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Somalatha and Somakrayam


Somalatha is a perennial, leafless shrub with green, cylindrical, fleshy, twining branches having a milky white latex. The leaves of this plant are reduced to scales which are arranged oppositely. Flowers are white or pale greenish white and fragrant. Fruits are follicles, tapering at both ends. Seeds are flat and ovate.

The botanical name of Somalatha is Sarcostemma ascidum. It belongs to the family Asclepiadaceae. It is found in Bihar, Bengal and part of South India in rocky places upto an elevation of 1,350 meters. The whole plant is useful. It is bitter, cooling, narcotic, antiviral and rejuvenating. It is useful in viral infections, hydrophobia, general debility, etc.

The divine Soma is believed to possess powers to overcome old age and even death. But that is not quite certain nor has it been proved beyond doubt.

Twenty four varieties of Somalatha have been described in "Sushrutha Samhitha" with their characteristics and properties. The most superior of all these is "Chandramaa" which floats like algae in River Sindhu. The Soma which is in use today (Sarcostemma ascidum) does not conform to the characteristics described by Sushruthan.

There are some who regard species of Ephedra and also Ceropegia tuberosa as Soma. Thus, we are still in the dark regarding the identity of true Soma. Probably, the true Soma might have disappeared from the face of the earth, or it might not have reached the notice of the researchers.


Somakrayam is a part of Somayaagam. It is the formal purchase of the Soma plant from the king of Palakkad (Kollangod), for which the Yajamaanan offers four items - a calf, gold, cloth (Vasthram) and a goat - as its price. It is believed that seven Gandharvans (gods) - Swaanan, Bhaajan, Amghaari, Bambhaari, Hasthan, Suhasthan and Krisaanu - are the protectors of the Soma plants in heaven. The Soma is sent here through their representative, Kothhsan. He is questioned as to whether or not it has come from the Moojavaan mountains, and also as to its purity, etc. Upon getting a favourable answer, it is placed on an ox-hide, examined, bundled in a Vasthram and returned to Kothhsan. He is asked if he is willing to sell it, and if so, at what price. When he replies in the affirmative and to do it at any price, the Yajamaanan offers the four items, supposedly as offerings to the seven Gandharvans, and accepts the Soma. The Somakrayam is now over.

Some 800 years back, the King of Kollangod had an immoral relationship with a tribal girl. Namboothiris objected to it and left the kingdom of Palakkad which resulted in a shortage of Brahmanans in the Palakkad area, including Kollangod. To overcome this, the king brought Tamil Braahmanans to Palakkad. Thus whatever Braahmanans had to do in the Palakkad area (including Soma trading) had to be done by them. Even among Tamil Braahmanans, it is done only by those who participate in Sapindi. So, Soma trading in Namboothiri Yaagasaala by Tamil Brahmanans has only around 800 years' history.

It is to be noted that Namboothiris performing Yaagam (they belong to the elite group) do not accept anything from other elite Namboothiris by offering Gold, Cow & Cloth. But traditionally the Soma trader used to get all these from Namboothiris performing Yaagam. It leads to the conclusion that Soma traders were not these elite Namboothiris.

Other Soma traders in Kerala were Tulu Braahmanans and Namboothiris of Kurumbranad (or Saagara Namboothiris, who are Sivolly Tulu Braahmanans, settled in Kerala in the 8th century and later came to be called Namboothiris).

| Article No:4.9.2 | Last update of this article:27th September 2001 |
Article Prepared by : P. Vinod Bhattathiripad, K.D. Nambudripad and V M N Nambudiripad

Reference: Collection No. AVS 2142, "Indian Medical Plants" (Publishers: Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal) With inputs from Thaikkatt Parameswaran Mooss.

Bibliography : Ekaahaaheenasathrangal, by Erkkara Raman Namboodiri (Senior) (Preethi Books, Trissur - 680 008)

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