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There is general guidance for Sikhs at a time of bereavement detailed in the Sikh Code of Practice (Sikh Reyat Maryada).

This will need to be amended/adapted in view of the necessity of limited contact to ensure safety in the current pandemic. General Sikh practice is described first, followed by specific suggestions to meet the current emergency.

BEREAVEMENT GUIDANCE FOR NORMAL TIMES

(a) No rituals derived from other religions, or from any other source, should be performed when a death occurs. Solace must be found in reading the Guru Granth Sahib and meditating on God.

(b) Deliberate exhibitions of grief or mourning are contrary to Sikh teachings. The bereaved should seek guidance and comfort in the hymns in the GuruGranth Sahib and try to accept God’s will.

(c) A dead person, even one who dies very young, should be cremated. However, if arrangements for cremation do not exist (e.g. at sea) the body may be disposed of by immersion in water.

(d) Cremation may be carried out at any convenient time whether day or night.

(e)For baptised (amritdhari) Sikhs, the five Ks should be left on the dead body, which should, if possible, be cleaned and clothed in clean garments before being placed in a coffin or on a bier.

(f) Hymns should be said as the body is taken to the place of cremation.

(g) A close relative should initiate the cremation and those assembled should sing appropriate hymns from the GuruGranth Sahib.

(h) The cremation ceremony is concluded with the Kirtan Sohila prayers and the saying of the Ardas.

(i) Prayers for the departed soul should then be commenced at the deceased’s home or at a convenient Gurdwara. These prayers should commence with the usual six stanzas of the Anand Sahib, the saying of Ardas and distribution of Kara Prashad, and should be continued for about ten days. The near relatives of the deceased should take as large a personal part in reading and listening to recitals from the Guru Granth Sahib as possible.

(j) The ashes of the deceased may be disposed of by burial or by immersion in water, but it is contrary to Sikh belief to consider any river holy or especially suitable for this purpose.

(k) The erection of a memorial in any shape or form is contrary to Sikh belief.

GUIDANCE ON BEREAVEMENT DURING THE PANDEMIC

While we should bear the above guidance in mind, social distancing requirements will result in only a few close relatives of the deceased being present. In some circumstances no one may be able to attend. We should bear in mind that funeral rituals are designed to help surviving relatives and friends accept their sad loss in a dignified and contemplative way. This helps us understand that the soul has left for its heavenly abode and that the physical body of the deceased is no more and should be disposed of in a hygienic way, preferably by cremation.

Prayers in remembrance of the departed can be done at home by the family members or remotely (via video-telephony apps) with other friends and relatives participating. A donation to an appropriate charity in memory of the departed should also be considered. A full service in memory of the departed can, assuming pandemic restrictions are eased, be held on the first anniversary of the bereavement.  

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE

Director, Network of Sikh Organisations

Why we should seriously consider the temporary closing of normal gatherings in gurdwaras to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19)

We have been followed the evolving government guidance on the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic closely and are aware of guidelines being disseminated by other Sikh organisations in response to it.[i] Many gurdwaras have already taken steps to curtail or completely stop services.

Although it’s not an easy decision to make, following discussion with medical professionals some of whom are at the frontline of tackling the disease, we have concluded UK gurdwaras should seriously consider temporary closure of normal gatherings to prevent transmission of Covid-19.

The reason we have come to this conclusion are as follows:

  • Public Health England have advised that those who are at increased risk of severe illness include those over 70 (without underlying disease) or those over 70 with comorbidities.[ii] Many of those who regularly frequent gurdwaras are over 70, and many of them are likely to have comorbidities like diabetes or heart disease.
  • During services in the gurdwara the congregation normally sit near each other. Public Health England have issued guidelines around social distancing and advise to, ‘avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as cinemas, restaurants and theatres.’[iii] Gurdwaras carry similar risks, especially large gatherings like the Anand Karaj (Sikh wedding ceremony).
  • Although recommendations on hand washing for 20 seconds with soap and respiratory hygiene[iv] have been issued, there remains a risk of transmission during the preparation and serving of langar (free kitchen).
  • As many Sikhs live in extended families, if someone were to pick up the virus from a gurdwara setting, there is a risk they could become a ‘super-spreader’ and Covid-19 could be transmitted to different generations in the same family, including the most vulnerable.

IMPORTANT

We have a wonderful religion and it would be useful if we devote some of the time that we and our children would normally spend in visiting the gurdwara, on reflecting on the Gurus’ teachings through studying Gurbani at home with our children, and through listening to, or watching Sikh religious programmes on radio, TV and the internet. Focusing on the teachings of Gurbani will help to carry us through these difficult times.

[ENDS]

Contact us: info@nsouk.co.uk

 [i] http://www.citysikhs.org.uk/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-update-for-gurdwaras-united-kingdom/

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

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