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DEATH The primordial mystery and one of the cardinal conditions of existence. Scientifically, death is defined as “the permanent cessation of the vital function in the bodies of animals and plants” or, simply, as the end of life caused by senescence or by stoppage of the means of sustenance to body cells. In Sikhism the universal fact of mortality is juxtaposed to immortality (amarapad) as the ultimate objective (paramartha) of life. As a biological reality death is the inevitable destiny of everyone. Even the divines and prophets have no immunity from it. Mortality reigns over the realms of the gods as well.

Death will inevitably strike

Even in the land of Lord Indra

Nor is Brahma’s domain free from it.

Likewise is Lord Shiva’s world decreed to come to naught.

(Indra, Brahma & Shiva are the three gods of the Hindu pantheon)

(GG. 237)

We all entered this world “with death as our written fate” (GG, 876), says Guru Nanak. Death cannot be apprehended apart from life. Contemplating both together, one truly comprehends the phenomenon of life and death (maran jivan ki sojhi pae). A significant term used for death is kal which has a dual meaning. It connotes death as well as time. Both connotations intertwine theologically. Kal is often denoted as 'jam kal (jama=yamma, the Vedic God of Death). Day in and day out it gnaws at the fabric of life. But man remains ignorant and perceives it not. That kal is constantly nibbling at life brings home to one the ephemerality of existence and therefore the necessity of making the most of it. If life has been lived in accord with acceptable laws it will win approval. Death is the privilege of men Who live life positively.(GG, 579)

Death is legitimated by the ends it serves—surmounting the throes of transmigration or sacrifice for an ideal or laying down of one’s life in a righteous cause. Such a death carries one beyond the realm of Time into the realm of Eternity (akal). Eternity does not signify extended Time, but the state beyond Time, and therefore beyond mortality. Participation in Eternity does not lie hereafter. It is the state of immortality (amarapad) here in life which is liberation (mukti) from the throes of Time. That signifies the death of Death itself (kal kale). To attain this state of immortality one need not necessarily pass through the portals of biological death. This state can be attained while one is still alive. To achieve this, however, one has to die to oneself.

This state is attainable by contemplating the Self by the grace of the Divine:

As by the Lord’s favour one contemplates the self, So one learns to die while still living.

(GG. 935)

Dying to oneself has several kindred nuances in Sikh theology. Spoken, not only in terms of decimation of man and even of egoity (haumai), this is also the connotation of dying in sabda (the Holy Word): He who ceases in sabda, His death is blessed.(GG, 1067)

Another type of “blessed” dying is through sacrifice. When he initiated the order of the Khalsa in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh invited Sikhs to offer him their own heads. Five volunteered in response to the call. The baptismal initiation ceremony fashioned after that event even now encapsulates its symbolic sacrifice. The initiate is required to die to his past samskaras and be born into the Guru’s family.

The kindred spirits who

Served their Lord while they lived Kept Him in mind while departing

(GG, 1000)

yearn for their departure to their ‘real home’ (nij ghar) where they have a tryst with their Divine Spouse. At that time they invoke the blessings of one and all:

Predestined is the hour of my nuptials (mystical term for death)

Come ye, my friends, and anoint the doorsteps. Men are thus advised to meditate on Him who sends the call: May the day of union for each arrive

(GG, 12)

Death, then marks the day of union with the Divine. It is not an occasion for grief. Lamentation over death is forbidden the Sikhs. In his Ramkali Sadd, the Call, the poet in the Guru Granth Sahib records;

By his wish the holy Guru (Guru Amar Das) called his entire family and said:

No one after me should cry, Such that cry shall no way please me.

(GG 923)

The Sikh bereavement ceremony consists of having the Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib, recited from end to end, praying for the departed soul and distributing the sacramental (karah prasad).

Also see Bhog and Concept of Death

Sakhis & Comments

"This morning I was remembering a story about Guru Nanak and Mardana, his companion, where Guruji told Mardana to go into town and purchase truth. Mardana spent the whole day going from merchant to merchant, trying to purchase truth. Every merchant turned him away and said they did not have it. Finally, feeling very sad he was ready to return empty handed, when Mardana noticed a small store on the edge of town. He went into the store to speak with the merchant and asked him if he could purchase truth. The merchant replied, "Truth is death and living is a lie." Mardana was excited to have finally found a merchant who claimed to have truth, and he rushed back to Guru Nanak to tell him. Guru Nanak confirmed that what the merchant said is true. Life is illusion and death is inevitable, for it is in death that we return to our true Creator" from Rajveer & Guru Jaswant @ House of Guru Ram Das Ji


1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, 1975

2. Padam, Piara Singh, ed., Guru Granth Vichar-Kosh. Patiala, 1969

3. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Lahore, 1945

4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

5. Jogendra Singh, Sir, Sikh Ceremonies. Bombay, 1941

6. Cole, W. Owen and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978

Above adapted from article By J. S. Neki