The Final Moments of Life in Sikhism
In the final moments of life, and at the time of passing, the Sikh family encourages their ailing loved one to focus on the divine by reciting "Waheguru," or suitable passages of scripture from the Guru Granth Sahib. In Sikhism, after a death occurs, funeral arrangements are made by the family which includes conducting a Sadharan Paath, or a complete reading the Guru Granth Sahib. The Sadharan paath is carried out over a period of ten days following the funeral ceremony after which formal mourning concludes.
Preparation of the Deceased
The body of the deceased Sikh is bathed and attired in clean clothing. The hair is covered with a turban or traditional scarf as usually worn by the individual who has passed away. The karkars, or five articles of faith worn by a Sikh in life, remain with the body in death. They include:
- Kachhera, an undergarment.
- Kanga, a wooden comb.
- Kara, a steel or iron bracelet.
- Kes, uncut hair (and beard).
- Kirpan, a short sword.
In Sikhism cremation is the usual method for disposal of remains regardless of the age of the deceased. In many parts of the world a Sikhism funeral involves an open air funeral pyre. In the United States where there is no provision for such proceedings, cremation takes place in a crematory at a mortuary, also called a funeral home. The crematory may open directly to a room where funeral services are held, or it may be in a separate location on the premises of the mortuary.
Disposal of Ashes
The funeral home releases the cremated remains of the deceased to the family. Sikhism recommends that the ashes of the deceased be buried in the earth scattered over or immersed in flowing water such as a river or sea.
Other Burial Options
Sikhism allows for other burial methods when cremation is not a practical option. Remains of the deceased may be immersed in water, buried in the earth, or disposed of appropriately by whatever suitable means deemed necessary according to extenuating circumstances.
In Sikhism, a funeral ceremony may take place at any time of day or night, as is convenient and be either formal or informal. Sikh funeral services are meant to induce detachment and promote resignation to the will of the divine. A service may be conducted:
- Out of doors.
- In a gurdwara.
- At a funeral home.
- At the home of relatives.
Every Sikh funeral service, however simple or complex, consists of reciting the final prayer of the day, Kirtan Sohila, and the offering of Ardas. Both may be performed prior to cremation, the scattering of ashes, or otherwise disposing of remains.
The Sadharan Paath
The ceremony in which the Sadharan Paath is begun, may be held when convenient, wherever the Guru Granth Sahib is present:
- Hymns are sung from the scripture of the Guru Granth.
- The first five and final verses of "Anand Sahib," the "Song of Bliss," are recited or sung.
- The first five verses of Sikhism's morning prayer, "Japji Sahib," are read aloud to begin the Sadharan Paath.
- Hukam, or random verse, is read from the Guru Granth.
- Ardas, a prayer, is offered.
- Prashad, a sacred sweet, is distributed.
- Langar, a meal, is served to guests.
Hymns sung at a Sikh funeral offer solace to the bereaved by emphasizing the blending of the departed soul with the divine. The hymns are compositions taken from the Guru Granth Sahib such as:
- "Jeevan maran sukh ho-e jinhaa gur paa-i-aa||
In life and in death, peace resides with those who attain their Guru."
- "Jot milee sang jot reh-i-aa ghaal-daa||
My light merges with the Supreme light, and my labors are over."
- "Sooraj kiran milae jal kaa jal hooaa raam||
The sunbeam blends with sunlight and the water drop is absorbed into water becoming saturated."
- "Oudak samund salal kee saakhiaa nadee tarang samaaveh-gae||
Like droplets of water are in an ocean wave and the ripples of a stream, I am immersed in the Lord."
Ritualized mourning is considered contrary to Sikh belief. Customs and practices avoided in Sikhism include:
- Lighting a lamp to guide the soul.
- Offering donations on behalf of the soul.
- Austerities performed on behalf o the soul.
- Organized grieving such as wailing and lamentation.
- Marking a grave site with a grave stone or monument.
- Piercing the skull during cremation for release of the soul.