Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Sura in the Paippalada Samhita of the Atharvaveda

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Sura in the Paippalada Samhita of the Atharvaveda

Article excerpt

THERE ARE ONLY A FEW REFERENCES in the Rgveda (1) to sura an alcoholic beverage. The connection of sura and visa 'poison' is mentioned, as well as drtim suravato grhe 'the leather bag hanging in the house of the possessor of sura (1.191.10). The Asvins have a particular relation to sura, primarily in their function as healers along with Sarasvati in a verse (X.131.5) which could be an abstract of the opening myth of the Sautramani sacrifice in the Satapatha Brahmana.

With the publication of the critical edition of the Paippalada Samhita of the Atharvaveda by Dipak Bhattacharya, (2) kanda 1-15 are finally available to the scholarly public in printed form. Kandas 5 and 8 of the Paippalada Atharvaveda contain two suktas dealing entirely with the preparation and effects of sura. The use of sura in a ritual context is connected with the Sautramani and the Rajasuya where it is offered instead of soma. It is also an integral part of some grhya rites. In order to explicate the content of the two suktas presented in this paper, I will give a short summary on beer and the preparation of sura as given in Brahmanic texts.

Beer can be defined as an alcoholic liquor made from malted grain. It was widely used in Egypt and Mesopotamia in ancient times, and papyri of the period around 1300 B.C. refer to the regulation of beer shops. Barley, corn, and millet were some of the early grains used to make beer. In India rice was later introduced as one of the ingredients. In all the cultures producing beer, the beverage was not only meant to be an intoxicant but was also considered medicinal. To brew beer the malted grain is crushed and mixed with hot water. The resulting infusion produces starch which is converted into a sugar to start the fermentation process. In the simplest form of brewing, the mash is allowed to ferment in a warm place for one or more days. The resulting liquid is strained. Sometimes honey, fruit, or herbs such as hops are added. The Russian summer beverage kvas, made from rye bread, sugar or honey, and water is an example of this simple process.

In her book Sura the Liquor and the Vedic Sacrifice, (3) Madhavi Kolhatkar describes the use and preparation of sura with copious references to passages in Satapatha Brahmana and other Brahmanic texts. The two versions of the Sautramani are the principal subjects of her publication. The preparation of sura according to the Brahmanic texts (4) is a bit more complicated than brewing beer. Much of the ritualization of the process attempts to follow the rituals pertaining to the preparation of soma. I will restrict my description to the ingredients and a few implements mentioned and to the procedure, with little reference to the ritual parapherualia and mantras. The ingredients mentioned are saspa 'malted grain', tokma 'malted barley', laja 'parched or fried grain', and nagnahu 'a power made of pulses and spices'. The main implements are three pots made of the wood of different trees, a karotara 'filtering vessel', the hair of three different animals, a lion, a wolf, and a tiger, indva 'a covering for the hands o r head made of grass', satatrnna 'a pot with a "hundred" holes', a sata 'pot or pan', and a strainer made of hair. In the ritual context the surakara is the Adhvaryu (5) who mixes the ingredients, often reciting the verse svadim tva svaduna...Some of the ingredients are pounded, and two mashes of rice and millet with water are made, which are then cooked separately until they boil over. The scum is often collected for sealing the cover of the pot later during the fermentation process. A portion of malted rice, barley, parched rice, and spice mixture, which is called masara, is added to the separate pots. The contents of each pot is then dried and pounded and finally added to the remaining grain in a large vessel which is covered and placed in a hole. This mixture, called parisrut, in this case raw liquor, is fermented for one to three days. …

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