CHAUNKI or Chauki,

CHAUNKI or Chauki,

CHAUNKI or Chauki, lit. quarter, a four footed wooden platform upon which sat the holy choir to recite the sacred hymns in a gurdwara or at a gathering of the devotees. The term chaunki also refers to a session of kirtan or hymn singing, the number of singers at such sessions commonly being four, nowadays usually three, playing different instruments. Kirtan is a popular form of worship among Sikhs. At all major gurdwaras at least four kirtan chaunkfs are held. At the central shrine, in Amritsar, the Harimandar, kirtan goes on all the time, from 2.45 a.m. to 9.45 p.m.

Four major chaunkis or sittings are counted: (a) Asa di Var di chaunki in the early morning; (b) Charan Kanva] or Bilaval di chaunki in the forenoon commencing at about four hours after sunrise; (c) Rahrasi di chaunki in the evening held immediately before the recitation of evening prayers of Rahrasi; and (d) Kalyan di chaunki, later in the evening just preceding the recitation of the last prayer of the day, Kirtan Sohila. These chaunkis take place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, professional ragis or hymnsingers participating in them to the accompaniment of instruments, usually two harmoniums, a pair of tablas or drumlets and occasionally adding a pair of cymbals and/or chimtas (tongs fitted with metallic discs).But in the precincts of the Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, some other chaunkis 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 chaunki charhni (mounting or marching of the chaunki). These chaunkis are also four in number: (a) The first and the oldest one is said to have been introduced by Baba Buddha (d. 1635) during Guru Hargobind`s absence from Amritsar at the time of his internment by the Mughal emperor, Jaharigir, in the Fort at Gwalior.It has a special procedure laid out for it and a special set of hymns assigned to it. After the conclusion of Rahrasi prayer at the Akal Takht those participating in the chaunki stand below the Akal Takht; and officiant of the Takht hands to them a flag and a Sri Sahib; one of the group says ardas, the initial supplication; the chaunki then commences its march, parikrama or circumambulation of the sarovar keeping the holy Harimandar on its right and singing hymns in groups; two torchbearers 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 parikrama the chaunki proceeds to the Harimandar across the causeway; as it approaches the sanctum, singing all the time, the kirtan already being performed inside stops while the chaunki circumambulates the sanctum and performs ardas after which it returns to the Akal Takht to deposit the flag and the sword before it disperses.

(b) In imitation of the above, Bhai Ghanaiya Singh of the Addanshahi sect introduced another chaunki in 1830. It has since split into two separate groups known as Chaunki Mahant Sobha Singh and Chaunki Mahant Dina Nath. Both are mounted one after the other when the traditional chaurifef of Baba Buddha has completed its round. But the carrying of the banner and Sri Sahib from the Akal Takht is the privilege only of the old chaunki. (c) A morning chaunki introduced by Bhai Narain Singh in 1905 is mounted immediately after the Guru Granth Sahib has arrived at the Harimandar at about 5 a.m. (d) Another morning chaunki was introduced by Mahant Sant Singh Kalivale in 1910.

It is mounted after the conclusion of Asa di Var, ardas and hukam in the Harimandar at about 6.45 a.m. In addition to these daily chaunkis, based in Amritsar, there are other monthly and annual chaunkis. One of them is mounted from the Akal Takht on the eve of the newmoon day. It travels throughout the night singing hymns all the way and arrives at Darbar Sahib, Tarn Taran, early in the morning. Another one mounted similarly on the eve of the fullmoon day reaches Goindval the next morning. For return journey the devotees may use motor transport.

Annual chaurikfs, mounted on some giirpurabs or festivals in honour of the Gurus, visit some historical gurdwaras in villages surrounding Amritsar such as Chheharta, Valla, Verka, Vadali, Jhabal, Bir Baba Buddha, and Basarke. Smaller gurdwaras have their own schedules of taking but chaunkis, saying sabdas, usually as part of the evening service.