Sikh Funeral Traditions and Etiquette

Sikh funerals are based on the belief that upon death, the soul returns to God. Learn more about the traditions and proper etiquette in this guide.

Dave Kaplan Dave Kaplan
ARTICLE3 MIN READ
Sikh Funeral Traditions and Etiquette

Sikhism was founded in the Punjabi region of India in the late 15th century. Sikhs believe in one God (Waheguru) who guides and protects them, and that everyone is equal before God. They also believe in transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation. For this reason, after a person has died the body is considered to be an ‘empty vessel’ and the process of cremation is preferred as it allows the soul to detach from the body and reunite with God.

A sikh funeral involves a range of different traditions. Here are some of the many involved:

What happens at a Sikh funeral service?

A Sikh funeral service, an ‘Antam Sanskaar’(translation: last rite of passage), usually takes place in a Gurdwara, a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs. But sometimes, it can occur in a family home or at the crematorium.

A Sikh minister will usually lead the service, which doesn’t typically include eulogies or focus on the pain and grief of losing a loved one.  Because death is considered to be a celebration of the soul’s reunion with God, Sikhs don’t usually show public signs of grief and sadness at a funeral, and crying isn’t generally approved of.

Instead, Sikhs might chant the word ‘Wheguru’ or ‘akal’ (undying) throughout the service to show their devotion to God.

In some families, it’s customary to have an open casket at the funeral. In others it is not.

How to greet people at a Sikh funeral service

When greeting the bereaved at a Sikh funeral, it’s customary to put your hands together in a prayer position and give a slight bow. If you aren’t sure about this, it’s also acceptable to shake hands. In either case, it’s considered respectful to greet the eldest member of the family first

Sikh cremation and memorialisation

After cremation, the ashes are usually buried in the ground or scattered in a body of water, such as a river. Gravestones or any sort of monument with the deceased name on it are not approved in Sikhism.

Flowers

At the funeral, flowers will commonly surround the body of the deceased. Usually orange and white chrysanthemums are used.

It is not common to send funeral flowers or donations to a bereaved Sikh family. If you would like to send a gift, it's best to check with the family first.

A wake after the funeral

There are no mourning periods or services prescribed after the death of a loved one in the Sikh religion. Starting on the day of passing, the deceased’s family will read the entirety of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib which is called Akhand Paath. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib is regarded as the central holy religious scripture of Sikhism and gives guidance to Sikhs on how to live their lives. The reading usually takes 3 days or it might take place over a number of days, depending on what is most convenient for the bereaved family.

Clothing

When attending a Sikh funeral, there are no specific rules around what to wear. Like at most funerals (unless requested otherwise), it’s respectful to wear smart clothes with and to avoid bright patterns. Traditionally in most asian cultures white is the appropriate colour of mourning, but if the funeral takes place in a western country, black or grey are most appropriate. If you’re unsure on what to wear it best to ask the family of the deceased. Additionally head coverings are usually worn by both men and women, caps and scarfs are acceptable. Lastly, it’s common practice to remove shoes before entering a Sikh home or gurdwara (house of worship). 

Wrap Up

Sikh funerals involve many traditions aimed at helping the deceased’s soul reunite with God. Therefore, it’s important to show respect for Sikh funeral traditions, the deceased and the bereaved family when attending a Sikh funeral.

If you have any specific wishes for your funeral, you can include them when you prepay for your cremation with Willed. You can plan and pay for your funeral in advance to save your family time, money and stress.

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