Sikhs believe in the soul’s transmigration, which never expires. However, the life of humans is a chance for our souls to break out of the transmigration (or karma) cycle for uniting with Waheguru. Waheguru or the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge is the Sikh word for God. Sikhism dictates that such union can take place only through truthful conduct, good deeds, and God’s grace (or nadar). After the soul achieves salvation, it is not reborn again in this world. This is because the soul becomes one with the Supreme Being.
The funeral of Sikhs is called Antam Sanskaar. This means the last rite of passage. This ceremony’s focus is not grief and loss but the celebration that the departed soul has a chance for rejoining Waheguru.
Arrangements for Sikh Funerals
So, when a Sikh dies, the bereaved family should plan the cremation. Usually, arrangements for Sikh funerals start just after death. Most funeral directors can accommodate Sikh cremation traditions. Before the funeral service, the deceased’s body is bathed. Also, the body is dressed by others in neat clothing. The Sikh faith’s articles or the Kakaars should not be removed. As Amritdhari Sikhs, these articles are worn by them throughout their lives. Also, one should not remove or cut the hair from any body part.
These articles include kesh (unkempt hair), kachha (shorts that are typically worn like an undergarment), kangha (a tiny wooden comb), karha (an iron bracelet), and kirpan (an unspecified-length sword). In case, the deceased person wasn’t an Amritdhari Sikh throughout life, the relatives could wish that these faith articles are given. Also, the hair of the person are left unshorn.
The body might be surrounded by some flowers. Based on the traditions of specific families, there might be a chance for their dear ones to see the body before cremation. At Sikh funerals, there could be an open casket.
Funeral Service for Sikhs
At Sikh funerals, the funeral format can widely vary. Sometimes, there are services before and after the cremation at a gurudwara, i.e., the worship place of Sikhs. Sometimes, only the cremation takes place with some prayers recited.
Many Sikh funerals comprise the recitation of Ardas that is a community prayer. Along with Ardas, there are two regular prayers, Kirtan Sohila and Japji. The funeral service can take place at a crematorium, a gurudwara, or at the bereaved family’s home.
The cremation of Sikhs can occurduringthe night or day. Often close relatives, friends, and the deceased’s family will join the cremation.
Mourning Rituals of Sikh Funerals
When it comes to Sikh funerals, ritualized mourning isn’t accepted. At a Sikh funeral, you will not view overt public shows of grief and superstitious rituals like lighting candles for guiding the soul. To offer peace of mind and comfort, only the Waheguru’s Name is recited again and again by the audience.
The Sikh funeral ceremony is designed for showing that mourners resign to the will of God instead of focusing on grief and pain. However, Sikhism recognizes that sadness is an agonizing part of a dear one dying. Also, it supports private comforting and grieving others.
For a Sikh funeral, Sikhs prefer cremation. In most countries, cremation is done through outdoor funeral pyres. However, in the United Kingdom, cremation is limited to crematoria. In case, circumstances are not favorable for cremation, other means of disposing of the deceased body like burial are acceptable.
Usually, the family scatters or buries the ashes in the earth after the cremation. Mostly, Sikhs scatter the ashes of the departed one in a flowing water body like the sea or a river. Sikhism doesn’t support the placing stones or raising of monuments in the dead person’s name for making the cremation site.
As cremation is the primary way of dealing with the departed in Sikhism, embalming is not usually performed. However, this can be done because of the regulations if the deceased’s family chooses to go for a different method for dealing with the deceased body like open casket funeral services.
After the Funeral
In Sikhism, there are no assigned mourning periods. Also, there are no mourning rites after a dear one’s death. Beginning with the day’s death, the family of the deceased will perform a religious reading of the whole Sir Guru Granth Sahib that is the holy scripture of Sikhs.
So, there will be either a non-stop reading of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib known as the Akhand Path, which takes just three days or this reading is done over 10 days or more depending on the relative’s convenience or other circumstances. In both cases, the reading can be done either at a gurudwara or the family’s place.
Sometimes, when Sikh funerals are delayed for some reasons like due to the crematorium’s availability or post mortem, the reading ceremony of Sir Guru Granth Sahib takes place after the cremation. This is also known as Bhog paona, which happens on the day of the funeral.
Sikh Cremation Etiquette
Sikh funerals can be attended by non-Sikhs too. In case, you have to attend a non-Sikh funeral service, then you won’t be expected usually to be a part of the devotional readings and prayers. You need to simply remain silent respectfully and stand or sit along with the rest of the audience when they do so.
Attire for a Sikh Funeral
For Sikh funerals, you need to wear smart clothes in only subdued colors. You should not go for any bright clothing patterns. It is better to modestly dress without showing much skin. At a Sikh funeral, Sikhs have to cover the heads all the time.
As a sign of respect, you might be expected for doing the same through a headscarf for women and a hat or cap for men. However, in several gurudwaras, people are provided with head clothes or scarves while attending the gurudwara ceremony.
Plus, keep in mind that while going inside a gurudwara or the Sikh’s house, you will be expected to get your shoes off.