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Stud Asiat. Author manuscript; available in PMC Mar 2, 2010.
Published in final edited form as:
Stud Asiat. 2004; 4-5: 347–369.
doi:  10.1901/jaba.2004.4-5-347
PMCID: PMC2585368
EMSID: UKMS9251

AGNI AND SOMA: A UNIVERSAL CLASSIFICATION

“He who discovers that all this is Agni and Soma, and is not affected by extraordinary feelings, is truly liberated”.

Mahābhārata1

It is a special pleasure to be able to present this study to my friend and colleague Arion Roşu. He has done so much to bring clarity and understanding to some of the most interesting and difficult topics in the history of Indian culture, including of course India’s medical and alchemical traditions. I do not imagine that the topic discussed here will be new to him, but I hope that this essay will nevertheless provide enjoyment. It is offered in friendship and admiration.

In the literature of classical Indian medicine, Āyurveda, writers and commentators remark from time to time that the world is divided in nature into a binary taxonomy of Agni and Soma. The category of Agni-related items includes everything of a hot, fiery, dry, or parching type, while Soma-related items are moist, nourishing, soothing, and cooling. Items so classified range from medicinal herbs to mountain ranges to the seasons of the year. “The whole world,” says one author, “is of the nature of Agni and Soma.” From the earliest Vedic hymns to Agni and Soma, through the later philosophical, medical, alchemical and tantric literatures, these two categories of classification and thought were used continuously as an explanatory device. Where does this classification begin, and what can it mean?

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