CHAUṄKĪ or Chaukī, lit. quarter, a four-footed wooden platform upon which sat the holy choir to recite the sacred hymns in a gurdwārā or at a gathering of the devotees. The term chauṅkī also refers to a session of kīrtan or hymn-singing, the number of singers at such sessions commonly being four, nowadays usually three, playing different instruments. Kīrtan is a popular form of worship among Sikhs. At all major gurdwārās at least four kīrtan chauṅkīs are held. At the central shrine, in Amritsar, the Harimandar, kīrtan goes on all the time, from 2. 45 a. m. to 9. 45 p. m. Four major chaunkīs or sittings are counted :
(a) Asā dī Vār chaunkī in the early morning;
(b) Charan Kaṅval or Bilāval dī chauṅkī in the forenoon commencing at about four hours after sunrise;
(c) Rahrāsi dī chauṅkī in the evening held immediately before the recitation of evening prayers of Rahrāsi; and
(d) Kalyān dī chauṅkī, later in the evening just preceding the recitation of the last prayer of the day, Kīrtan Sohilā.
These chauṅkīs take place in the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, professional rāgīs or hymn-singers participating in them to the accompaniment of instruments, usually two harmoniums, a pair of tablās or drumlets and occasionally adding a pair of cymbals and/or chimṭās (tongs fitted with metallic discs).
But in the precincts of the Darbār Sāhib, Amritsar, some other chauṅkīs are led out by groups of devotees, chanting hymns as they walk, circumambulating the holy complex including the sarovar, the sacred tank, and the sanctum sanctorum. The column marching and reciting the hymns divides itself into two, one section leading and the other repeating the hymn verse by verse in a singing tune. The performance is called chauṅkī chaṛhnī (mounting or marching of the chauṅkī ). These chauṅkīs are also four in number:
(a) The first and the oldest one is said to have been introduced by Bābā Buḍḍhā (d. 1635) during Gurū Hargobind's absence from Amritsar at the time of his internment by the Mughal emperor, Jahāṅgīr, in the Fort at Gwālior. It has a special procedure laid out for it and a special set of hymns assigned to it. After the conclusion of Rahrāsi prayer at the Akāl Takht those participating. in the chauṅkī stand below the Akāl Takht; and officiant of the Takht hands to them a flag and a Srī Sāhib; one of the group says ardās, the initial supplication; the chauṅkī then commences its march, parikramā or circumambulation of the sarovar keeping the holy Harimandar on its right and singing hymns in groups; two torch-bearers walk, with the group, one in front and the other in the rear, with a herald alerting the pilgrims to the approaching procession; on completion of the parikramā the chauṅkī proceeds to the Harimandar across the causeway; as it approaches the sanctum, singing all the time, the kīrtan already being performed inside stops while the chauṅkī circumambulates the sanctum and performs ardās after which it returns to the Akāl Takht to deposit the flag and the sword before it disperses.
(b) In imitation of the above, Bhāī Ghanaiyā Siṅgh of the Aḍḍanshāhī sect introduced another chauṅkī in 1830. It has since split into two separate groups known as Chauṅkī Mahant Sobhā Siṅgh and Chauṅkī Mahant Dīnā Nāth. Both are mounted one after the other when the traditional chauṅkī of Bābā Buḍḍhā has completed its round. But the carrying of the banner and Srī Sāhib from the Akāl Takht is the privilege only of the old chauṅkī.
(c) A morning chauṅkī introduced by Bhāī Naraiṇ Siṅgh in 1905 is mounted immediately after the Gurū Granth Sāhib has arrived at the Harimandar at about 5 a. m.
(d) Another morning chauṅkī was introduced by Mahant Sant Siṅgh Kalīvāle in 1910. It is mounted after the conclusion of Āsā dī Vār, ardās and hukam in the Harimandar at about 6. 45 a. m.
In addition to these daily chauṅkīs, based in Amritsar, there are other monthly and annual chauṅkīs. One of them is mounted from the Akāl Takht on the eve of the new-moon day. It travels throughout the night singing hymns all the way and arrives at Darbār Sāhib, Tarn Tāran, early in the morning. Another one mounted similarly on the eve of the full-moon day reaches Goindvāl the next morning. For return journey the devotees may use motor transport. Annual chauṅkīs, mounted on some gurpurabs or festivals in honour of the Gurūs, visit some historical gurdwārās in villages surrounding Amritsar such as Chheharṭā, Vallā, Verkā, Vaḍālī, Jhabāl, Bīṛ Bābā Buḍḍhā, and Bāsarke.
Smaller gurdwārās have their own schedules of taking out chauṅkīs, saying śabdas, usually as part of the evening service.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)