Sikh Funeral Rites - Your Guide
It is a Sikh belief that there is transmigration or karma of the soul, that death is a very natural part of life and that it comes to each individual at the appropriate time. Sikhs believe that death forms a part of the natural process whereby the soul takes a path that will reunite them with Waheguru, the Sikh name for God. The Sikh funeral, the last rite of passage which is known as Antam Sanskar, is a ceremony where the focus is on the celebration of the soul as it re-joins Waheguru.
What happens before a Sikh funeral ceremony?
It is common practice when a Sikh person dies for the arrangements for a funeral to begin immediately. Ideally, this should be within three days of a person’s death.
On the day of death, the family of the bereaved individual will read from the Sikh holy scriptures. They read Sukhmani Sahib to console themselves over the death of a loved one.
The body of the deceased is washed and dressed by a member of the family, if the death occurred in a hospital, then the body is returned home for this preparation to take place. For those Sikhs who are initiated (baptised), the body will be dressed in the karkars. These are the five articles of the Sikh faith. It is important that these five items are left with the body. They are:
· The Kangha – a small comb made of wood
· The Kirpan knife
· The Kara – a bracelet made of iron
· Kesh – the hair should remain uncut
· The Kachera - a Sikh undergarment, usually in the form of shorts
Flowers are not necessary however the family of the deceased may choose to place Sikh funeral flowers around the body. These flowers would usually be chrysanthemums in orange and white, which are the traditional mourning flower in many Asian countries.
There may be an opportunity for people to view the body, however, this will depend on the customs that each individual family chose to follow. In some cases, a Sikh funeral may have an open casket.
Where it is possible, a Sikh funeral is arranged to take place within three days of the person dying.
Do Sikhs visit the temple before the funeral?
The Sikh belief is that mourning is something that should be done privately and quietly. Sikhs are discouraged from public displays of emotion. It is not unusual for the friends and family of the deceased to gather at the temple, Gurdwara, to sing hymns and recite funeral prayers to mourn the loss of their loved one. This is done as a show of the dedication that they have to God and as a show that his decision to take their loved one is accepted.
Cremation and the Sikh belief
Like many other Asian religions, Sikhism believes that the physical body is merely a shell that serves no real purpose other than to be a house for the soul of a person. As a result of this, cremation is usually the preferred choice. Burying is, however, an acceptable choice, particularly in those circumstances where cremation is not possible.
A Sikh cremation is normally attended by the family of the deceased, close friends and family. No service takes place around the cremation. However, it is not unusual for several prayers to be recited during the cremation.
There are, however, no headstones for a person of the Sikh faith who has passed away, nor are there monuments. This is because, as a result of reincarnation, Sikhs believe that the soul of the deceased has already moved to another body, leaving only the shell behind. Therefore Sikhs commemorate the memory of their loved ones by scattering their ashes over a place of significance or over water. Some families prefer to bury the ashes of their loved one, however, this is done without any form of “grave” marker.
The Sikh Funeral service
Known as the Antam Sanskaar, which translates as “the last rite of passage” or “final rite”, the Sikh funeral is not a lengthy service and will normally last between 30 minutes to one hour. The focus of the service is not on the grief and pain that is experienced at the loss of a loved one but rather on a celebration of the soul. This is why the Sikh funeral service is usually a relatively simple one.
The funeral ceremony can take place in a number of different locations. This might be in the family home of the deceased, outside, at the crematorium or at the Gurdwara.
Traditionally the Sikh funeral service will include three prayers. These are a community prayer, “Ardas” and two daily prayers “, Kirtan Sohila” and “Japji”. It is purely a religious ceremony, and emotional or long eulogies from the family of the deceased are discouraged. The idea of a eulogy goes against the principle belief that the physical body of a person is simply a vessel to contain the soul.
Following a Sikh Funeral
There is no mourning period and no mourning rituals that need to be carried out following the death of a loved one.
Beginning on the day of the death, the family of the deceased undertake a devotional reading of the complete Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This is either done in the form of a continuous reading which will take around three days and is called the Akhand Paatth. If the reading takes place over a longer period of time, it is usually ten days (the recommended time) or longer, depending on the circumstances of the family.
Arranging a Sikh funeral
If you are looking for a company that can assist you with the arrangements for a Sikh funeral, then Legacy of Lives is here to help you every step of the way. As the only independent funeral comparison services, we can help you to find the right professionals to help with your funeral, request quotes and book the funeral. We are here to hold your hand throughout the process, helping to make it as easy as possible.