Sikhs consider death a natural part of living and view it as an opportunity to celebrate and honour a loved one’s life. In many western religions, it is common to be very reserved about saying anything to the family of the person who has passed. That is not the case with Sikhism.
If you know a Sikh who has passed, don’t shy away from talking about him or her to the family—they will expect it. Offer your condolences as you usually would by all means, but also offer to help. Your offer could include setting up funeral service guides (you can find a Sikh funeral programme template online), prayer cards, a guestbook, or anything else that might help.
How Do Sikh Funerals work?
The arrangements for a Sikh funeral begin straight away after death. The deceased is nearly always washed and then dressed in clean clothing. As with other religions, preparing the body is an important part of the proceedings. But unlike many western cultures, the washing and dressing are done by close family members.
The deceased will also retain what’s referred to as the “Five Ks.” In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru and spiritual master, commanded Khalsa Sikhs to wear them. Here’s what the “Five Ks” consist of:
- Kesh – uncut hair
- Kangha – a wooden comb for the hair
- Kara – an iron bracelet
- Kachera – a 100% cotton undergarment capable of being tied which must not be elastic
- Kirpan – an iron dagger sufficiently large to defend oneself
The funeral service itself will take place at a gurdwara. A gurdwara, sometimes called a Gurdwara Sahib, is a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs. Unknown to many, people from any faith are welcomed in gurdwaras.
What are the Sikh Funeral Prayers and Readings?
The majority of Sikh funeral services will include the recital of three prayers. Ardas is a community prayer. Japji and Kirtan Sohila are both daily prayers. Then after the funeral ceremony, family and friends will gather together.
In a ceremony known as the Akhand Paatthread, they’ll read the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This customarily takes place in a single sitting, which can last three days. If needed, you can do the reading in stages and spread over as many as 10 days.
How Long After Death Is a Sikh Funeral?
Traditionally, a Sikh funeral should take place within three days of the person passing. When that’s not possible, for example, if a coroner is holding the body, then the funeral and service should take place at the earliest opportunity. If there’s a delay, the deceased’s family may decide to start the Akhand Paatth before the funeral service.
Do Sikh Burn Their Dead Bodies?
Cremation is the preferred option for Sikh funerals, although that’s not set in stone. If events or circumstances don’t allow for cremation, then burial is acceptable, including burial at sea. After cremation, the deceased’s ashes are either buried or scattered in a river. But this might depend on family circumstances or location.
Do You Send Flowers to a Sikh Funeral?
It’s usual for family and friends to surround the body with Sikh funeral flowers. Orange and white chrysanthemums are flowers of mourning not only in India but throughout many areas of Asia.
Although it’s common to send flowers for a western funeral, that’s not necessarily the case with a Sikh funeral. If you attend a Sikh funeral service and are considering sending flowers, consult the family first and respect their wishes.
Sikh Funeral Clothing
According to Sikh tradition, bright colours are disrespectful—especially red. Avoid anything that might be considered “bright.” Try to dress modestly without much skin showing. Jewellery can be worn but shouldn’t be flashy or conspicuous. If you’re not sure about how appropriate a piece would be, it’s probably better not to wear it.
Additionally, Sikhs cover their heads at a funeral, and you may be expected to do the same. This is considered a mark of respect, so you’ll want to be prepared for that. If you need to cover your head, then a headscarf for women and a hat or cap for men would be acceptable.
Can you Wear Black to a Sikh Funeral?
Yes, you can. The typical Sikh funeral dress code in the UK means wearing smart clothes in a subdued colour. Although white is the traditional colour of mourning, black, charcoal grey, and navy, are all acceptable colours as well.
Find Out More About Sikh Funeral Services
You might be surprised to discover that you can find a Sikh funeral video online. YouTube and other similar outlets have a few available that can give you more information about their traditions and how Sikh funerals work.