What Are The Sikh Rites Relating To Death?
Sikhing Answers - XXIX
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TODAY'S QUESTION - # 29
What are the rites, according to Sikhi, with respect to death?
Is cremation the only option? Is burial permitted under any circumstances?
Is there a recommended protocol relating to last rites?
Posted on June 7, 2012
Closing Date: June 14, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 07, 2012, 7:34 PM.
Bhai Mardana, that great soul immensely blessed with closeness to Nanak like no one else, had the unique honour that no subsequent Sikh could acquire: Bihagad's Vaar is dedicated to Mardana who also had the honour to use 'Nanak' in his own hymn. Mardana's end was near and Guru Nanak asked him: "Mardanya, how would you like your body disposed off? Like a Muslim, buried, or like a Hindu, cremated, or consigned to the sea, or like a Parsi left in the open for vultures to devour? I'll make a marble statue for you to be remembered too, if you wish!" "Wah, Baba, wah! It has taken me all this while to get out of the bodily vault and you wish to intern me once again in it?" Mardana had become one with Nanak. On his passing, Guru Nanak's shabad is soulfully dedicated to him. "tootee tant rabab kee vaajai nahee vijog/ vichhurhi-aa maylai prabhoo naanak kar sanjog" [GGS:934.4] - "The separated soul is like the broken string of a rebeck which does not vibrate and sound. Waheguru unites the separated soul,with Himself, awakening its destiny." Such was the passing of Bhai Mardana.
2: Hardeep Kaur (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), June 07, 2012, 7:35 PM.
I'm not sure if this follows gurbani but I have always been under the impression that it doesn't matter how the body is disposed of, once the spirit has left it. You can cremate, bury at sea, donate to science, and so on.
3: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 07, 2012, 9:49 PM.
Guru Arjan: "After death air [breath] merges into air, light mergers into light (consciousness is lost when Hukam stops operating in the body) and the earth (lifeless body) becomes one with earth. What support is there for the one who cries over this loss? Who has died? Who has died? O enlightened beings, get together and ponder over this question. This is indeed a puzzle! [Pause.] Without any information about what happened to the dead, the one who was crying also dies. The ignorant fools shackled by doubts and attachments babble about death as if dreaming. This world is the creation of the Creator (Hukam). Coming (birth) and going (death) is controlled by the infinite Hukam. No one dies as no one is capable of dying. The Eternal One does not perish. It is not what people think about 'soul'. I am awestruck by the one who understands this reality. Says Nanak, the Lord has dispelled my doubts. No one dies, no one comes and goes." [GGS:885]
4: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), June 07, 2012, 10:24 PM.
Sikhs keep it simple, believing that death is just another decision by Waheguru and we do not have any control over it. We keep it simple: no wailing, beating the chest or unnecessary rituals. We thank Waheguru for the life of the person and pray that He accept the spirit into His fold. Since the body was a gift from Waheguru, it is bathed and cremated, returning the elements back to nature. As Sikhs, we have been advised by our Gurus to accept Waheguru's decisions with grace and open acceptance. "ram gai-o ravan gai-o kakao baho parwar kaho Nanak thir kachh nahi supne jio sansar."
5: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), June 08, 2012, 2:41 PM.
From what I understand cremation is a cultural ritual, not a religious one. Although I myself would prefer cremation, burying your dead seems like a waste of real estate.
6: R. Singh (Canada), June 09, 2012, 9:32 AM.
I agree with Sunny Grewal. We are to accept death while we are alive, then it is better to keep it simple, donate parts that help others, the rest, dispose of with minimal damage to surroundings. There are no comings or goings outside this time and space. Life is our playing field, make use of it and stop obsessing with reincarnations or any other phenomenon which matters not to us, except as distractions and wishful thinking to entertain ourselves with.
7: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 10, 2012, 10:59 AM.
All rituals relating to last rites are set out of tradition (parampara), later customized as religious protocol. There is a reason and history behind all. Centuries ago, people of the middle-east used to travel with family through the desert on camel-back for long periods. In case of a death while traveling, they used to bury the body on the way, in the desert, instead of bringing back the corpse. This was a tradition even before any major religions originated in that area.
8: Kiranjeet Kaur Dhillon (Shah Alam, Malaysia), June 11, 2012, 1:35 AM.
I have been taught to believe that as Sikhs, we should be cremated once we die. I feel this is a good option as there is freedom for the loved ones remaining to remember the dead throughout and not only on one single day as for the ones who are buried.