The Sikh religion is practiced throughout the world, but it is most prevalent in India, where it originated in the Punjab region during the 15th century. Today, more than 75 percent of Sikhs living in India reside in the Punjab region. When a Sikh dies, cremation is customary but not mandatory. In India, outdoor cremation is common and is the preferred method of honoring the deceased Sikh.

Funeral Rituals and Practices

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Sikhism arose from the teachings of Nanak, who founded the religion after divine revelation. When a Sikh dies, hymns from Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scripture book) are recited, and the term "Waheguru," which refers to God, is repeatedly stated. When death has been ascertained, family members wash the deceased's body and then dress the body in a white cloth. Traditionally, if the deceased is female, her body will be prepared by women, and if the corpse is male, men will attend to the ritual cleansing. This process is a quiet, solemn one, and outward displays of emotion or grief are discouraged.

Simple, Modest Funerals

Similar to Hinduism, Sikhism follows the belief of reincarnation and karma. Unlike Hinduism, though, Sikhism is a monotheistic religion; hence, Sikhs pray to one God. The Sikh do not prescribe to any caste system, and they believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Therefore, Sikh funerals do not differ much based on the social or religious level of the deceased. Even Sikh spiritual leaders receive a simple, modest funeral, but thousands of people may show up to the funeral to pay their respects.

Indoor or Outdoor Cremation

Before the deceased is cremated, the body is taken to a Sikh temple where prayers are recited. Hymns are sung and speeches are made about the departed loved one. As the ceremony comes to a close, one more prayer is recited before the youngest son or another family member commences the cremation. If the cremation occurs outside, the family member will ignite the funeral pyre. In countries that prohibit outdoor cremations, the body is cremated in a crematorium. In the case of indoor cremation, the youngest son or family member starts the machine.

Holy Place to Scatter Ashes

After the body is cremated, the remains are collected and scattered in a river or sea. Although cremation is common among Sikhs, other funeral traditions involve submerging the corpse in a body of water, such as a lake or a sea. In India, devout Sikhs take the ashes of the deceased to the town of Kiratpur Sahib, where the Gudwara Patel Puri is located. The Gudwara Patel Puri is a holy river where Sikhs scatter the ashes of their dead.