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Against Drunkenness

There is a widespread misconception that Rigveda is soft towards drinking. Indeed, the extant English translation due to Griffith, is replete with appeals to drink. This is a wrong interpretation.

Drinking is not a pious pastime. It does not lead to gods. Sage Kaanva says:

विश्वेभिः सोम्यं मध्वग्न इन्द्रेण वायुना | पिबा मित्रस्य धामभिः || (1.014.10)[1]

It is a universal delusion (विश्वेभिः) that one is worthy of soma (सोम्यं); that one will not move in a zig-zag way under the influence of wine (मध्वग्न); (he is) not with Indra (इन्द्रेण), not with Vayu (वायुना); One who drinks (पिबा) dwells with friends (मित्रस्य ) and his own abode is a delusion (धामभिः).

Some hindus cite the example of Indra as precedent to condone their own drinking. For such people, Vaisvamitra has the following to offer:

 इन्द्रेहि मत्स्यन्धसो विश्वेभिः सोमपर्वभिः |  महाँ अभिष्टिरोजसा || (1.009.1)[2]

With the well known exception of Indra (इन्द्रेहि),[3] Vaisvamitra says, intoxication ensnares one in darkness (मत्स्यन्धसो)[4]  (presumably moral). The world seems to be a delusion (विश्वेभिः), as does the festival of soma (सोमपर्वभिः). The great are afflicted with sickness (महाँ), and superior qualities are drained along with energy (अभिष्टिरोजसा). He repeats elsewhere that  while intoxication with self improves concentration, intoxication deludes (मत्स्वा सुशिप्र, मन्दिभिः[5], 1.009.3).

Of those who feel that drinking is justified by their wealth, the sage has this to say:

उप नः सवना गहि सोमस्य सोमपाः पिब |  गोदा इद्रेवतो मदः || (1.004.2)[6]

Under the instigation of wealth (उप नः सवना), men who think that they are entitled to drink soma (सोमपाः), and drink (पिब), killing family, time and existence (गहि सोमस्य). Intoxicated (मदः), he gives away cows abundantly (गोदा इद्रेवतो).

An advantage of Yoga or Union is that it aborts addiction to drink. The relevant verse reads:

यः कुक्षिः सोमपातमः समुद्रइव पिन्वते |  ऊर्वीरापो न् काकुदः || (1.008.7)[7]

Union from the womb as it were discharges water (aborts) addiction to Soma. It kills the desire, it is said, by eliminating the taste.

This verse suggests that immersion in the divine can metamorphose the personality. It can cure addiction to drink. It is said (रापो) that it kills the desire (ऊर्वी) by eliminating the palate (न् काकुदः) or taste. In this sense, it aborts addiction, likened to a womb discharging a collection of water.

To repeat, the sage says that everyone thinks that they will not stagger under the influence of wine. Drinking will take him not to Indra, nor to Vayu. The drunkard dwells with friends and forgets his own abode.

There are references to the help from Agni in overcoming addiction to drinks. Thus:

तान्यजत्राँ ऋतावृधोSग्ने पत्नीवतस्कृधि | मध्वः सुजिह्व पायय || (1.014.7)[8]

He who worships, worthy of worship, honoured, sprung from sacred truth, Agni, with wife sacrifices pleases; From intoxicating drink indeed (मध्वः) Fire (सुजिह्व), protecting good fortune and fame (पायय).

Thus, worship of Agni helps in overcoming addiction to intoxicating drinks. The next verse elaborates:

ये यत्रजा य ईड्यास्ते ते पिबन्तु जिह्वया | मधोरग्ने वषट्कृति || (1.014.8)[9]

Yoga is worthy of worship (ये यत्रजा), yoga is praiseworthy (य ईड्यास्ते), you that are characterised by drinking (ते पिबन्तु), meditate on the tongue of Flame (जिह्व – या); Make of intoxicating drink an offering to Agni (मधोरग्ने वषट्कृति). This last line could also mean: consign intoxicating drinks to flames.

[1] विश्वः – भिः सोम्यं मधु अग् – न इन्द्रः – ण वायु – ना | पिबा मित्र – अस्य धाम – भिः ||

Universal (विश्वः) delusion (भिः) worthy of Soma (सोम्यं) wine (मधु) move ziz-zag way (अग्) not (न्) Indra (इन्द्रः) not (ण) Vayu (वायु) not (न = ना) | One who drinks (पिब = पिबा) friends (मित्र) dwells (अस् = अस्य) abode (धाम) delusion (भिः)

[2] इन्द्र – आ – हि मद् – सि – अन्धस् – ओ विश्व – भिः सोम – पर्व – भिः |  मह – अम् अभिष्ट् – ईर् – ओजसा ||

Indra (इन्द्र) except (आ) as is well known (हि) to be intoxicated (मद्) ensnares (सि) darkness! (अन्धस्-ओ = अन्धसो) world (विश्व) delusion (भः = भिः) festival of soma (सोम-पर्व) delusion (भः = भिः) |  Great (मह) afflict with sickness (अम्) superiority (अभिष्ट्) to go (इर्) energy (ओजस् = ओजसा)

[3] Indra (इन्द्र) except (आ) as is well known (हि)(इन्द्र-आ-हि = इन्द्रेहि)

[4] to be intoxicated (मद्) ensnares (सि) darkness! (अन्धस्-ओ = अन्धसो)(मद्-सि-अन्धस् = मत्स्यन्धसो)

[5] Delight in (मद्) one’s own self (स्वः = स्वा) (मद्-स्वः = मत्स्वा) to possess power (सु) to be attentive (शि) very (प्र) (सु-शि-प्र = सुशिप्र) intoxicated (मन्द्) is reduced to (इ) delusions (भः = भि) (मन्द्-इ-भः = मन्दिभिः)

[6] उप नः सवना गहि सोअस् सोमपाः पिब |  गोदा इद्र – रेवतो मदः ||

Under (उप) wealth (नः) instigation (सवन = सवना) family (गहि) kill time existence (सो-मः-अस्) entitled to drink soma (सोमप = सोमपाः) what drinks (पिब) | Gives cows (गोदा) even (इद् ) abundantly (रेवत् = रेवतो) intoxication (मदः)

[7] यः कुक्षिः सोमपातमः समुद्रइव पिन्वते |  ऊर्व रापो न् काकुदः ||

Union (यः) womb (कुक्षिः) drinking much Soma/addiction (सोमपातमः) collection of waters (समुद्र) as it were (इव) discharge (पिन्व् = पिन्वते) |  Kill (ऊर्व्) desire (ई) to be talked (राप्य = रापो) no (न) palate (काकुद् = काकुदः)

[8] त्वं होता मनुः हितः – अग्ने यज्ञ – इषु सीद् – असि | सा – इमं नो अध्वरं यज ||

Who (त) worship (अन्) worthy of worship (यजत्र) honoured (अम्) sprung from sacred truth (ऋत = ऋता) Friend (वृध = वृधो) Agni (अग्ने) with wife (पत्नीवत) sacrifices (कृ) pleases (धि) | Intoxicating drink (मधु) indeed (अह) bright tongued or Fire (सुजिह्व) protecting (प) good fortune (अय) fame (य) ||

[9] ये यत्रजा य ईड्य- अस्ते ते पिब – अन्तु जिह्व – या | मधुर् – अग्ने वषट् – कृति ||

Yoga (ये) worthy of worship (यजत्र = यजत्रा) Yoga (यः = य) praiseworthy (ईड्य) is (अस्ते) you (ते) that drink (पिब) characteristic (अन्तु) tongue (जिह्व) meditation (या)| intoxicating drink (मधु = मधुर्) Agni (अग्ने) an offering ! (वषट्-कृतम् = कृति)