Ghee: The Golden Elixir in Hindu Traditions and Festivals•
Posted on December 02 2023
From ancient rituals to modern festivals, Ghee has a special role in Hinduism. It starts as butter, gets transformed into a golden elixir, and becomes a sacred connection between our world and the divine during Hindu celebrations.
Origin and Significance
The origins of Ghee as a sacred offering trace back to the Vedic period, where it found a prominent place in Yajnas (fire rituals) and ceremonies. The process of extracting Ghee involves simmering butter until it transforms into a golden, clarified liquid, signifying the removal of impurities and the essence of pure devotion. This symbolism aligns with the spiritual journey of the seeker, aspiring for purity and enlightenment.
Ghee is lauded for its sattvic (pure and harmonious) qualities in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine. It is believed to enhance physical and mental well-being, making it an ideal substance for rituals that seek to purify both the external and internal realms of the worshipper.
Various Uses in Hindu Festivals
Deepavali, the festival of lights, witnesses the extensive use of Ghee in the lighting of diyas. The pure flame emanating from Ghee-lit lamps symbolises the dispelling of darkness, both metaphorically and literally, and the ushering in of divine radiance into homes.
2) Havan and Yajnas
Ghee plays a central role in havana and yajnas, where it is offered into the sacred fire as a symbol of surrender and transformation. The fragrance of Ghee permeates the air, creating an environment conducive to spiritual elevation and communion with the divine.
3) Navratri and Durga Puja
During the festival of Navratri, particularly in Durga Puja, Ghee is used in the preparation of various sweets and prasad (offerings). Devotees believe that offering Ghee-laden sweets to the goddess invokes her blessings and ensures prosperity and well-being.
4) Karva Chauth
Karva Chauth, a fasting ritual observed by married Hindu women, involves the consumption of a special meal before sunrise. Ghee features prominently in the preparation of this meal, signifying nourishment, longevity, and the strength of the marital bond.
5) Annakut in Govardhan Puja
In the Govardhan Puja celebration, devotees offer a mountain of various food items as a symbolic representation of Govardhan Hill. Ghee is used generously in the preparation of these offerings, reflecting the abundance and purity of the gifts presented to Lord Krishna.
The celebration of Lord Krishna's birth, Janmashtami, witnesses the use of Ghee in the preparation of special dishes, such as "makhan" (butter) and various sweets offered to the deity. Devotees believe that using Ghee in these preparations enhances the sanctity of the offerings made to the playful and mischievous Lord Krishna.
7) Akshaya Tritiya
Akshaya Tritiya, a highly auspicious day in the Hindu calendar, is considered ideal for beginning new ventures and making significant purchases. Ghee is often used in the preparation of special dishes as part of celebratory meals during this festival, symbolising prosperity and auspicious beginnings.
8) Pitru Paksha
During the Pitru Paksha, a period dedicated to ancestor worship, Ghee is used in making offerings to departed souls. It is believed that offering Ghee in sacred rituals helps in the spiritual elevation of ancestors and brings peace to their souls.
9) Karunamayi Amavasya
In certain regions, a unique festival known as Karunamayi Amavasya is observed, where Ghee lamps are lit to express gratitude and seek blessings for the abundance of milk and crops. Devotees believe that this act of offering Ghee invokes the benevolence of the divine and ensures prosperity.
10) Vat Purnima Vrat
Vat Purnima Vrat is observed by married women who fast and pray for the well-being and longevity of their husbands. Ghee is often used in the preparation of special foods, and it is believed that the purity of Ghee enhances the efficacy of the prayers and vows made during this vrat (fast).
11) Chhath Puja
Chhath Puja, primarily observed in Bihar and other North Indian states, involves the worship of the Sun God. Devotees prepare traditional sweets, including thekua and kheer, where Ghee is a crucial ingredient. These offerings are made to express gratitude to the Sun God for sustaining life on Earth.
12) Ganesh Chaturthi
During the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, Ghee is used in the preparation of modak, a sweet dumpling considered Lord Ganesha's favourite. Devotees believe that offering modaks made with Ghee pleases Lord Ganesha and brings prosperity and wisdom.
13) Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti, a festival celebrating the transition of the Sun into the zodiac sign of Capricorn, involves the preparation of traditional sweets like til ladoos and gajak using Ghee. These sweets are shared with loved ones, symbolising warmth, unity, and the triumph of light over darkness.
In Kerala, the festival of Vishu involves the preparation of a special dish called "Vishu Kanji" using Ghee. This dish, made with rice, coconut milk, and Ghee, is considered auspicious and is consumed as the first meal on Vishu morning for blessings of prosperity and well-being.
1) The Churning of the Ocean (Samudra Manthan)
In the iconic tale of the Samudra Manthan, or the churning of the ocean, Ghee makes a celestial appearance. As the Devas and Asuras churn the ocean to extract amrit, the elixir of immortality, Ghee emerges as one of the divine treasures, symbolising purity and spiritual nourishment.
2) Ghee in the Agni Purana
The Agni Purana, one of the eighteen Mahapuranas, extols the virtues of Ghee in the context of rituals and offerings. It provides detailed guidelines on the preparation of Ghee and emphasises its role in fire rituals, underscoring its significance as a medium to invoke divine energies.
3) Offerings to Agni, the Fire God
Agni, the fire god, plays a crucial role in carrying offerings from Earth to the heavens. Ghee, being an essential fuel for fire, is considered Agni's favourite offering. The story emphasises the symbiotic relationship between Ghee, the sacred flame, and the divine, underscoring its significance in various rituals.
4) The Divine Nectar in Ghee
According to Hindu scriptures, Ghee is often referred to as the divine nectar (amrita) that nurtures the soul. In rituals and pujas, the offering of Ghee is seen as a gesture of presenting a celestial substance to the deities, symbolising purity, nourishment, and divine favour.
5) Bhishma's Boon in the Mahabharata
In the Mahabharata, the epic saga of ancient India, Bhishma Pitamah, a revered figure, had the power to choose the time of his death. It is said that Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows during the battle and requested Ghee to be poured on the ground to ease his pain. This episode reflects Ghee's association with healing and comfort.
6) Sage Vashishtha and the Cow of Plenty
The story of Sage Vashishtha and the Kamadhenu, the divine cow of plenty, is well-known in Hindu mythology. Kamadhenu could grant any wish, and it is said that Ghee flowed abundantly from her udders. The sage used this Ghee to perform rituals and offer prayers, symbolising the divine blessings received through the cow's grace.
7) Ghee in the Wedding of Lord Rama and Sita
During the wedding of Lord Rama and Sita in the Ramayana, Ghee played a vital role. It is said that a ceremonial fire (agni) was lit using Ghee to sanctify the union of the divine couple. This act symbolises the sacredness and purity associated with Ghee in significant life events.
8) Ghee in Soma Sacrifices
The Rigveda, one of the oldest sacred texts, mentions the use of Ghee in Soma sacrifices. Soma, a divine plant, was mixed with Ghee to create a sacred elixir offered to the gods. This practice highlights Ghee's integral role in ancient Vedic rituals.
9) Draupadi's Akshaya Patra
In the Mahabharata, during the period of exile, Draupadi possessed an Akshaya Patra (an inexhaustible vessel). It is said that the vessel provided an unending supply of Ghee, ensuring that the Pandavas never faced scarcity during their difficult times.
Written by Puja Paul