Understanding Sikh funerals

Sikhism celebrates several rites of passage. The Sikh funeral, the Antam Sanskaar, is actually a celebration of the completion of the deceased's life.

Understanding Sikh funerals

The completion of life

From a baby naming ceremony to a baptism to a wedding, rites of passage are marked with ceremonies and traditions in the Sikh faith. A Sikh is encouraged to view death as divine will and part of the cycle of life. When a Sikh is near death they and their family are encouraged to recite hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy text. The hymns are intended to spiritually support the dying and the family by encouraging detachment. The holy scriptures also offer both the dying and the family something to concentrate on while the dying person prepares to reunite with his Creator, as the Sikh faith dictates.

Cremation

After death, the body of the deceased is prepared for cremation. The body is washed and the five karkars (articles of faith) are included with the body: an undergarment (kachhera), a wooden comb (kanga), a steel or iron cuff or bracelet (kara), a short sword (kirpan) and the maintenance of uncut hair are all trademarks of a faithful Sikh. Traditionally carried in life, the karkars also accompany the body in death. After the body is prepared, the family accompanies the body to the crematorium, outdoor funeral pyre or funeral home. The place of cremation differs according to the location in which it is performed.

Cremation is the preferred manner of care for the deceased, but other forms, such as burial at sea, are acceptable depending on special conditions or circumstances.The family continues to recite holy scripture during the cremation, and the nighttime prayer, Kirtan Sohila, is recited during the cremation itself. As well, ardas, or prayers of petition, are said for the deceased and the family.

Prayers and recitations

After cremation, the ashes are immersed into a body of water like the sea or a river. Ashes can also be strewn or interred in the earth. The official period of mourning continues, during which more scripture is recited from the Guru Granth Sahib, and continues until the 10th day. This 10-day reading of the scriptures can take place in a temple (Gurdwara), at home or even outdoors. This event is called the Sadharan Paath and is a comprehensive recitation of the entire holy text. Prayers from the Guru Granth Sahib include a random verse (Hukum). Guests are also served a meal (Langar) and a sacred sweet dish (Prashad). These rituals offer members of the Sikh faith comfort and condolence during their time of loss.

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