The Role of a Sikh Minister at the Time of Death
As a Minister of Sikh Dharma, you may be called upon to counsel someone as he or she approaches death; you may be called upon to counsel relatives or friends; you may be called upon to take charge of the death services and funeral arrangements. There are legal issues as well as emotional issues involved. You will need a personal understanding and appreciation of the Sikh concept of death, as well as the legal requirements involved.
The following guidelines should assist you in leading the Sangat through this time:
- As the person is approaching death, remind him or her to concentrate upon God and Guru; remind him or her not to be afraid, but to trust in God’s Will, and in Guru’s power and protection.
- Gurbani Kirtan is a powerful way to invoke one’s feelings of trust and intimate relationship with God and Guru; let it be playing if possible. Chanting Sukhmani Sahib at this time is especially helpful in bringing peace to the mind.
- As the soul leaves the body, recite Japji Sahib.
- Chanting "Akaal" at the time of death guides the soul to pass out of this worldly realm and into the Akaal Purakh, the Undying Being.
- After death, the body should be prepared for the funeral with a yogurt bath, while the Mul Mantra is recited. Let the yogurt dry on the body; do not wash it off. The body is then dressed in new clothes, a new turban, and the five K's.
- At the funeral, Ardas is recited to start the service. Then, the minister and others may offer words, recitations, etc.
- The body of a Sikh is always cremated, never buried. The body should be cremated as soon as possible, within three days of death.
- When the cremation begins, Japji Sahib is read, followed by Kirtan Sohila; these two banis should continue to be read alternately until the cremation is completed. Another Ardas at the completion of the cremation is appropriate, praying for the release and easy transition of the soul on its journey home to God.
- While we, as human beings, feel a sense of loss and grief at such times, we are reminded to remember the Guru’s Words, and to accept the Will of God. It is a time to contemplate the reality which the Guru has revealed to us; death is a journey home, an escape from this world of illusion and pain, a time when the soul of the Sikh merges with the Beloved Creator Lord. Excessive displays of mourning were specifically discouraged by the Gurus. To console those who are especially distressed at this time, Ramkali Sad (page 823 of Siri Guru Granth Sahib) or Jaitsree ki Vaar (page 706) are helpful.
- After the funeral, the Sangat should gather before the Guru, and recite Rehiras and Gurbani Kirtan; a shared Lungar after this Gurdwara service is uplifting and strengthening.
- Begining on the day of death, and for a total of seventeen days, Kirtan Sohila is to be read daily; this facilitates the transition of the soul from the physical body.
- An Akhand Paath should begin as soon as possible, as can alternative ten-day Sahej Paaths, may be done.