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Understanding Sikh funeral customs

Posted at 11:24 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-19 23:24:18-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Thursday’s mass shooting at a FedEx Ground facility on Indy’s west side took the lives of four people who were members of the Sikh community in central Indiana.

The group, who practice the fifth largest religion in the world – Sikhs are tightly knit. When tragedy strikes one member, it affects them all.

Sikhism itself is an eastern religion that started around 1500 A.D. in southern Asia. It was born out of the teachings of Nanek, a guru, who developed a following after a revelation from God. The main aspiration of Sikhs is to gain a close and intimate relationship with God. A monotheistic religion, there is only one God for Sikhs, though he has no form and has many names.


Similar to Hinduism, Sikhism believes in reincarnation and karma. Sikhs view death as a natural process of living. This is called Antam Sanskar, which means “final” and “rite.” However, the souls of the deceased are viewed differently. It’s the belief that the soul lives on long after and the body is seen as an empty shell.

There is no particular timeline of when a funeral should take place in the Sikh tradition, whereas, a Jewish funeral is typically supposed to take place 24 hours after death. And, instead of a traditional burial, Sikhs prefer cremation. However, other methods including ground burial or at sea are permitted if cremation is impossible. Cremated remains are then typically submerged in a river. A gravestone to memorialize the deceased is discouraged.

The body is taken to a place of worship before cremation where hymns are sung and prayers are recited. Public displays of emotion are disapproved of. At the site of cremation, more hymns are sung and speeches are made about the deceased. Lastly, a prayer is said before the cremation is started.

RELATED | 'We mourn for all': Sikh community devastated by shooting

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