For A.K. Ramanujan, who infused his diverse knowledge of Indian literatures and traditions into his poetry, the idea of Soma, the mysterious plant used by Vedic priests to extract ambrosia, fed his creativity.
Sifting through Ramanujan’s archives, the editors discovered a series of unpublished ‘Soma poems’ whose style and theme set them apart from his earlier work. This volume includes these poems beside essays and an interview that contextualizes them. It also contains a foreword written by the poet and critic A.K. Mehrotra.
Krishna Ramanujan’s essay ‘Hummel’s Miracle: The Search for Soma’ explores the connections between the poems and the quest for the plant’s identity from the 1960s to the present. ‘The “Ordinary Mystery” Trip: Soma in A.K. Ramanujan’s Poetry’ by Guillermo Rodriguez dives deep into Ramanujan’s layered perspective on Soma. ‘The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant’, by Wendy Doniger, which influenced Ramanujan’s perception of Soma, originally published in 1968, is reprinted here with a special preface. The interview conducted in Chicago in 1982 between Malayali poet K. Ayyappa Paniker and Ramanujan offers a peek into Ramanujan’s perspectives on poetry and translation.
While Soma focuses on A.K. Ramanujan’s experimental poems and his creative mindset as an expatriate in America in the 1970s and early 1980s, it also provides a glimpse into a fascinating period in Western Indology when Indian philosophies and traditions were debated, some of which became so ingrained that they influence contemporary culture to this day.