Religious Studies

Sikhism: death rites

The ways in which religious people deal with death and the funeral rites they carry out are usually very closely linked with their beliefs about life after death.

Funeral rites

Funeral rites are very important for two reasons:

  • They show respect for the dead and, in some religions, include various ceremonies which people believe are necessary to ensure that people go on to whatever their next life will be.
  • Perhaps more importantly, they give the relatives and friends of the deceased time to mourn and show their grief in a certain way. People often say that showing their grief formally helps them to get over their loss.

Sikh funeral rites

Sikhs cremate [Cremation: Reducing a corpse by burning. ] people when they die. In the Sikh homeland of the Punjab this often happens on the day of death but in other places it may take longer so that relatives can travel to the funeral.

When someone seems about to die their family will come to their bedside and say Sukhmani (the Hymn of Peace). The dying person tries to reply Waheguru [Waheguru: A Punjabi term used in Sikhism to refer to God. ]. The dead body is washed and then dressed in traditional Sikh clothing.

The coffin is taken to the gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) and placed in front of the Guru Granth Sahib [Guru Granth Sahib: Primal collection of Sikh Scriptures, compiled by Guru Arjan and given its final form by Guru Gobind Singh. ]. The coffin is then carried to the cremation ground. In India it is placed on a funeral pyre which is lit by a close relative. As the coffin burns the evening prayer – the Kirtan Sohila – is said:

God has determined the time for my nuptials; come pour the oil of joy at my door. Bless me, my friends, that I find that sweet union, dwelling as one with my Master and Lord. All must receive their last call from the Master; daily he summons those souls who must go. Hold in remembrance the Lord who will summon you; soon you will hear his command.

Kirtan Sohila 7-8

This shows the belief that death is just a short sleep before rebirth and that everyone must remember Waheguru in the hope of escaping rebirth and reaching moksha (ultimate liberation from reincarnation) . Afterwards, in the gurdwara, the Anand Sahib (prayer) is sung, and the Ardas (prayer) is said. The ceremony ends with karah parshad (offering of food blessed by the guru).

For the next ten days many families stay at home and read all of the Guru Granth Sahib. Sometimes an Akhand path (complete reading of the Guru Granth Sahib) takes place in the gurdwara after a funeral.

Back to Revision Bite