Antam Sanskar

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Articles on Sikhism

Funeral Ceremony (Antam Sanskar)

"Antam" or "Antim" mean Final or Last

"Sanskar" means ritual, rite, ceremony, service

In Sikhism death is considered a natural process; an absolute certainty - an event that will happen sooner or later - an event that is guaranteed to take place; and only happens when the Almighty commands and never otherwise - as a direct result of God's Will or Hukam. To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life of "coming and going" ( ਆਵਣ੝ ਜਾਣਾ , Aaavan Jaanaa) which is seen as transient stage towards Liberation, ( ਮੋਖ੝ ਦ੝ਆਰ੝ , Mokh Du-aar) complete unity with God. Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation.

ਮਰਣ੝ ਲਿਖਾਇ ਆਝ ਨਹੀ ਰਹਣਾ ॥

maran likhaa-ay aa-ay nahee rahnaa.
Death is pre-ordained - no one who comes can remain here.

SGGS Page 153, Line 15

However, by contrast, the soul itself is not subject to the cycle of birth and death. Death is only the progression of the soul on its journey from God, through the created universe and back to God again. In life, a Sikh tries always to constantly remember death so that he or she may be sufficiently prayerful, detached and righteous to break the cycle of birth and death and return to God.

The public display of grief at the funeral such as wailing or crying out loud is discouraged and should be kept to a minimum. Cremation is the preferred method of disposal, although if it is not possible any other methods such as burial or submergence at sea are acceptable. Worship of the dead with gravestones, etc. is discouraged, because the body is considered to be only the shell, the person's soul is their real essence.

At a Sikh's death-bed, relatives and friends should read Sukhmani Sahib, the Psalm of Peace, composed by the fifth Guru Arjan Dev, or simply recite "Waheguru" to console themselves and the dying person. When a death occurs, they should exclaim 'Waheguru', 'Waheguru', 'Waheguru' ..... the Wonderful Lord. Wailing or lamentation is discouraged.

ਜਨਮ ਮਰਣ ਦ੝ਖ ਮੇਟਿਆ ਜਪਿ ਨਾਮ੝ ਮ੝ਰਾਰੇ ॥

janam maran dukh mayti-aa jap naam muraaray.
The pain of birth and death is removed, by chanting
and meditating on the Naam, the Name of the Lord.

SGGS Page 422, Line 15

If the death occurs in a hospital, the body is taken to the Funeral Directors or home for viewing before the funeral. In preparation for cremation (usually the day before or on the cremation), the body is first washed using yoghurt and water only while those present recite the Gurmantar Waheguru or Mool Mantar. Then the body is lovingly dressed with clean clothes complete with the Five Ks (in case of baptized Sikhs). The body once fully clothe is transferred to a coffin.

The Day of the Cremation

On the day of the cremation, the body is taken to the Gurdwara or home where Shabads (hymns) from the SGGS, the Sikh Scriptures are recited by the congregation, which induce feeling of consolation and courage. Kirtan may also be performed by Ragis while the relatives of the deceased recite "Waheguru" sitting near the coffin. This service normally takes from 30 to 60 minutes. At the conclusion of the service, an Ardas is said before the coffin is taken to the cremation site.

At the point of cremation, a few Shabads are sung and final speeches are made about the deceased person. Then the Kirtan Sohila, night time prayer is recited and finally Ardas called the "Antim Ardas" (Final Prayer") is offered. The eldest son or a close relative generally starts the cremation process – light the fire or press the button for the burning to begin. This service usually lasts about 30 to 60 minutes.

The ashes are later collected and disposed by immersing them in the nearest river. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead.

After the cremation ceremony, there may be another service at the Gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, call the Sahaj Paath Bhog Ceremony but this is optional.

Sahaj Paath Bhog Ceremony

After the death of a Sikh, the family of the deceased may undertake a non continuous reading of the entire Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sahaj Paath). This reading (Paath) is timed to conclude within ten days of the death of the person. The reading may be undertaken at home or in the Gurdwara and usually takes place on the day of the cremation. The conclusion of this ceremony called the Bhog Ceremony marks the end of the mourning period.

Generally, all the relatives and friends of the family gather together for the Bhog ceremony on the completion of the reading of Guru Granth Sahib. Musicians sing appropriate Shabads hymns, Saloks of the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur are read, and Ramkali Saad, the Call of God, is recited. After the final prayer, a random reading or Hukam is taken, and Karah Parshad is distributed to the congregation. Food from Guru's kitchen, Langar, is also normally served. Sometimes, at the end of the Bhog, eldest member is presented with a turban and declared the "new head of the family".

The Official Rehit Maryada

The following is from the sgpc website:

a. The body of a dying or dead person, if it is on a cot, must not be taken off the cot and put on the floor. Nor must a lit lamp be placed beside, or a cow got bestowed in donation by, him/her or for his/her good or any other ceremony, contrary to Guru's way, performed. Only Gurbani should be recited or "Waheguru, Waheguru" repeated by his/her side.

b. When someone shuffles the mortal coil, the survivors must not grieve or raise a hue and cry or indulge in breast beating. To induce a mood of resignation to God's will, it is desirable to recite Gurbani Shabads or repeat "Waheguru".

c. However young the deceased, the body should be cremated. However, where arrangements for cremation cannot be made, there should be no qualm about the body being immersed in flowing water or disposed of in any other manner.

d. As to the time of cremation, no consideration as to whether it should take place during day or night should carry any weight.

e. The dead body should be bathed and clothed in clean clothes. While that is done, the Sikh symbols 5Ks - Kangha, Kachha, Karha, Kirpan - should not be taken off. Thereafter putting the body on a plank or coffin, Ardas about its being taken away for disposal be offered. The hearse or coffin should then be lifted and taken to the cremation ground. While the body is being carried to the cremation ground, Shabads or hymns that induce feelings of detachment should be recited. On reaching the cremation ground, the pyre should be laid. Then the Ardas for consigning the body to fire be offered. The dead body should then he placed on the pyre and the son or any other relation or friend of the deceased should set fire to it.

The accompanying congregation should sit at a reasonable distance and listen to kirtan or carry on collective singing of Shabads or recitation of detachment-inducing Shabads. When the pyre is fully aflame, the Kirtan Sohila (prescribed preretirement night Scriptural prayer) be recited and the Ardas offered. (Piercing the Skull half an hour or so after the pyre has been burning with a rod or something else in the belief that will secure the release of the soul - kapal kriya - is contrary to the Guru's tenets). The congregation should then leave.

Coming back home, a reading of the Guru Granth Sahib should be commenced at home or in a nearby Gurdwara, and after reciting the six stanzas of the Anand Sahib, the Ardas, offered and Karah Prashad (sacred pudding) distributed. The reading of the Guru Granth Sahib should be completed on the tenth day. If the reading cannot, or is sought not to, be completed on the tenth day, some other day may be appointed for the conclusion of the reading having regard to the convenience of the relatives. The reading of the Guru Granth Sahib should he carried out by the members of the household of the deceased and relatives in cooperation. if possible, Kirtan may be held every night. No funeral ceremony remains to be performed after the "tenth day."

f. 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.

g. Adh Marg (the ceremony of breaking the pot used for bathing the dead body amid doleful cries half way towards the cremation ground), organised lamentation by women, foorhi (sitting on a straw mat in mouming for a certain period), diva (keeping an oil lamp lit for 360 days after the death in the belief that that will light the path of the deceased), Pind (ritual donating of lumps of rice flour, oat flour, or solidified milk (khoa) for ten days after death), kirya (concluding the funeral proceedings ritualistically, serving meals and making offerings by way of Shradh, Budha Marna (waving of whisk, over the hearse of an old person's dead body and decorating the hearse with festoons), etc. are contrary to the approved code. So too is 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.