wrote,

“And they had a popular plant called Soma. What plant it was nobody knows now; it has entirely disappeared, but from the books we gather that, when crushed, it produced a sort of milky juice, and that was fermented; and it can also be gathered that this fermented Soma juice was intoxicating. This also they offered to Indra and the other gods, and they also drank it themselves. Sometimes they drank a little too much, and so did the gods. Indra on occasions got drunk. There are passages to show that Indra at one time drank so much of this Soma juice that he talked irrelevant words.” The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 1/Lectures And Discourses/Vedic Religious Ideals
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Sri Aurobindo the founder of Sir Aurobindo Ashram wrote,

“Soma is the Lord of the wine of delight, the wine of immortality. Like Agni he is found in the plants, the growths of earth, and in the waters. The Soma-wine used in the external sacrifice is the symbol of this wine of delight. It is pressed out by the pressing-stone (adri, gravan) which has a close symbolic connection with the thunderbolt, the formed electric force of Indra also called adri…” The Secret of the Veda, p.354, by Sri Aurobindo, Published by SriAurobindoAshram Publication Dept, 2003

Swami Prabhupada the founder of ISKCON is of the same view that Soma was an intoxicating drink, however, he is also of the view that SomRas was not an ordinary intoxicating liquor, it was a special intoxicating liquor made for the gods. He wrote,

“…The demigods are accustomed to drinking the soma-rasa beverage, and therefore the drinking of wine and intoxication are not unknown to them…” Swami Prabhupada on Srimad Bhagavatam 1.15.34

Dr. B.R Ambedkar the first Law Minister of India wrote,

“Drinking was another evil which was rampant among the Aryans. Liquors were of two sorts Soma and Sura. Soma was a sacrificial wine. The drinking of the Soma was in the beginning permitted only to Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. Subsequently it was permitted only to Brahmins and Kshatriyas. The Vaishyas were excluded from it and the Shudras were never permitted to taste it. Its manufacture was a secret known only to the Brahmins. Sura was open to all and was drunk by all. The Brahmins also drank Sura. Shukracharya the priest to the Asuras drank so heavily that in his drunken state he gave the life giving Mantra known to him only and with which he used to revive the Asuras killed by the Devas—to Katch the son of Brahaspati who was the priest of the Devas. The Mahabharat mentions an occasion when both Krishna and Arjuna were dead drunk. That shows that the best among the Aryan Society were not only not free from the drink habit but that they drank heavily. The most shameful part of it was that even the Aryan women were addicted to drink. For instance, Sudeshna the wife of King Virat tells her maid Sairandhri to go to Kichaka’s palace and bring Sura as she was dying to have a drink. It is not to be supposed that only queens indulged in drinking. The habit of drinking was common among women of all classes and even Brahmin women were not free from it. That liquor and dancing was indulged in by the Aryan women is clear from the Kausitaki Grihya Sutra I. 11-12, which says; “Four or eight women who are not widowed, after having been regaled with wine and food are to dance for four times on the night previous to the wedding ceremony.” men, not to speak of women of the lower Varnas, as late as the seventh and eighth centuries- A.D. in the Central region of Aryavarta, is clear from Kumarila Bhatta’s Tantra- Vartika I (iii). 4, which states, “Among the people of modern days we find the Brahmin women of the countries of Ahicchatra and Mathura to be addicted to drinking”. Kumarila condemned the practice in the case of Brahmins only, but not of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas men and women, if the liquor was distilled from fruits or flowers (Madhavi), and Molasses (Gaudi) and not from grains (Sura).” Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol 3, page 154-5


As you may know, the Aryan’s Vedic religion shares many similarities with the Zoroastrians. One of them is Soma plant. Soma in Zoroastrianism is known as Haoma. In the Zoroastrian text Yasna, Haoma (Soma) is considered a mildly intoxicant drink with no harm.

Yasna 10.8 “All other toxicants go hand in hand with Rapine of the bloody spear, but H(a)oma’s stirring power goes hand in hand with friendship. [Light is the drunkenness of H(a)oma (Pâzand).] Who as a tender son caresses H(a)oma, forth to the bodies of such persons H(a)oma comes to heal.” Tr. L.H. Mills

In the Puranas and Mahabharat there is a story of King of Gaya performing a sacrifice in which Indra drank Soma Ras so much that he became intoxicated, I am mentioning all those verses here,

Srimad Bhagavatam 5.15.12 “In Mahārāja Gaya’s sacrifices, there was a great supply of the intoxicant known as soma. King Indra used to come and become intoxicated by drinking large quantities of soma-rasa. Also, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Viṣṇu [the yajña-puruṣa] also came and personally accepted all the sacrifices offered unto Him with pure and firm devotion in the sacrificial arena.” Tr. Swami Prabhupada

Vishnu Purana 4.1.14-18 “There was never beheld on earth a sacrifice equal to the sacrifice of Marutta: all the implements and utensils were made of gold. Indra was intoxicated with the libations of Soma juice, and the Brahmans were enraptured with the magnificent donations they received.” Tr. H.H. Wilson

Mahabharata 12.29.35 “While the king of Anga performed his sacrifice by the hill called Vishnupada, Indra became intoxicated with the Soma he drank, and the Brahmanas with the presents they received.” Tr. K.M. Ganguli

Mahabharata 1.121.9 “…while he was performing a sacrifice the gods with Indra and the great Rishis came to him, and Indra was so intoxicated with the Soma juice he drank and the Brahmanas with the large presents they received…” Tr. K.M. Ganguli

Mahabharata 3.88.6-7 “…We have heard respecting the sacrificing king Nriga that which really took place while he was performing a sacrifice in the excellent tirtha called Varaha on the Payoshni. In that sacrifice Indra became intoxicated with quaffing the Soma, and the Brahmanas, with the gifts they received…” Tr. K.M. Ganguli

Markandeya Purana 129.15-16 “Equal to Marutta never lived a sacrificer on the face of the earth at whose sacrifice his dwelling house was cast and also golden palaces as largesse, Indra was made intoxicated with Soma and twice-born brahmanas with gifts…” Tr. F. Eden Pargiter

Following verses from Veda calls Soma as Mada (intoxicating), I am using Hindi translation by Pandit Ram Govind Trivedi,

ते तवा मदा इन्द्र मादयन्तु शुष्मिणं तुविराधसं जरित्रे |
एको देवत्रा दयसे हि मर्तानस्मिञ्छूर सवने मादयस्व ||

te tvā madā indra mādayantu śuṣmiṇaṃ tuvirādhasaṃ jaritre |
eko devatrā dayase hi martānasmiñchūra savane mādayasva ||

Rig Veda 7.23.5 “May these inebriating draughts exhilarate thee, Indra: bestow upon the praiser (a son vigorous and wealthy): for thou alone amongst the gods are compassionate to mortals: be exhilarated here at this sacrifice.” Tr. H.H. Wilson

ते तवा मदा बर्हदिन्द्र सवधाव इमे पीता उक्षयन्त दयुमन्तम |
महामनूनं तवसं विभूतिं मत्सरासो जर्ह्र्षन्त परसाहम ||

te tvā madā bṛhadindra svadhāva ime pītā ukṣayanta dyumantam |
mahāmanūnaṃ tavasaṃ vibhūtiṃ matsarāso jarhṛṣanta prasāham ||

Rig Veda 6.17.4 “Abounding in food, Indra, let these exhilarating draughts copiously bedew thee, the resplendent: let the inebriating juices delight thee who art mighty, deficient in no (excellence), powerful, manifold, the overcomer of foes.” Tr. H.H. Wilson

वर्धान यं विश्वे मरुतः सजोषाः पचच्छतं महिषानिन्द्र तुभ्यम |
पूषा विष्णुस्त्रीणि सरांसि धावन वर्त्रहणं मदिरमंशुमस्मै ||

vardhān yaṃ viśve marutaḥ sajoṣāḥ pacacchataṃ mahiṣānindra tubhyam |
pūṣā viṣṇustrīṇi sarāṃsi dhāvan vṛtrahaṇaṃ madiramaṃśumasmai ||

Rig Veda 6.17.11 “For thee, Indra, whom all the Maruts, alike pleased, exalt, may Pushan and Vishnu dress for thee a hundred buffaloes, and to him may the three streams flow with the inebriating, foe-destroying Soma.” Tr. H.H. Wilson

इन्द्राविष्णू हविषा वाव्र्धानाग्राद्वाना नमसा रातहव्या |
घर्तासुती दरविणं धत्तमस्मे समुद्रः सथः कलशः सोमधानः ||
इन्द्राविष्णू पिबतं मध्वो अस्य सोमस्य दस्रा जठरं पर्णेथाम |
आ वामन्धांसि मदिराण्यग्मन्नुप बरह्माणि शर्णुतं हवं मे ||

indrāviṣṇū haviṣā vāvṛdhānāghrādvānā namasā rātahavyā |
ghṛtāsutī draviṇaṃ dhattamasme samudraḥ sthaḥ kalaśaḥ somadhānaḥ ||
indrāviṣṇū pibataṃ madhvo asya somasya dasrā jaṭharaṃ pṛṇethām |
ā vāmandhāṃsi madirāṇyaghmannupa brahmāṇi śṛṇutaṃ havaṃ me ||

Rig Veda 6.69.6-7 “Indra and Vishnu, feeders upon clarified butter, drinkers of the fermented Soma, thriving upon oblations, accepting them offered with reverence…Indra and Vishnu, agreeable of aspect, drink of this sweet Soma; fill with it your bellies: may the inebriating beverage reach you: hear my prayers, my invocation.” Tr. H.H. Wilson

As you can see, words like Madira (मदिरा) and Mada (मद) have been used in these verses, Madira and Mada both denotes intoxication. Even those fluent in Hindi language can define these words. The word Mada (intoxication) is mentioned in connection with Soma stating that Soma is Mada (intoxicating) in numerous verses such as Rig Veda 1.85.10; 9.107.14; 1.104.9; 2.19.1; 9.12.3; 6.43.1-4; 2.14.1; 9.6.6; Rig Veda 1.84.4 which is also mentioned in Sankhayana Srauta Sutra 12.26.7; Rig Veda Mandala 2, Hymn 15 boasts deeds of Indra done in Intoxication (Mada) of Soma which is translated as rapture by Griffith; Rig Veda 8.14.7 which is elaborated in Aitareya Brahmana 6.7.

V.S Apte defines the word Mada as,

[The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, by Vaman Shivram Apte, page 836, Published by Shiralkar & Co., 1890]

Arya Samaji scholar Svami Satya Prakash Sarasvati in his translation of Rig Veda defines it as,

Madah, intoxication; pleasure.

[Rgveda Samhita, Volume III, page 881, by Svami Satya Prakash Sarasvati & Satyakam Vidyalankar, Published by Veda Pratishthana]

Ralph T.H. Griffith has translated it as rapture, gladdening, wild joy, etc., and the reason he gave for this is as follows. Ralph T.H Griffith commenting on Rig Veda 1.51.2 quotes Max Mueller on the word Mada (pronounced Mad),

“Rushing in rapture: when exhilarated by draughts of Soma. ‘Here again,’ says Professor Max Muller, ‘The difficulty of rending Vedic though in English, or any other modern language, becomes apparent, for we have no poetical word to express a high state of mental excitement produced by drinking the intoxicating juice of the Soma or other plants, which has not something opprobrious mixed up with it, while in ancient times that state of excitement was celebrated as a blessing of the gods, as not unworthy of the gods themselves, nay, as a state in which both the warrior and the poet would perform their highest achievements. The German Rausch is the nearest approach to the Sanskrit mada.’

In this version, mada has generally been rendered by rapture, delight, transport, or wild joy.”

Griffith has mentioned Soma as liquor in following verses like

Rig Veda 2.14.1 “MINISTERS, bring the Soma juice for Indra, pour forth the gladdening liquor with the beakers. To drink of this the Hero longeth ever; offer it to the Bull, for this he willeth.” Tr. Ralph T.H Griffith

Rig Veda 3.48.1 “SOON as the young Bull sprang into existence, he longed to taste the pressed-out Soma’s liquor. Drink thou thy fill, according to thy longing, first, of the goodly mixture blent with Soma.”

Rig Veda 4.34.5 “Out of what substance was that chalice fashioned which ye made fourfold by your art and wisdom? Now for the gladdening draught press out the liquor, and drink, O Ṛbhus, of die meath of Soma.”

Rig Veda 4.44.4 “Borne on your golden car, ye omnipresent! come to this sacrifice of ours, Nāsatyas.

Drink of the pleasant liquor of the Soma give riches to the people who adore you.”

Griffith translated Rig Veda 9.32.1 as,

पर सोमासो मदच्युतः शरवसे नो मघोनः |
सुता विदथे अक्रमुः ||

pra somāso madacyutaḥ śravase no maghonaḥ |
sutā vidathe akramuḥ ||

Rig Veda 9.32.1 “The rapture-shedding Soma-drops, effused in our assembly, have Flowed forth to glorify our prince.” Tr. Ralph T.H. Griffith

This is elaborated in Panchavimsha Brahmana as,

Pancavimsa Brahmana XI.5.1 “(The verse beginning:) ‘Forth (has) the intoxicating madacyut) Soma’ is the gayatri; intoxicating (having mada) (and) rich in sap is the afternoon service; he, thereby, puts intoxication (and) sap (in it)…” Tr. W. Caland


As far as my knowledge is concerned, Soma by itself was mildly intoxicating and was made fully intoxicating through fermentation process. Veda and Brahmana indicate that Soma was fermented, and Swami Vivekananda also mentions that Soma was fermented, and that fermented juice was intoxicating. Veda, Brahmana, and Srauta Sutra state that Soma was mixed with barley [Rig Veda 9.68.4; Atharva Veda 20.24.7], it was kept for three days probably for the fermentation to complete.

Rig Veda 1.187.9 “What Soma, we enjoy from thee in milky food or barley-brew, Vātāpi, grow thou fat thereby.” Tr. Ralph T.H. Griffith

Rig Veda 9.17.3 “Soma, with swelling waves, exhilarating, inebriating, flows to the straining-cloth, destroying the Rakshasas, and devoted to the gods.” Tr. H.H. Wilson

Following verses mentions about a day or 3 days old Soma,

Rig Veda 1.45.10 “Bring with joint invocations thou, O Agni, the celestial host: Here stands the Soma, bounteous gods: drink this expressed ere yesterday.” Tr. Ralph T.H. Griffith

Rig Veda 3.58.7 “O Asvins, very mighty ones, with Vayu and with his steeds, one-minded, ever-youthful, Nasatyas, joying in the third day’s Soma, drink it, not hostile, very bounteous givers.” Tr. Ralph T.H. Griffith

There’s one more verse from Yajur Veda which talks about the fermentation of Soma, I have mentioned this in the Sautramani sacrifice, you can read Yajur Veda 19.1, Baudhayana Srauta Sutra XVII.32 and Satapatha Brahmana, Kanda 12, Adhyaya 7, Brahmana 3, Verses 5-6 mentioned above. William Scott Shelley has explained fermentation of Soma in the following way,

“In the preparation of the Soma beverage, the Soma stalks were boiled [Satapatha Brahmana XII.7.3.6], and remained standing for three nights [Baudhayana Srauta Sutra XVII.32]. The Taiitriya Samhita contains the mythological justification for keeping Soma for three nights: “When the Soma was being borne away, the Gandharva Vicvavasu stole it. It was for three nights stolen; therefore, after purchase the Soma is kept for three nights [Taittriya Samhita VI.1.6.4]. Referring to Sura, an alcoholic beverage produced from fermented grain, the Satapatha Brahmana states: “He distils (i.e., boils) it with a view to )it’s being alike) the Soma-pressing. For three nights it remains standing, for the Soma remains standing for three nights after it has been brought [Satapatha Brahmana XII.7.3.6].” The Atharva Veda also makes reference to “him that takes pains, and cooks and presses the soma [Atharva Veda XI.1.30].” According to the Vedic literature, the Soma liquor was fermented. The directions in the Soma rite include the word Parisrut, “spirituous liquor [Satapatha Brahmana XII.8.2.15],” and this is also indicated in the Rgveda by the term Vatapi, “fermenting” of the Soma liquor [Rgveda I.187.10]: “What, Soma, we enjoy from thee in milky food or barley-brew, Vatapi, grow thou fat thereby [Rgveda I.187.10].”

Following the fermenting of the liquor, the Soma stalks were removed from the vessel and crushed between two stones on a cowhide [Rgveda IX.65.25, IX.79.4, X.94.9], or with a mortar and pestle [Rgveda I.28.1-6, IX.46.3]. The Rgveda tells of Soma libations “fifteenfold strong [Rgveda X.27.2], and with the addition of water [Rgveda IX.75.9, IX.107.2], which diluted the mixture and caused crushed Soma stalks to swell [Rgveda VIII.9.19, IX.64.8, IX.107.12], the Soma juice was poured over the stalks upon the cowhide, and filtered through a strainer made of cloth or wool [Rgveda VIII.2.2, IX.12.4, IX.13.1]. The Soma stalks were brown (babhru), ruddy (aruna), or tawny (hari) color [Rg Veda VIII.9.19], and Soma juice was also brown [Rgveda IX.33.2, IX.63.4, 6], ruddy [Rgveda IX.45.3], or tawny [Rgveda IX.3.9, IX.98.7]. This beverage is described in the Rgveda as “good to taste and full of sweetness, verily it is strong and rich in flavour.” Indicating that the fermenting of the liquor preceeded the pressing, Soma was often drunk unmmixed [Rgveda I.135.3, V.2.3, VII.90.2, IX.72.4], or it was mixed with milk [Rgveda I.23.1, VIII.2.3, VIII.90.10, IX.11.2, 5, IX.64.28, IX.72.1, IX.101.12, IX.107.2], butter [Rgveda X.29.6], curd [I.5.5, V.51.7, VII.32.4, IX.11.6, IX.101.12], or barley [Rgveda I.187.9, III.35.3, 7, III.52.1, IX.68.4].”

Soma and the Indo-European Priesthood: Cereal Cultivation and the Origins of Religion, Chapter 4, page 105-6, by William Scott Shelley, Published by Algora Publishing, 01-Dec-2018

Hope you find this information interesting, stay tuned for our final article on this series.