Last week when our class went to a Gurdwara to learn more about Sikhism, I was fascinated by how differently worship is carried out in a Gurdwara compared to other places of worship I have been in. When we left, I think we all felt we had a much better understanding of Sikhism and an appreciation for the hospitality we were shown (sacred pudding and a free meal? this place is awesome!). However, there was one question we all seemed to leave still pondering: What was that wand? pom-pom? furry thing? being waved by the man reading the Adi Granth? I think this particular part of the Gurdwara caught our attention because it was so incredibly unique and different than anything we had seen before. Unfortunately, the ceremonial object was never mentioned. I’ve been so curious about this object, that I wanted to write a post about what it is, why it is used, and how that shows some differences between Sikh scripture and sacred texts in other religions.
The item I am referring to is called a Chauri. It usually has a handle made of precious metals or wood. The fur part of it is made of either yak hair, the tail of a white horse, or white peacock feathers, however it can also be made of synthetic materials like cotton or nylon. Chauri is also a reference to the animal, which is a cross between a yak and a cow, and is found in Nepal. In Sikhism, the Chauri is used to fan the air around the Adi Granth as a symbol of respect. It originated from dignitaries being fanned with similar fly whisks to keep them cool. This process became a sign of respect and authority. The Adi Granth is treated as a living Guru, so fanning it is like fanning a live person. Fly whisks are also associated with Hinduism and Buddhism and are used to fan away earthly troubles and worries.
While researching the Chauri, I also read a lot more about the other things done to treat the Adi Granth as a living authority, rather than just a text. Every morning the Adi Granth is carried into its daily resting place and placed on a stool, which symbolizes its authority over worshippers who sit at a lower level. Every evening it is also carried to its nightly resting place in a procession. When moved, it is covered in cloth and carried on someone’s head as a sign of honor.
As I read all of this, and saw some of it occur in the Gurdwara, I began to contemplate my own religious practices and how I treat my own bible. My “sacred text” is highlighted, tattered, dog-eared, bookmarked, written on, and generally worn by my use of it. It is fascinating to me that there is so much process in reading the text associated with Sikhism. I read an article that said that Sikh followers don’t even have full copies of the Adi Granth at home. For me, especially knowing the history of Christianity and the battles fought to give Christians the right to read and interpret the bible, I think there is something beautiful about being able to interact with the bible the way that I can. It allows me to interpret and process things for myself and to turn to it in times of question or need. However, the amount of respect that is given to the Adi Granth is definitely something that I can appreciate. Especially given the instances of defiling other sacred texts I have witnessed (like the time someone told me they rolled a joint with a page of a free bible they were given). The Adi Granth has probably not been subjected to something like that. I’m very grateful that I was able to witness what happens inside of a Sikh Gurdwara.
As a bonus, here is the recipe for the “sacred pudding” or Kara Parshard:
also a Chauri