By Gurmukh Singh OBE | PANJAB TIMES |
Akaal Chalaana (death) in a family is a traumatic experience. In addition, there are the funeral arrangements and the last rites – Antam Sanskaar in case of Sikh families – which have to be taken care of. Much confusion about religious rituals is added to the tragic loss in the family. However, the family is helped by relatives, friends and dedicated community sevadars of the Sangat (congregation). They provide comfort and guidance and, at such times, we learn the value of local Sangat as part of our extended family.
We also look for Gurmat guidance in the Sikh Reht Maryda (The Sikh Code) regarding related ceremonies. This is provided at Article XIX – Funeral Ceremonies (Antam Sanskar). The whole process has been simplified in Sikhi. Yet, I do wonder if, contrary to that guidance, sometimes we complicate matters due to ignorance and anti-Gurmat ritualism.
Sikhi guidance advises the family to seek consolation in dignified recitation of Waheguru only and not raise hue and cry or indulge in breast beating and such show of grief. The deceased should not be put on the floor, nor a lamp lit nor should any other such bipran ritual be performed. The body should be cremated.
However, if that is not possible the body can be immersed in flowing water or disposed of in any other manner. The Sikh Reht Maryada makes it clear that, depending on the circumstances, there should no qualms about the method of disposing the body, except that it should be treated with respect, bathed and clothed and the Five Kakaars should be left intact.
What follows is fairly straight forward. Following Ardas (supplication) for taking the body for cremation the assumption is that it is taken straight to the crematorium and cremated after Kirtan Sohila and final (agan bhet) Ardas. Other than Sehaj Paatth which can be completed in about ten days or later and final Bhog, no funeral ceremony remains. The preference is that the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib should be carried out by the members of the household of the deceased and relatives in cooperation.
The whole of Article XIX – Funeral Ceremonies (Antam Sanskar) in the Sikh Reht Maryada should be read. It is clear that, except for seeking consolation in recitation of Gurbani and Waheguru Naam Simran, Kirtan Sohila, and Ardaas to mark each stage, much discretion is left to the family about disposal of the body and the ashes according to the circumstances. When the pyre is burnt out, the whole bulk of the ashes, including the burnt bones, should be gathered up and immersed in flowing water or buried at that very place and the ground levelled. Raising a monument to the memory of the deceased at the place where his dead body is cremated is taboo; the picking of the burnt bones from the ashes of the pyre for immersing in the Ganga, at Patalpuri (Kiratpur), at Kartarpur Sahib or at any other such place are contrary to the approved code.
We should follow the simple, Gurmat based procedure during Atam Sanskaar in the spirit of the Reht Maryada guidance and give up practices carried over from Brahmanic ritualism.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The article first appeared at The Panjab Times, UK
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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