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phena, 'sea-foam'; knowledge of the seas, metals,soma in Veda

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HinduThought, "S. Kalyanaraman"

<kalyan97> wrote:

The finds of 'floating stones' near Rames'waram point to the

possible architectural uses of sea-foam in ancient times.


Tamil: pe_n.am 'froth,foam'. I doubt if there is an IE/PIE cognate.

Lexemes such as: phena, samudra_phena, samudra_phen.a are a

reference to 'sea-foam' or 'foam, froth' of the seas. A clear

indication of the knowledge of the seas in Vedic times.

phena_s'ani 'having foam for a thunderbolt (Indra)' (Skt.)


There is a temple near Kumbakonam (Tiruvalancur..i), where a large

mu_rti of Vina_yaka is made of such phena stone.


"...in the RV, we are told that the sura_ was extracted from Namuci

by the As'vins to cure Indra, disintegrated by his indulgence in

Soma. In another version of the Namuci myth Indra slays or twists

off the head of Namuci who had insinuated himself into Indra's

intimacy and forced Indra to enter into a covenant with him, with a

weapon made of foam (apa_m phena); now foam is considered identical

with lead...so much seems sure that Namuci in the sura_ cycle, as

the restrainer who must be slain to release the invigorating fluids,

plays the same part as Vr.tra in the Soma cycle...(J.C. Heesterman,

1957, The ancient Indian royal consecration: the ra_jasu_ya described

according to the Yajus texts and annotated, Sgravenhage, Mouton &

Co., pp. 106-110)...


RV 8.14.13 mentions apa_m phena; this is described as a weapon which

Indra hurls at Namuci. The Bra_hman.a tradition has a legend: Indra

drinks sura_ at Namuci's residence and falls ill. Indra is then

cured by Sarasvati_. The Sautra_man.i_ is performed for a person

from whose nose, ears etc. Soma flows out. 'Soma flows out, the so-

called somapu_ta, further for a brahmin who desires success, for an

exiled king, for a ks.atriya and so on, and is performed in a

typical fashion...Further we find Namuci's name in a formula; during

the consecration ceremony of the king, uttering this formula, kicks


his foot a piece of lead that has been kept on the tiger skin.

(nirastam namuceh s'irah: TS 1.8.14; TBr; S'Br; MS

4.4.4 (54.5)...The comm. on TS says: lohita_yasam ta_mram pu_rvam

phenena pa_titam yan namuceh s'iras tad idam ta_mraru_pam san

nirastam parityaktam)...In the Va_japeya and here in the

Sautra_man.i_ the Parisrut is bought against lead from a long-haired

man...Indra makes a compact with Namuci...It is the well known

compact (MS 4.3.4 (43.7)(cf. MBh 9.43.34) not to injure Namuci

either with a dry object or with a wet one, either in daylight or at

night...Indra breaks the oath and kills this opponent apa_m

phenena...I would think that the apa_m phena should be understood in

the sense of some solid material and that it denotes some substance

like, e.g. lead, because this very metal serves, as we saw, as the

purchasing price in the sura_ ceremonies. In the context of removing

the old fire, Kaus'ika Su_tra LXXI.15 states that one should place

si_sa_ni in the hands of the eldest son, and the commentary explains

this word as si_sam nadi_phenam lohamr.ttika_. Kaus'ika Su_tra

VIII.18 lists si_sa, nadi_si_sa (comm. nadi_phenapin.d.a), ayorajas,

kr.kala_sas'irah among the things called 'lead', but not among the

immediately following rasas (like dadhi and ghr.ta)." [Alfred

Hillebrandt, 1927, Vedische Mythologie, tr. Sreeramula Rajeswara

Sarma, 1980, Vedic Mythology, 2 vols. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass,

vol. II, pp. 148-149]...


Arsenic was alloyed with copper to create hardened metal tools and

weapons; an alloy which represents an early 'bronze'.


da_rumuca = white arsenic (Skt.lex.) Therefore, na-muci may be a

negative formed to pinpoint a mineral substance, i.e. 'non-arsenic';

the reference of Namuci may be to 'white lead' in this semantic

derivation, consistent with the association of Namuci with 'lead,

plumbum' in the R.gvedic and later mythology. [cf.namak = salt

(Pahlavi.Hindi); sindhu-lavan.a = rock salt (Skt.)]


I suggest that sura_ which has a synonym 'madhu' is a reference to

pyrites. madhudha_tu 'pyrites' (Skt.) See also, ma_ks.ika_ a honey-

like mineral substance or pyrites (MBh. Skt.lex.) Compounds: hema-

,svarn.a-, suvarn.a-, pi_ta-ma_ks.ika, kam.sa-, ka_msya-, ru_pya-

ma_ks.ika; ma_ks.i_ka-dha+tu (Skt.lex.)


uta sya_ va_m madhuman ma_ks.ika_rapan madey somasyausijo huvanyati


RV 1.119.9 To you, O As'vins, that 'fly' betrayed the Soma. [Note

the pun on the word, ma_ks.ika_ meaning both 'bee' and 'pyrites or



RV 1.80.16: Atharvan, Manus.pitr. and Dadhyan~c spread the dhi_. In

RV 1.84.14 the head of Dadhyan~c is referred to: icchann as'vasya

yac chirah parvates.v a_pas'ritamtad vidac charyan.a_vati, 'he

looked for the head of the horse which was hidden in the mountains

and found it in s'aryan.a_vat (lake).' TMBr. 12.8.6 calls Dadhyan~c

an A_n:gi_rasa. The thunderbolt is fashioned from the bones of

Dadhi_ci. (cf. MBh. 3.100: the hermitage of the R.s.i Dadhi_ca is

located on the banks of the Sarasvati_.


ma_ks.ika_ are pyrites; hema ma_ks.ika_ and ta_ra ma_ks.ika_ denote

gold and silver pyrites. Rasaratna Samuccaya 77,81, 89-90:

ma_ks.ikam is born of mountains yielding gold...and is produced in

the bed of the river Tapi and in the lands of the Kira_tas, the

Chinese and the Yavanas... Ma_ks.ika_ repeatedly steeped in honey,

oil of the seeds of ricinus communis, urine of the cow, clarified

butter and the extract of the bulbous root of musa sapientum and

gently roasted in a crucible, yields an essence of copper. (cf.

Rasa_rn.ava 7.12-13 and Na_ga_rjuna's Rasaratna_kara 25-30

containing the same formula). The

reference to cow's urine may explain ma_nus.i_r a_pah (piss on it)

in RV 9.63.7, 'putting into movement the human waters'.


RV 10.31.4 and 5 (Hillebrandt, opcit. p. 321): When you, O lords of

light, had drunk (the draught) prepared with Sura_ and Asura Namuci,

you helped Indra with your deeds. As parents help the son, so did

you, O As'vins, both help Indra with your wisdom and marvellous

powers. When you drank skilfully (the draught) prepared with Sura_,

O bountiful one, Sarasvati_ healed you.


sura_ 'pyrites'; asura 'arsenic'. So, the purification -- using

agni, the pavitram filter -- to reduce the pyrites and retrieve the

amr.ta, the 'immortal' gold/silver electrum. Soma!







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