A Sikh funeral is a sacred occasion that honours the deceased’s life in accordance with Sikh beliefs, traditions, and customs. As a faith originating from the Punjab, in the northwestern region of India, Sikhism is characterised by reincarnation, karma, contentment and love. As part of marking the culture, Sikh funerals pay homage to their values in life with significant and beautiful traditions that we shall explore in this blog.
Origins of Sikh Religion
This faith tradition has its roots in the teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, and has since grown to encompass five Gurus and millions of followers worldwide.
At the core of Sikh beliefs are reincarnation, karma, and equality for all. In addition to these beliefs, Sikhs practise a unique set of five religious symbols known as the Five K’s – Kesh (unshorn hair), Kangha (a small comb), Kachha (shorts), Karha (an iron bracelet), and Kirpan (a sword or dagger). As part of their observance of Sikhism, Sikhs also attend Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) regularly.
Although Sikhism has evolved and embraced many different regional customs, the core beliefs and practices have remained largely the same. For example, Sikhs adhere to the philosophy that all human beings are equal, regardless of class, gender, or ethnicity. This belief serves as a cornerstone of the faith, and it is reflected in the day-to-day lives of Sikhs around the world.
The Concept of Reincarnation and Karma
In the Sikh religion, it is believed that reincarnation will continue until one has achieved spiritual perfection and can merge as one soul. This desirable outcome is the highest goal one can reach in life. The Sikh faith also encourages people to take action in the present life to ensure they are reborn in a higher form. This means they should live an honourable and truthful life, practice compassion and forgiveness, and serve others with love. When a person of the Sikh faith passes away, it is this concept that the funeral is based around.
Karma is closely linked to the concept of reincarnation. Sikhs believe that one’s actions in a previous life determine what form one takes in the next life, and this cycle of rebirth continues until one breaks free from the cycle by achieving enlightenment.
The Meaning of 5 K’s During the Funeral
The deceased is dressed in the 5 K’s, representing an integral part of the Sikh culture.
Kesh is unshorn hair, an article of faith that reminds us of the importance of physical and spiritual beauty. All Sikhs, both male and female, keep their hair uncut and covered with a turban or dastar. The unshorn hair symbolises discipline, spirituality, and respect for one’s heritage.
Kangha is a small wooden comb which serves as a reminder to maintain cleanliness, orderliness, and neatness of dress. It also serves as a reminder to keep the mind in order, and one’s thoughts disciplined.
Kachha are shorts which serve as a reminder that one should not let physical needs and temptations take control.
Karha is an iron bracelet which serves as a reminder to keep up the commitment to the teachings of the Gurus and Waheguru. The bracelet reminds one of the Sikh ideals of charity, justice, honesty, courage, kindness and humility.
Kirpan is a sword or dagger symbolic of the struggle against injustice. The Kirpan represents courage, power, strength and authority.
Funerals and Customs
Sikh funerals are an important part of the Sikh faith. They are an opportunity for friends and family to come together to remember the deceased and to express their sorrow.
The funeral service is usually held at the Gurdwara (the temple). Mourners will be dressed in white and attend a traditional Sikh service known as an Ardas. The Ardas is a prayer said by the priest who will also recite passages from the Guru Granth Sahib. During this time, mourners may stand and pay their respects by bowing or touching the ground with their forehead.
The cremation of the body typically takes place shortly after the funeral service. Following the cremation, a Prakash or lighting ceremony will be conducted where relatives and friends will be asked to light candles to symbolise hope for the departed soul.
Following the prayer, the deceased’s ashes will be collected by family members and taken to a sacred river or pond for scattering.
Sikh funerals are an important part of honouring the memory of their beloved family members and friends. It is a time for mourning but also for celebrating the life that was lived. In following these traditions, families can find comfort in knowing their loved one’s spirit lives through them.