Is Patanjali’s Desi Cow Ghee Even Cow Ghee?

02 August 2017

Priyanka Pathak-Narain is a journalist who covered religion and business for the newspaper Mint for several years. In her book, Godman to Tycoon: the Untold Story of Baba Ramdev, Pathak-Narain covers his rise from a yoga guru in Haridwar to founding and running what is now India’s second-largest fast-moving consumer good, or FMCG, company—the Patanjali group. She writes about how he secured prime slots at devotional channels such as Aastha TV; his role in the anti-corruption movement of 2011; as well as the crimes that appear to surround him—including the mysterious deaths of his two associates, Rajeev Dixit and Swami Yogananda, and the disappearance of his guru, Shankar Dev.

Pathak-Narain writes in the book that Ramdev can be credited in large part for the revival of the Ayurveda practice in India. This revival has brought him colossal profit—the Patanjali group’s revenue recently crossed Rs 10,000 crore, leaving behind giants such as ITC, Godrej and Britannia. At the core of Ramdev’s business is a “swadeshi” outlook—he relies on the idea that Patanjali’s products are made from indigenous sources, and not only incorporate ancient Indian secrets to good health, but weaken the hold of foreign multinationals over Indian consumers. But these claims may be unfounded, Pathak-Narain writes. In the following extract, she recounts a conversation with SK Patra, a former chief executive officer of Patanjali Ayurved, in which he says that Ramdev’s famous “cow ghee” may not be cow ghee at all.

Update: On 4 August, a district court in Delhi granted an ex-parte injunction—in which the publishers were not asked to present their side—against the book. Juggernaut's response to the injunction, which includes a list of sources and interviews Pathak-Narain used for the book, is available here. The injunction was lifted on 28 April. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court restored the injunction order on 10 May.

By the time 2013 rolled around, Patanjali Ayurveda factories were churning out 500 products, and hundreds of new products were being tested. Thirty scientists at Patanjali laboratories were innovating food products, Ayurvedic medicines and cosmetics every day. A steady stream of products went into Ramdev’s office for his personal inspection and approval.

Then, according to SK Patra, the CEO who helped lay the foundations for Patanjali’s phenomenal growth, came a big bang—honey. “We simply bought honey from many different suppliers, refined it, processed it, packaged it, put our label and sold it. As Patanjali honey was the cheapest it quickly swept up the market,” says Patra, explaining that it was the success of honey that made him think of ghee—a product that was destined to catapult Patanjali into the big league.

Priyanka Pathak Narain graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2007, and wrote about the business of religion at Mint between 2007 and 2013. She won the CNN Young Journalist Award for her coverage of the Setusamudram channel project in 2007. A contributing writer for Dharavi: The City Within, she occasionally writes for the New York Times and the Condé Nast Group.

Keywords: Baba Ramdev Patanjali Ayruveda FMCG Ghee