Sikhi and Bereavement

The Good Thinking team has produced this short guide to help anyone in the Sikh community across London who has lost a loved one and to help health and care professionals who are supporting terminally ill patients of the Sikh faith.

“O Siblings of Destiny, peace is found in the Saadh Sangat, the company of the spiritually elevated ones.”

Ang 42, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Sikhs believe in the cycle of birth, life, death and the possibility of being reborn, which is commonly known as reincarnation.

In the Sikh faith, positive actions lead to good karma and negative actions lead to bad karma. Good karma will lead to receiving Waheguru’s (God’s) grace.

Sikhs focus on reaching the state of self-realisation through Waheguru’s grace, which is referred to as Mukti (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).

It is common for loved ones to gather around when someone is nearing death. They may recite verses from the Sikh holy scriptures, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, meditate and sing together.

There is no clergy in the Sikh tradition, but the Granthi (reader of Guru Granth Sahib in the gurdwara) may be invited to recite certain verses at the bedside. Those gathered may repeat the word Waheguru at the time of death.

Caring for someone who is dying involves looking after their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

It is important to identify a person’s religion and denomination/sect (e.g. Nirankari and Namdhari) at the start of their care and to find out what they need when approaching end of life. If they are in hospital, it is helpful to inform the chaplain about their spiritual needs (with the patient’s permission).

Whilst it may be difficult to observe all Sikh death rituals in a hospital or care home, it is helpful to remember the following so that the patient can stay true to their faith:

  • The support of friends and relatives is very important to Sikhs so large family networks may want to be with the patient in their final moments.
  • Reciting verses from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is an important ritual as Sikhs believe it helps the patient to reach a state in which the soul will be liberated.
  • Health and care professionals should seek permission from the next of kin before conducting a post-mortem and must not remove any of the five articles of faith (Kakkars or Ks) from the deceased.
  • The eyes and mouth of the deceased should be closed, and their limbs straightened before covering the body with a white sheet.
  • The body should be released as quickly as possible to enable the family to prepare for the funeral.

Cremation is common in the Sikh faith and should take place as soon as possible after death. The focus of the funeral (Antam Sanskar) is on celebrating the life of the deceased rather than mourning their death. Specific rituals differ but may include:

  • The ashes may be buried in the earth, scattered in running water or sent to India.
  • After the ashes have been buried or scattered, family and friends may gather at the gurdwara.
  • In the 10 days after the death, readings from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji are made and on the tenth day, a ceremony known as Bhog (completion of full recitation) takes place.

Death is considered God’s will and is not regarded as a time for mourning. Instead, Sikhs focus on the positive contributions made by the deceased and celebrate the soul being reunited with Waheguru.

The Sikh faith does acknowledge, however, that the deceased’s loved ones may experience feelings of sadness, anger and grief. Members of the Sikh community can provide support by visiting those who are bereaved at home or joining them at the gurdwara.

This resource has been funded and supported by the Mayor of London under the remit of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Recovery Mission, which is being led by Thrive LDN. The mission aims to build a coalition of wellbeing champions and empower Londoners to act to improve their own and their communities’ wellbeing. For more information, visit the Thrive LDN website

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