Funeral Ceremony Traditions of Different Religions in Singapore

Religion has been an integral part of Singapore. Being a cosmopolitan society, everyone here lives harmoniously with each other despite ethnicity, religion, and culture. The country is famous for its modernized city, but behind the magnificent façade, the ethnicity of different races is still evident in culture, traditions, and beliefs.

Funeral Customs by Religion, Ethnicity, and Culture in Singapore

The country of Singapore is full of rich traditions and local culture. The unique ethnic influences from the culture of Singapore, making it the country with the most diverse culture in the world. Ethnic groups include Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Westerners. The culture of the Singaporeans today is based on these groups. On the other hand, in Singapore, there are more than ten various religions being practiced by people, thus discrimination is always an issue. Moreover, because of these religions, Singapore is known as the country of many beliefs.

The religious culture in the country is so diverse that there are different beliefs among the people. Aside from Buddhism, among the religions in the country include Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and more. Because of these various religions, the funeral ceremony in Singapore also differs.

The people of Singapore practice different types of funeral traditions. Following strict traditions from the funeral preparations to funeral rites to wake and funeral, the practices may vary depending on religion.

Christianity

Christianity in Singapore is at approximately 18% rate among the total population of the country today. Most of them actually grew up from non-Christian homes, which explains why the modern Christian funerals are still practiced with traditional and cultural funeral rites and ceremonies, as well as with elegant and beautifully arranged Christian funeral flowers.

In a Christian funeral ceremony, Christian families prefer the funeral rites to be held in their Christian church or in the funeral homes the family of the deceased person requested. Christian families in Singapore want to hold funerals in the most personal and meaningful way. The ceremony ends with a final commendation to significantly commend the deceased person to the loving arms of God.

It is common to these funerals that the casket is open for viewing, at least throughout the funeral wake. This is allowed in the country so that the family and relatives, as well as friends,  can pay their respect and give their tribute to the deceased person.

Family and visitors arriving at the wake traditionally wear a white shirt or blouse and black pants. Everyone arrives at the wake to offer condolences and to comfort the family. A handshake or a hug is a common gesture, too, to express sympathy.

An opened Bible is commonly seen on the altar or table beside the coffin. This is to signify the Christian faith which is based on the Bible. Most of the Christian funerals are practiced to celebrate life with the hope that the family will be reunited again with the departing soul in heaven afterlife on earth.

Catholicism

In a Catholic funeral, the family traditionally holds a wake for the deceased person for 3 to 7 days to allow other family and relatives to come and pay their last respect before interment. It is a customary tradition and belief that the wake should last for 3, 5, or 7 days. An odd number is significant for grief for the Chinese-Catholic.

Funeral wake is often held at the family’s home or residence or at the void decks and funeral homes. A white tentage identifies Catholic funerals. Family, relatives, and friends are expected to bring or send Catholic funeral flowers to say their condolences.

Viewing of the open casket is common in many Catholic funerals. Necessary funeral services are adhered to in order to accommodate the family’s request.

Those who are planning to visit the wake to condole with the family and to pay their last respect to the deceased person may also say a short prayer for the family and for the departing soul. Visitors will be given a red thread that they can wear around the finger. After leaving the wake, visitors will let the red thread slip off the finger before they reach their house.

Aside from funeral flowers, visitors may also bring food or snacks and cash donations for the family to cover part of the huge expenses for the funerals. On the other hand, it is a tradition in the Catholic funerals to never say “Thank You” whenever someone brings or sends something.

Buddhism

Traditionally, in Buddhist funeral, the atmosphere is maintained to be serene, calm, and solemn. Even just before the time of death, everyone is expected to be quiet and solemn. A monk is present to help and support the person until death.

Based on the Buddhist religion, they believe that there are 3 intermediate states of the afterlife which they call Bardos. They require that the body be not disturbed for the next four hours after the time of death and for at least 3 days before the cremation.

Although there is not one common ritual performed on Buddhist funerals, most families hold the Buddhist funeral ceremony to last for 49 days. The first 7 days of the ceremony is very important in the Buddhist funeral traditions. The wake usually lasts for 3, 5, 7 or 9 days.

A large tentage setup is intended for the casket area. It should be set up near the deceased person’s home. Buddhist monks are expected to perform chanting on the wake and on the last night of the funeral wake. Aside from the white Buddhist funeral flowers, family, relatives, and friends may also bring food and fruit offerings for the deceased. Other common and traditional funeral necessities are joss sticks, joss stick urn, lotus candles, joss paper sandalwood, and sandalwood powder.

At the wake, a bucket of water containing fresh flowers is prepared to be used for cleansing. It has been believed that the water can cleanse away negativity brought by the funeral to the visitors. Red thread is also used to ensure safety and protection from evil spirits.

Visitors are required to wear white t-shirts as mourning clothes on the day of funerals. Family and friends are carried back and forth by a rented vehicle on the way to the crematorium.

Taoism

Taoist funerals are becoming simpler over time. The old funeral traditions are slowly being forgotten or lost. Although there is only a little information written about the Taoist funeral traditions because they do not talk about death traditionally, the most common trends in Taoist funerals include the funeral rites being performed by the Taoist Priest.

In a Taoist funeral wake, the funeral director is assigned to provide all the necessary funeral services because the family of the deceased person is beset by grief and sorrow. There may be various Taoist denominations with different rites and rituals for the funerals, there are also some common funeral rites.

Based on traditions and belief, the funeral wake lasts for 3, 5, or 7 days. An altar is set up with a lamp on top to signify sacredness and immortality. There are 2 large candles on the table together with some cups filled with tea, water, and rice. They also have 5 plates of fruits to signify the 5 elements. In the center of the table, an incense burner is set up.

The best Taoist funeral flowers, on the other hand, are the white and yellow flowers of Chrysanthemums and Lilies.

Islam

In Islam funeral traditions, everyone is expected to follow and adhere to the specific Islamic funeral rites. The rites are followed in accordance with their religious laws or commonly known as Syariah. It is important and traditional for them to handle the body with the utmost care.

Part of the Islamic traditional funeral rituals is the washing and shrouding of the body of the deceased person. This procedure is called a ghusl. According to Muslim law and religion, this procedure is done by the family member or by someone of the same gender. The body is washed with water three times to ensure that the body is clean. This is followed by kafan, the shrouding of the body. It is the wrapping of the body in plain white cloth coated with camphor, non-alcoholic perfume, and sandalwood powder. This is not just a ritual but a significance of dignity and privacy of the deceased person.

The next part of the Islamic funeral rituals is the funeral prayer. The congregation performs the prayer for the deceased person, and this is called jenazah. The funeral traditions of jenazah should be performed at home of the family or at their mosque. It is led by Imam while facing Qiblat or the direction of Mecca. An immediate family gets Muslim funeral flowers.

The last part of the funeral rituals is the burial. In Islamic burial, the body is placed in a coffin and brought to the cemetery. To bury the body, it is gently lowered in the grave without the coffin. The body is facing Qiblat. The grave is, then, covered fully with soil. To end the funeral rituals, a funeral sermon is said at the grave.

Hinduism

Depending on sects and sub-sects, the Hinduism funeral rituals vary in practices and procedures. It is a tradition for the people in Hindu faith to die at home surrounded by the family. A prayer vigil is performed until the time of death. Hindu mourners use Hindu funeral flowers to adorn the body and to prepare for the cremation.

In Hindu funeral traditions, the body of the deceased person remains at home for 24 hours, and after this, cremation is performed. They scatter the ashes on water. It could be a sacred body of water or one that is important and significant to the deceased person.

At the funeral wake, mourners wear an appropriate dress, and the chief mourner leads them. White clothes are appropriate and black is not accepted. Visitors are expected to attend the special funeral ceremony 10 days after to liberate and free the soul of the deceased person. They can bring fruits to the ceremony.

Sikhism

The Sikh beliefs on death and funeral are distinct. They believe that the soul never dies but reunited to their God, Waheguru the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge.

In Antam Sanskaar, the Sikh funeral, the funeral ceremony is focused on the celebration of life, not on loss, as the soul reunites with Waheguru.

Immediately after the death, Sikh funeral traditions begin by bathing the body and dressing it in clean, decent clothes. If the deceased person is Amrithdhari Sikh, the Kakaars or the articles of Sikh faith worn by the person should not be taken off from the body.

The family may opt for an open casket to allow family and relatives to see the person before the burial. The family may also have the body surrounded and adorned with Sikh funeral flowers.

Funeral rites and traditions in these ethnic groups are strictly adhered to and followed in order to bring rest and peace to the soul of the deceased person. These rites are expected to be observed carefully up to the last detail no matter the religion, beliefs, and ethnicity the family belongs. Respect is given to the deceased person, as well as to the bereaved family.

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