Sikh afterlife beliefs and funerary practices

Authored by: Arvind-Pal S. Mandair

The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138852075
eBook ISBN: 9781315723747
Adobe ISBN:


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The origins of what is today called Sikhism can be traced to the Punjab religion of North India (lit. land of the five rivers) five centuries ago. (The term Sikhism is a Western word, like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Sikhs themselves use the term Sikhi which is derived from the Punjabi verb sikhna: to learn. Unlike Sikhism, the word Sikhi does not denote an object or thing but has a temporal connotation referring to a path of learning as a lived experience. I have discussed the question of the very legitimacy of the term “Sikhism” elsewhere. [See Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed, London: Bloomsbury, 2013.]). Sikhs are those who undertake a path of self-perfection under the guidance of a spiritual master called Guru (to be distinguished from the lower case guru which is traditionally used in India to refer to any respected teacher). For Sikhs, the Guru (uppercase) refers to a succession of ten spiritual masters, each of whom played a role in evolving the path of Sikhi and a teaching or philosophy known as gurmat. But the term Guru, as the Sikhs use it, has wider meanings that include the word of the Gurus as embodied in Sikh scripture, to the teaching or philosophy of the Gurus (gurmat) and to the “divine” inspiration behind all of these (the satguru). The community as a whole is known as the Panth (also derived from the Sanskrit pth meaning path).

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