Calgary has a widely diverse cultural identity and the past several years have found many people from differing faiths joining each other’s social circles. While this allows for a lot of wonderful learning opportunities and the ability to share in each other’s cultural rites and celebrations, it can also come with some anxiety around the different etiquette that is expected. What comes simply and naturally if you were brought up in a faith or culture can be quite different if you are new to the experience.
One common occurrence we see in our funeral home is those who are attending a Sikh or Hindu funeral for the first time can be unsure of what to expect and how to behave during certain customs. To help prepare you for what to expect when attending a Sikh of Hindu funeral, here are some tips.
First of all, it is important to know that everyone is welcome at these services, regardless of your own faith. It’s also important to know that Sikh and Hindu funerals are similar to other religious services. There will be tributes to the life of the deceased and there will also be words of comfort which typically come from the doctrine of their own faith.
One of the key things to know when attending a Sikh funeral is that all attendees are required to cover their head as a sign of respect. A scarf is the most common head covering that is worn by women and men will typically wear a turban or head covering called a rumal. If you do not have a head covering, we always have clean and sanitized rumals available.
During the viewing, you will be invited to pay tribute to the deceased by walking past the open casket, if you wish. Those who are paying their respects will place flower petals inside the casket while prayers, chants and songs are recited. Flower petals are provided by the family.
The funeral is held onsite at the funeral home so that after the viewing, the body is taken to be cremated. It is quite common for those attending the funeral to follow in procession to witness the cremation. We are set up to facilitate this in a very dignified and professional way that adheres to these traditions. Our two large Chapels are both designed with modern cremation chambers in adjacent rooms so that the cremation ceremony can follow.
When the tributes have been completed and the religious ceremonies have also concluded, there will be a brief ceremony where the casket is moved into the adjacent room and placed into the cremation chamber. It is customary for close family members to participate in this ceremony and it is typical for the family to start the cremation. The public will be able to see the casket placed into the cremation chamber and watch the door closed. The cremation will take place behind the closed door.
Afterwards, all attendees are welcome to join the family in final prayers at their temple. There is not commonly a reception or meal held after a Sikh funeral.
At the beginning of the service there will be a first (less formal) viewing of the body. During this viewing it is also customary to place flower petals in the casket. When doing so, you will notice that the casket has been filled with many ritualistic items such as fruit, rice, incense and much more.
After the ceremony and prayers have been completed, there will be a second viewing of the body to formally pay last respects. The body is then cremated with the funeral guests in attendance as well and will follow a similar procession as noted above for a Sikh funeral.
It is also not customary for Hindu funerals to have a reception or meal following the service. After the cremation, families will typically go to their own homes to observe their mourning.
While these may seem like a minor list of differences, if you are used to other types of funerals, including those that end in burial or include a reception, you may not expect these practices. Being prepared to witness a cremation is also a major difference between many other cultural or faith-based funeral rites and may require some preparation. It can also help to remember that you are there to pay respects to someone who was important in your life, so if you are unsure or uncomfortable about any of the rituals, it helps to discuss it with someone who can help to guide you.
As funeral services begin to return to their usual rituals, we will once again appreciate that though funerals are not a joyous occasion for most, they do bring together people of many faiths and cultures and offer an opportunity to learn more about each other.
If you have any questions about hosting or attending a funeral that follows the traditions and rituals of the Sikh or Hindu faiths, please call us at (403)274-0576 and one of our knowledgeable and compassionate team members will help you.