Chaur Sahib is an implement normally found next to the Manji Sahib where the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is placed during the day within the Gurdwara’s Darbar Sahib (Main Hall). The Chaur is used to fan the Granth as a sign of reverence and respect for the scriptures. These days, the chaur is usually constructed from yak hair mounted in a wooden or metal handle. The Sevadar (volunteer) respectfully waves the Chaur Sahib above the Guru Sahib as a sign of respect and dedication.
It is regarded as seva (service) of very high calibre for the Guru and most Sikhs at some point undertake this Seva at their local Gurdwara or at their home if they have the Sri Guru Granth Sahib in their home. This seva shows reverence for the message carried by the Guru (Gurbani) and humility (Nimrata) for the word of the Guru. Further, when the Sevadar waves the Chaur Sahib, he or she would silently recite the Gurmantar, Waheguru. So one, not only performs seva but also undertakes Simran at the same time as well. Both Simran and Seva form the foundation of Sikhism – see Sikh Beliefs.
During the time of the first ten Gurus, this tradition was born for various reasons. It was common practise in Punjab for the younger members of the family to perform seva for their elders by waving fans during hot weather condition to create a breeze to cool the person and also to keep flies away from the person. During this earlier period, the chaur was made of peacock feather or wood and canvas and created a good airflow when waved.
This tradition was also used with the Gurus and is now used with the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It was also a tradition used for kings and royalty. The use of the hair from a yak’s tail was one of the royal symbols of Ghengis Khan the distant ancestor of Babur and the Mughals who despite being the rulers of ‘Hindustan’ long dreamed of retaking their forefather’s homelands in the northern stepps. (In this case the grass was actually greener).
These days, with the advent of air conditioning and electric fans, the movement of air is not so important but the “seva” element has taken on a more important and overriding role. The Sikhs treat the Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a “living Guru” and so all the traditions that would be accorded to a “human Guru”, of ancient times, are accorded to the SGGS as far as practically possible.
The Chaur Seva is just one of those central traditions that the Sikhs practise to honour their Guru with the high regard and respect that Gurbani deserves. The Sikhs do not ‘worship’ the Guru Granth for this is forbidden – Only the ‘One Almighty God’ is to be worshipped, for He is the Creator of everything that can be perceived and also those things that cannot be perceived.
During the time of the first ten Gurus, the congregation (Sangat) and Sevadar (volunteers) who came from afar to see the Gurus wanted to be close to the Gurus and listen to their advice and guidance (Shabad). So they would sit near the Guru and listen to the words of wisdom from the Guru and do Chaur Seva for the Guru. This seva was done turn by turn by many members of the congregation (Sangat) to be as close to their Guru as possible.