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Sikh Funeral Traditions, Customs, and Beliefs

Sikhism is a world religion based on the teachings of gurus, and its funeral traditions draw from thousands of years of history. Given this deep history, funeral traditions in the Sikh religion are complex, but there is a general set of customs and beliefs that must be followed for ceremonies to take place. This article will explore what these funeral traditions, customs and beliefs are and how they may differ from those of other religions in the United States.

Sikh funeral traditions and customs

Sikh funeral traditions and customs involve rituals practiced both before and after death. Before a loved one has passed (especially if they are elderly or ill), friends and loved ones will gather to read from selected Sikh writings from one of the Sikh gurus. These writings can typically include the Psalm of the Peace among other Sikh prayers. It's typical for loved ones to gather around the death bed of the person who is passing.

After their loved one passes and before the body is cremated, the family will traditionally wash and dress the body. Once the body has been prepared, the family will take the body to a Sikh Gurdwara, also known as a house of worship. The body is usually taken to the Gurdwara in an open casket on its way to the crematorium to be cremated, which is usually the preferred method of disposition.

At the Gurdwara, family members and other attendees will stand around the body of their loved one to offer prayers and meditations. After this takes place, the body will be taken to the crematorium or burial site. (Traditionally, bodies are cremated instead of buried in Sikh funerals, though this is not always the case.) When the body is about to be cremated, the family will gather around and deliver final thoughts, prayers, and speeches about the deceased. This typically finishes with a Sikh death prayer, in which the family recites "Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh" which means "the pure of the Lord are victorious."

After the ceremony is finished and the body has been cremated, the ashes of the deceased are typically scattered in a river or other body of water.

Sikh rituals after the funeral

After the funeral, there are usually a few days of mourning which may involve prayer and meditation. It's common for family members to visit the Gurdwara during this time to pay their respects and offer prayers to the deceased. It's during this time that the family will typically read from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib for several days.

Attending a Sikh funeral: what to expect

A Sikh funeral can be very unlike other traditional funerals one might attend, so it's important to understand the expectations of attendees before causing undue grief or confusion.

Sikh funeral attire

Guests to a Sikh funeral should generally dress in white or light-colored clothing as it is seen as more respectful. It's also important that attendees take off their shoes before entering the Gurdwara, and they should also cover their head with a scarf or hat.

Sending Sikh funeral flowers or gifts

It is not customary to bring flowers or other gifts to the Gurdwara -- if you're determined to bring a gift of some kind, it's best to ask the family directly. While flowers are not typically sent to a Sikh funeral, bringing food to the home is a great way to express your condolences and sympathy.

Getting emotional

It's important to remember that Sikh funeral traditions are different from other traditional funerals in the United States. As such, it is not generally appropriate to show emotional outbursts during the ceremony as this can be seen as disrespectful. It's best to remain composed and respectful during the service and to try and contain your emotions until you've left the ceremony.

Sikh funerals are both deeply spiritual and profoundly meaningful events that take place after a loved one has passed. Understanding the traditions and customs of a Sikh funeral can help ensure that those who attend do so with the utmost respect for their beliefs and traditions. Wearing appropriate attire, refraining from bringing gifts, and keeping emotions in check are all important steps to take to show proper respect at a Sikh funeral ceremony.

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Last updated February 1, 2023
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