Sikh Funerals

Sikhism (also known as Sikhi and Sikh Dharma)

Sikhs believe there is only one God and that all people are equal in matters of religion. Therefore, there are no priests but Sikhs follow the teachings of the ten Gurus (Spiritual Teachers), who founded the Sikh religion. 

Sikhs believe in transmigration of the soul, where the soul never dies but passes from one body to another on death. Death is seen as God’s will and human life is seen as an opportunity for the soul to break out of this cycle and unite with Waheguru, the Wondrous Giver of Knowledge (the Sikh name for God). Therefore, the focus of the Sikh funeral ceremony is not on grief and loss, but is a time of praising God in accordance with the teachings of the code of conduct (The Rahit Maryada).

Preparing the Body

If the body is on a bed it should not be moved and no light placed next to it. The body should be washed and dressed in clean clothes. The hair should not be cut or removed from any part of the body and the articles of Sikh faith (Kakaars) – a small wooden comb (kangha), kachha shorts (kachha) and iron bracelet (karha) and a sword of an unspecified length (kirpan) – should remain with the body. The body may be surrounded with flowers and prayers are said which acknowledge that death is an act of God.

The Funeral Service

From the day of death, the bereaved family will carry out a devotional reading of the Sri Guru Granth Shahib, either continuously over 3 days, or intermittently over 10 or more days, ending on the day of the funeral. This is done either at home or at the Gurdwara (the Sikh place of worship).

The format for a Sikh funeral can vary widely. Most include the recital of Ardas, a community prayer, as well as two daily prayers, Japji and Kirtan Sohila. There may be a service before the cremation and afterwards too, at the Gurdwara. Services can be held at home, at the Gurdwara, at the crematorium or outdoors.

Since death is seen as God’s will and an opportunity for the soul to move on, ritualised mourning does not form part of the Sikh funeral ceremony. Public displays of grief are avoided.

Sikhs should be cremated, unless there is good reason for this not to happen. The ashes should be immersed in flowing water or buried.

The mourning period lasts between two and five weeks and on the first anniversary of the death, the family gather and pray.

After the Funeral

The guests return to the family home where a meal, prepared by neighbours and friends, will be waiting. Prayers are read and hymns sung.  On returning home, mourners are expected to bathe in order to cleanse themselves.

What to Wear

Sikhs will always cover their heads at a funeral. Men wear white headscarves and women wear pale coloured or white headscarves. Guests should wear smart, modest clothes in subdued colours and should also cover their heads. Shoes are removed when entering a Gurdwara or home of a Sikh.

Acceptable Practices

Sikhs are cremated unless there is good reason for this not to happen.

Organ donation is generally seen as acceptable for Sikhs.

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