Q112. What is the Death Ceremony among the Sikhs?
On the death of a Sikh, his relatives and friends are informed, so that they may join the funeral ceremony on whatever day and date is fixed for the cremation. In foreign countries, a date and time is given by the crematorium authorities. As soon as the people gather for the funeral, the dead body is bathed then dressed in clean clothes with the five symbols of the Khalsa, and placed on a wooden frame or palanquin. The people form a procession and sing hymns as they carry the body to the cremation ground. In the west they form a motorcade and drive to the crematorium. No wailing or beating of the chest or breasts is allowed, for death is the natural end for every person. After the body reaches the cremation-place, the Kirtan Sohila is recited, for it is of special significance at this time. The Guru says:
This same call goes to all homes every day;
So remember that Lord who calls, O Nanak;
The day draws ever nearer for each one of us. (p. 12)
Then the Ardas (General Prayer) is recited, this seeks a blessing for the departed person. Then the nearest relation to the deceased lights the funeral pyre, electricity or gas, whichever is used for the cremation. When the ashes are collected they should be disposed of by throwing them into running water or the sea. No memorials or monuments may be erected at the place where the last remains of the deceased were disposed of.
After the cremation, the relatives and friends return to the house of the deceased, there they bathe and generally start a Sadharan Path for the benefit of the dead and his family. This complete reading of the Scripture is done by the relations and friends of the family; sometimes pathis are engaged in case of need. Generally, both in the morning and in the evening, Kirtan and Katha are performed. The passing away of a Sikh is no cause of grief or sorrow, for one submits to the Will of God. Those who have led pure lives are not in any way afraid of death. Kabir says in this connection:
Death of which men are afraid, gives me nothing but joy!
It is through the gate of Death that one may unite with the Lord of Bliss. (p. 1365)
The path (reading) of the Holy Scripture should be completed within nine days. On the tenth day, the relatives and friends of the family gather for the "Bhog" ceremony, at which the singing of hymns, and the last five pages of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are read. After the Bhog, Ramkali Sadd(This composition which is based on call of death is on page 923 of Guru Granth Sahib) is recited for the benefit of the family of the deceased. The Gurus emphasized the remembrance of God's name as the means of consolation for the bereaved family. After Ardas and a Hukam, Karah-Prasad is distributed among those present. Sometimes Langar(Free food) is also served, though it is not compulsory. Presents are then sometimes distributed to the grand children and donations are announced for charities or religious organizations.
Sometimes another small ceremony is held to mark the occasion. This is called Dastar-bandi (turban tying). The eldest member of the family is declared as the new Head of the family and given a turban ceremoniously. This is a token of his new responsibility for looking after the family and estate of the departed person. He is now regarded as the new chief of the family, responsible for the care of the children and other dependents of the family.