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Sāmaveda 1.6.1.4.5 (the 527th verse of the Sāmaveda) reads:

सोमः पवते जनिता मतीनां जनिता दिवो जनिता पृथिव्याः । जनिताग्नेर्जनिता सूर्यस्य जनितेन्द्रस्य जनितोत विष्णोः ।। sōmaḥ pavate janitā matīnāṃ janitā divo janitā pṛthivyāḥ / janitāgnerjanitā sūryasya janitendrasya janitota viṣṇoḥ

which Ralph T. H. Griffiths translates as

Father of holy hymns Soma flows onward, the father of the earth, father of heaven; Father of Agni, Surya's generator, the father who begat Indra and Vishnu.

Now I thought that soma was some kind of ritual drink that the Vedas mentioned. What does this verse mean that soma "begat" the gods and all of Creation? I understand that the Vedas ascribe great importance to soma -- what is the reason for this? The Vedas also almost speak of soma as a deity -- is the verse to be understood in that context? And why is the deity Soma never worshiped then? How can Vishnu be worshiped as Supreme, or for that matter, Shiva, if they are generated by Soma?

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    Great question! I love questions like this that ask about something specific in Hindu scriptures. By the way, if you like this sort of thing, then you might be interested in my Vedas-related questions: hinduism.stackexchange.com/… – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 16 '15 at 23:45
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First of all, it's true that Soma is a sacred drink that crucial in the performance of Vedic Yagnas, at least before Hindus lost the identity of the plant that produced it. (It's thought to be ephedra by most modern scholars.). But this verse isn't dedicated to an inanimate object, but rather to the god of the Soma drink, often called Soma but more commonly known as Chandra the moon god. Chandra is certainly an important Vedic deity, being an incarnation of Brahma and the son of the sage Atri; see my answer here.

Now as to the verse itself, most of the verses of the Sama Veda are taken from the Rig Veda, and this verse is no exception. (But I found one verse that's not in my answer here and my question here.) Sama Veda verse 527 is originally verse 5 of Book 9 Hymn 96 of the Rig Veda. As you can see in the Rig Veda Anukramani compiled in my answer here, this hymn was heard from the gods by Pratardana, son of the famous king Divodasa.

Now as to the content of the verse, Yaska's Nirukta provides two interpretations, one of which is that Soma is being equated with Surya the sun god who generates rays to serve different purposes, and another interpretation relating to the soul. Here is what Yaska says:

Soma is purified. Soma is 'surya' (the sun), from generating (prasavanat). He is the generator of hymns (or thoughts), i.e. of those solar rays whose function it is to reveal ; of the Sky, i.e of those solar rays whose function it is to shine; of the Earth, i.e. of those solar rays whose function it is to spread ; of Agni, i.e. of those solar rays whose function it is to move ; of Surya, i.e. of those solar rays whose function it is to appropriate (svikarana) ; of Indra, i.e. of those solar rays whose function is sovereignty ; of Vishnu, i.e. of those solar rays whose function is diffusion : such is the mythological explanation. Now follows the spiritual interpretation, i.e. that which refers to soul. Soma is also the soul ; and for this cause he is the generator of the senses : such is the meaning. Or, he thus declares the course of the soul, that it is variously modified by all its changing manifestations.

The sage Shaunaka, in the Brihaddevata, supports Yaska's interpretations:

  1. [T]hree (deities) are mentioned with these three (verses), each containing a couplet ... or rather it is Soma who is (here) praised as (representing) the Sun and the Soul.

The three deities being Soma, Surya, and the soul.

By the way, it should be noted that most references to Vishnu in the Rig Veda are references to Vishnu's incarnation as Vamana the dwarf. That's why he's so often mentioned in the same breath as Indra, since Vamana is Indra's little brother (they're both sons of Kashyap and Aditi).

  • Alright, so the "Soma" in this verse is referring to the sun in a sort of metaphor? But is the "Soma" referring to the actual deity "Surya" and saying that "Surya" begat Vishnu, Agni, and the heaven and the earth? I don't think this would make sense, because then the verse would read the Surya was Surya's generator. So is "Soma" referring to "Surya" in terms of the sun in a sort of metaphor, or to the actual deity? – AdityaS Feb 17 '15 at 1:29
  • In addition, you said that "Soma" refers to "Chandra," but Yaska says that "Soma" refers to "Surya." So which is it? – AdityaS Feb 17 '15 at 1:32
  • @Aditya The main deity of the hymn is the god Chandra. But according to this interpretation Chandra is being used to represent Surya (and the soul). Now this "representation" could mean a couple different things. It could refer, for instance, to Surya and Chandra having the same being at their core, namely Brahman. (Brahman is the soul of the gods, as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says in verse 10 here). Or it could be referring to the fact that Chandra is the god of the golden-colored Soma drink, and that golden color symbolizes the Sun. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 17 '15 at 12:26
  • @Aditya In any case, Yaska is not saying that Surya is the generator of all the gods. He's saying that the different gods' names are being used as a metaphor to denote different kinds of rays of the Sun. So for instance Vishnu means "he who pervades", so generator of Vishnu would mean generator "of those solar rays whose function is diffusion". – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 17 '15 at 12:36
  • Is there any existing recipe for soma? Or it is just too corrupted – Yogi Jul 31 '15 at 5:25
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Unsurprisingly, it depends on whom you ask. As you've anticipated in your question, this verse (which, as Keshav notes, is found in Ṛgveda 9.96.5, and also in Sāmaveda 2.3.1.19) has been used polemically by Advaitins like Appayya Dīkṣita to argue against the Vaishnavite position. One relatively well-known Vaishnavite counter-interpretation can be found in the Mādhva scholar Śrīnivāsatīrtha's 17th century commentary on Jayatīrtha's Ṛgbhāṣyaṭīkā, which in turn is (as the name indicates) a commentary on Mādhva's Ṛgbhāṣya, though I've heard it from several non-Mādhvas as well.

तथा च सोमलताविशेषो विष्णोः सोमसवनं कर्तुं यजमानस्य जनिता ।
याजमान्यस्य सोमाधीनात्वाद् इति सम्भावितदोषवान् यजमान एव विष्णुशब्देन उच्यते न विष्णु: इत्याहुः ॥
वस्तुतस्तु मखो विष्णुरिन्दुः इति यज्ञनामसु विष्णुशब्दस्य पटितत्वात् ।
विष्णोर्यज्ञस्य सोमलतारूपो जनिता जज्ञस्य सोमाधीनोत्पत्तिकत्वाद् इत्यर्थो द्रष्टव्यः ॥

Similarly, the particular soma creeper used in the act of soma pressing is the generator1 of the patron of the sacrifice. "The quality of being the patron is dependent on the soma2" –­ this is a sentence that indicates a potential flaw in the patron, so what is called "viṣṇu" is actually the patron, not [the god] Viṣṇu – that is what is meant here. Strictly speaking, in "the sacrifice3 is viṣṇu" it should be understood that viṣṇu is a synonym for the sacrifice.4 The meaning seen here is that the generator1 of viṣṇu (that is, the sacrifice) is the soma creeper, because the sacrifice4 is dependent on the soma creeper.

The obvious objection is that this is a rather motivated reading of the text. As Keshav noted, the rest of the sūkta treats Soma as a personified deity. Far from objecting to this characterization, Śrīnivāsatīrtha would embrace it: the works from Mādhva and Jayatīrtha that he's commenting on explicitly defend interpreting sentences that indicate a potential flaw (sambhāvitadoṣa) in Viṣṇu in an alternative way, such that the flaw is ascribed to another entity.

In addition, the interpretation isn't entirely ad hoc: the verse in question says that the soma "flows" (pavate), indicating the ritual drink, and the identification of Viṣṇu with yajña is a common one throughout the smṛti literature.

[1] janitā – This is the word used with respect to Diva, Pṛthu, Sūrya, Indra, and Viṣṇu in the verse, despite Griffiths's elegant variation.
[2] Because the yajamāna has to drink soma.
[3] makha – see Nighaṇṭu 3.17, but see Max Müller's alternative interpretation.
[4] yajña

  • Great answer! You now have 11 reputation, so please add the rest of your links. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 29 '15 at 4:01
  • OK good. Welcome to Hinduism.SE, by the way! You seem to be a knowledgeable user, so can you take a look at my questions: hinduism.stackexchange.com/users/36/… My questions tend to be fairly obscure, so they've mostly gone unanswered. Like I've posted a bunch of Vedas-related questions: hinduism.stackexchange.com/… And if you're a Madhva, you may be interested in my question about Madhvacharya's commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/7084/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 29 '15 at 14:23
  • Terrific answer. Do non-Dvaitins, then, have reservations about a seemingly contrived explanation, or does the possibility of fault ascribed to Vishnu not bother them since Vishnu is not necessarily supreme for them and all devas are one? What have non-Dvaitins commented on this explanation? – AdityaS Jun 30 '15 at 16:20
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    @Aditya I'm not actually aware of any responses to this specific interpretation, but that's probably more due to my lack of familiarity with non-Vaiṣṇavite scholars than anything else. I do know some sectarian Śaivites have contrived explanations of their own: for example, several posit that soma is derived from sa-Umā (i.e., with Umā, or Pārvatī). See David N. Lorenzen, The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas 82-83 (1972). – Raghav Jun 30 '15 at 17:05

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