घी, ghī

Ghee is used for ritual purposes, as well as for healing and cooking. The word ghī comes from Hindi, has similar analogues in other Indian languages, it derives from the Sanskrit ghṛta (root ghṛ – "to sprinkle, spray" and "shine, burn"). In general, there are three words in Sanskrit for ghee:

  • सर्पिस्, sarpis 
  • आज्य, ājya 
  • घृत, ghṛta

Sarpis is a general name for ghee, ājya is ritually purified ghee (purification is performed by fire, mantra, darbha herb and gaze), ghṛta is ghee that is not subjected to such purification, but also used in rituals. All three words can be found in texts, but the most common is ghṛta.

Traditionally, ghee is prepared from cow's milk, since these animals are considered sacred in Hinduism – this is the sacred requirement for the Vedic yajna and homa (fire rituals). In rituals, ghee is used as ahuti – the substance of the offering, which also includes milk, honey, fruits, etc., that is poured into the sacrificial fire during the ritual; and as upachara, offerings of an oil lamp, dipa.

The importance of ghee (both for rituals and for eating and healing) is noted in many sacred texts, starting with Rig Veda. In the Rig Veda (IV-58) there is a hymn dedicated to ghee (ghṛta):

samudrād ūrmir madhumāṃ ud ārad upāṃśunā sam amṛtatvam ānaṭ |
ghṛtasya nāma ghuhyaṃ yad asti jihvā devānām amṛtasya nābhiḥ || 1 ||

A honey wave rose from the ocean. With soma, it acquired the properties of amrita,
What is the secret name of fat (ghrita): the language of Gods, the navel of immortality.

[Translated by T.Y. Elizarenkova. This is only the beginning of the hymn, consisting of 11 shlokas, in which ghrita is identified with poetic speech (language of gods), amrita, and its connection with Soma is shown.]

Shatapatha Brahmana compares ghee with vajra and with the essence (rasa) of the Universe, calling it fiery energy (tejas). Atharvaveda-parishishta says that the sacrifice of ghee is rewarded by the acquisition of tejas. Aitareya-brahmana calls ghee the divine honey and amrita.

There is a legend that ghee was first created by the creator of all things – Prajapati: he rubbed his palms intensively and from this heat ghee arose, he then offered it to Agni in order to create living beings. This act of sacrificing oil, leading to creation and prosperity, is repeated by Hindus in all yajnas.

If in Vedic times the ritual use of ghee consisted mainly in sacrificing it to the sacred fire (as food for Agni), then later, with the emergence of other forms of worship, ghee began to be used also in pujas – for libations on the murti (ghṛta-snana) and as material for dipa (offering of fire). Ghee is also part of the panchamrita.

Mantra, often used for libation of ghee on the murti, is taken from Rig Veda, from the hymn dedicated to Agni (2.3.11), it is associated with the libation of ghee into the fire:

ghṛtaṁ mimikṣe ghṛtam asya yonir ghṛte śrito ghṛtamvasya dhāma | anuṣvadham ā vaha mādayasva svāhākṛtaṁ vṛṣabha vakṣi havyam ||

Ghrita (ghee) was mixed. Ghee is his abode, source. He is resting in ghee, ghee is his real abode. Come on your own, rejoice! Oh bull, bring the offering properly sanctified (by the mantra "Svaha").

It is believed that a lamp (dipa) prepared on the basis of ghee oil is sattvic – it forms an atmosphere of sattva (balance, peace) around the practitioner and in himself when he uses such a dipa in ritual. Therefore, it is preferable to use ghee-based dipas in pujas, and not vegetable oil or candles.

In Ayurveda, ghee is included in many medicines. The oil, which has a sattva nature, is most favorable for people of vata and pitta constitutions. Ghee is endowed with the ability to rejuvenate the body, improve digestion and strengthen immunity, ojas, as well as tejas (inner fire) and prana (vitality). Ghee has a positive effect on work of the intellect, nourishing the nervous tissues of the body, bone, and brain. It makes the body flexible and, in small doses, has beneficial effects on all three doshas. It is used in the preparation of medicines, as it is able to transfer the medicinal properties of herbs to tissues.

In Buddhism, the stages of enlightenment are metaphorically represented by the stages of dairy production. Ghee stands for the highest of them all.