Soma, food of the immortals according to the Bower Manuscript (Kashmir, 6th century A.D.) ☆
Food is medicine and vice versa. In Hindu and Ayurvedic medicine, and among human cultures of the Indian subcontinent in general, the perception of the food-medicine continuum is especially well established. The preparation of the exhilarating, gold-coloured Soma, Amrita or Ambrosia, the elixir and food of the ‘immortals’–the Hindu pantheon–by the ancient Indo-Aryans, is described in the Rigveda in poetic hymns. Different theories regarding the botanical identity of Soma circulate, but no pharmacologically and historically convincing theory exists to date. We intend to contribute to the botanical, chemical and pharmacological characterisation of Soma through an analysis of two historical Amrita recipes recorded in the Bower Manuscript. The recipes are referred therein as panaceas (clarified butter) and also as a medicine to treat nervous diseases (oil), while no exhilarating properties are mentioned. Notwithstanding this, we hypothesise, that these recipes are related to the ca. 1800 years older Rigvedic Soma. We suppose that the psychoactive Soma ingredient(s) are among the components, possibly in smaller proportions, of the Amrita recipes preserved in the Bower Manuscript.
Materials and methods
The Bower Manuscript is a medical treatise recorded in the 6th century A.D. in Sanskrit on birch bark leaves, probably by Buddhist monks, and unearthed towards the end of the 19th century in Chinese Turkestan. We analysed two Amrita recipes from the Bower Manuscript, which was translated by Rudolf Hoernle into English during the early 20th century. A database search with the updated Latin binomials of the herbal ingredients was used to gather quantitative phytochemical and pharmacological information.