Sikh Funerals, which are called Antam Sanskaar, differ from many funerals in other parts of the world in that they are somewhat less sombre compared with other funerals. That is because Sikhs, who originally emerged from the Punjab region of India bordering Pakistan, believe that the soul continues to shift, even after death where it may re-join the Sikh God, Waheguru. The Sikh population in Australia is relatively low, however there is a sizeable following worldwide.
Planning for a Sikh Funeral
When it comes to planning a Sikh funeral, there are specific provisions outlined within the Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions, where funeral ceremonies are noted in detail. On the day of the death, bereaved family members will begin to read the complete Sikh religious scripture, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This holy procedure may occur uninterrupted for 3 days, or progressively over a longer period of 10 or more days.
Funeral planning will commence right after the passing of a loved one, with cleansing of the body taking place as soon as possible. A Sikh person shall be washed and fitted with clean clothing, while their hair must be maintained in its existing state. Some families elect to leave flowers around the body.
Followers of Sikhism who are deemed initiated Sikhs typically wear a series of items, which are called Kakaars. The Kakaars include five things: Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (wooden hair comb), Kara (iron bracelet), Kachera (100% cotton undergarment), and Kirpan (iron dagger for self-defence). All of these elements are preserved and shall not be removed from the deceased.
While cremation is the overwhelming custom for Sikh funerals, there is often some customary discretion as to whether there is a viewing before the funeral service, and on the matter of an open casket during the service. In some instances, there is no service at all, and just the cremation. During the service, a series of prayers will be performed by those in attendance.
In other cases, there may be a second service at the Sikh’s place of worship (gurdwara) after the cremation. Services may also be hosted outside, at the crematorium, or the family home. It is common for family and friends to attend the cremation itself, which sometimes may be held at night. The ashes from a cremation are scattered in rivers or seas, or alternatively, buried within the ground. Under Sikhism there is an aversion to signifying a cremation spot by way of any object or monument.
As far as attire, those attending will adopt modest and conservative clothing. Coloured clothing or clothing with bright patterns is generally frowned upon, as is clothing that reveals more skin than deemed necessary. Both men and women will cover their heads, either through hats or head scarves, and must remove shoes at the Sikh’s place of worship or before entering their home.
One of the fundamental aspects associated with Sikhism is that mourning is not a public or evident sight at funeral services. Sikh followers believe death is a part of larger plans by Waheguru. Grieving and support is prompted in private, rather than at the service.