Veneration of Dead and Anti-Gurmat Rituals

The Gurmat Giaan or Wisdom of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) rejects All sorts of religious Karamkaand (rituals, formalities). including Karamkaand related to the veneration of the dead, including one’s ancestors — Karamkaand at cremations ceremonies and death anniversaries, Karamkaand of making all sorts of offerings in the name of the dead (give elaborate feasts, clothes, Daan, etc., ‘Siraadh-ਸਿਰਾਧ’), and so on. Because it brings no brings no good to the dead or the survivors.

Before reading rest of this post, you might consider reading the related post entitled ‘Death‘.

That said, consider the following Shabad of Baabaa Nanak:

  • ਦੀਵਾ ਮੇਰਾ ਏਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਤੇਲੁ ॥ ਉਨਿ ਚਾਨਣਿ ਓਹੁ ਸੋਖਿਆ ਚੂਕਾ ਜਮ ਸਿਉ ਮੇਲੁ ॥੧॥ ਲੋਕਾ ਮਤ ਕੋ ਫਕੜਿ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਲਖ ਮੜਿਆ ਕਰਿ ਏਕਠੇ ਏਕ ਰਤੀ ਲੇ ਭਾਹਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਪਤਲਿ ਮੇਰੀ ਕੇਸਉ ਕਿਰਿਆ ਸਚੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾਰੁ ॥ ਐਥੈ ਓਥੈ ਆਗੈ ਪਾਛੈ ਏਹੁ ਮੇਰਾ ਆਧਾਰੁ ॥੨॥ ਗੰਗ ਬਨਾਰਸਿ ਸਿਫਤਿ ਤੁਮਾਰੀ ਨਾਵੈ ਆਤਮ ਰਾਉ ॥ ਸਚਾ ਨਾਵਣੁ ਤਾਂ ਥੀਐ ਜਾਂ ਅਹਿਨਿਸਿ ਲਾਗੈ ਭਾਉ ॥੩॥ ਇਕ ਲੋਕੀ ਹੋਰੁ ਛਮਿਛਰੀ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣੁ ਵਟਿ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਖਾਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਬਖਸੀਸ ਕਾ ਕਬਹੂੰ ਨਿਖੂਟਸਿ ਨਾਹਿ ॥੪॥੨॥੩੨॥: The One Naam (which provides Light of Wisdom or Truth in my life…) is my lamp; I have put the oil of my Dukh or suffering into it. With the Light (of that Naam’s lamp), the oil (of my Dukh) has dried up and I escape my connection with the Jamm (lust, anger, greed, etc.). ||1|| O people! Don’t make fun of what I am saying. (If you) collect millions of piles of wood and heap them together, merely a particle of fire can burn theme (i.e., reduced them to ashes). The Divine (Naam: Wisdom, Truth…) is my offering of rice balls on leafy plates (i.e., feast which is offered after cremation), and the Creator’s true Naam is my funeral rites (obsequies). At the present, and in the future, this (i.e., Naam) is my support. ||2|| (O Rabb!) Your Praise (i.e., living a daily life according to Your Naam) is ‘Gang Bnaaras’ for me (i.e. per rituals, collected ashes from pyre are taken and thrown in Ganga river, Banaras, etc., and bathe there afterward…). Bathing for my soul or mind is to constantly love Your Naam. ||3|| Pandits (Pujaaree) offers barley – balls (i.e., food or feast) to ancestors and gods, BUT it is the Pandit who eats them himself! (But) O Nanak! (How long can this food given by a Brahmin (to ancestors and gods) last? (BUT) the food of the divine gift never runs out. ||4||2||32|| (sggs 358).

Here, the Gurbani is telling us that all Karamkaand carried out during cremations ceremonies or death anniversaries is a sign of Manmukh-Saakat-Mayadhaaree thinking (Soch), ignorance (Baavar Gaavar) and lack of understanding of the Gurbani, thus anti-Sikhi.

The Gurmat Wisdom tells us it would not make any difference to the dead if we offer feasts in their name or if we celebrate their death anniversaries…

  • ਜੇ ਮਿਰਤਕ ਕਉ ਚੰਦਨੁ ਚੜਾਵੈ॥ ਉਸ ਤੇ ਕਹਹੁ ਕਵਨ ਫਲ ਪਾਵੈ॥ ਜੇ ਮਿਰਤਕ ਕਉ ਬਿਸਟਾ ਮਾਹਿ ਰੁਲਾਈ ॥ ਤਾਂ ਮਿਰਤਕ ਕਾ ਕਿਆ ਘਟਿ ਜਾਈ ॥੩॥ ਕਹਤ ਕਬੀਰ ਹਉ ਕਹਉ ਪੁਕਾਰਿ ॥ ਸਮਝਿ ਦੇਖੁ ਸਾਕਤ ਗਾਵਾਰ ॥ ਦੂਜੈ ਭਾਇ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਘਰ ਗਾਲੇ ॥ ਰਾਮ ਭਗਤ ਹੈ ਸਦਾ ਸੁਖਾਲੇ ॥੪॥੪॥੧੨॥ If someone anoints a corpse with sandalwood, what can the corpse obtain from it? If a corpse is rolled in manure, (notwithstanding, the corpse) has nothing to lose. ||3|| Says Kabeer, I proclaim this out loud — behold, and understand, you ignorant, Saakat (one separated from Prabh – Mool, Source, Jot, Truth…). The love of duality has ruined countless homes. Only those are ever Happy who are Bhagat of Raam (Mool, Source…). ||4||4||12|| (sggs 1160).

But people who call themselves Sikh still do it –Dekhaa Dekhee (imitating others), as sheep follow each other!

These Karamkaand (rituals, formalities…) practiced by the illiterate Deraa-Vaad, Baabaa-Vaad, Saadh-Vaad, or the Pujaaree-Vaad (i.e., ਮੰਨਮੱਤ, ਅਨਮੱਤ, ਮੂੜਮੱਤ) is the concept derived from the Karamkaand practices of the Brahmanism, which have been strongly rejected by the Gurmat.

Extremity of hypocrisy

Consider the following verses:

  • ਜੀਵਤ ਪਿਤਰ ਨ ਮਾਨੈ ਕੋਊ ਮੂਏਂ ਸਿਰਾਧ ਕਰਾਹੀ ॥ ਪਿਤਰ ਭੀ ਬਪੁਰੇ ਕਹੁ ਕਿਉ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਕਊਆ ਕੂਕਰ ਖਾਹੀ ॥੧॥ ਮੋ ਕਉ ਕੁਸਲੁ ਬਤਾਵਹੁ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਕੁਸਲੁ ਕੁਸਲੁ ਕਰਤੇ ਜਗੁ ਬਿਨਸੈ ਕੁਸਲੁ ਭੀ ਕੈਸੇ ਹੋਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਮਾਟੀ ਕੇ ਕਰਿ ਦੇਵੀ ਦੇਵਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਆਗੈ ਜੀਉ ਦੇਹੀ ॥ ਐਸੇ ਪਿਤਰ ਤੁਮਾਰੇ ਕਹੀਅਹਿ ਆਪਨ ਕਹਿਆ ਨ ਲੇਹੀ ॥੨॥: (People) do not honor their ancestors (mother, father, etc.) while they are alive, but (they) hold feasts in their honor after they have died. Tell me, how can (their) poor ancestors receive that food? That food is eaten up by Crows and dogs. ||1|| If only someone would tell me how (someone) can attain real happiness (by holding feasts in the honor after their ancestors have died!) The world is perishing speaking (in doubt that holding feasts in the honor after their ancestors who have died, will grant them) happiness and joy. ||1||Pause|| Making gods and goddesses out of clay, people sacrifice living creatures (goat, etc.) to them. Such are your dead ancestors, (you offer them what you want, but they) cannot ask for what they want. ||2|| (sggs 332).

Let’s consider the term ‘Siraadh-ਸਿਰਾਧ’ in the forgoing verse. It came from the Sanskrit ‘Shraadh‘, meaning ‘faithful’. Therefore, we should be ‘faithful’, caring and grateful to our loved ones or elders when they are alive, not after they are dead.

False display of faithfulness through nonsense Karamkaand is of no avail to the dead or the survivors!

The foregoing verses expose our hypocrisy and ignorance of the Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS.

That is, although we perform all sort of nonsense Karamkaand (rituals or formalities) after family members are dead, but we don’t take care of them when they are alive!

But after they are dead, people arrange special feasts for priests, friends, relatives, etc., believing that the benefit of all that nonsense would reach their dead ancestors.

Now consider the following Shabad of Baabaa Nanak:

  • ਸਲੋਕੁ ਮਃ ੧ ॥ ਜੇ ਮੋਹਾਕਾ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹੈ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹਿ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਦੇਇ ॥ ਅਗੈ ਵਸਤੁ ਸਿਞਾਣੀਐ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਚੋਰ ਕਰੇਇ ॥ ਵਢੀਅਹਿ ਹਥ ਦਲਾਲ ਕੇ ਮੁਸਫੀ ਏਹ ਕਰੇਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਗੈ ਸੋ ਮਿਲੈ ਜਿ ਖਟੇ ਘਾਲੇ ਦੇਇ ॥੧॥: Je mohaakaa gharu muhai … (sggs 472).

Since there seems to be a much deeper message than the worldly or dictionary sense translation in available Teekaas, let’s briefly try reflecting on each verse separately:

ਜੇ ਮੋਹਾਕਾ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹੈ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹਿ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਦੇਇ ॥: Je mohaakaa gharu muhai gharu muhi pitaree daei: Owing to our foolishness, selfishness, greed, desires (Trishnaa), cravings, lust (Kaam), etc., many of us don’t hesitate to steal, plunder, or take what rightfully belongs to another. Further, we make offerings and donations in hope for sanctifying such corrupt living, ill-gotten wealth, or to show off our superficial religiosity.

For example, first, some of us may amass wealth with dishonest means, then — in a futile bid to sanctify it — we may utilize some of the ill-gotten wealth in making offerings to the dead family members, giving to the religious institutions, building Gurdwars, building hospitals, Langar distribution (free common kitchen); and so on. Bigger the offering or donation, bigger the corruption behind it! In this mode of ignorance, whatever one does is neither good for him nor for his ancestors, etc. So, if someone so acts it would constitute acting contrary to the the Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS.

ਅਗੈ ਵਸਤੁ ਸਿਞਾਣੀਐ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਚੋਰ ਕਰੇਇ ॥: Agai vasatu sinjaaneeai pitaree chor karaei: The Gurbani indicates in the foregoing verse that when – in a futile bid to sanctify his corruption – one offers plunder and theft to ancestors, he unnecessarily drag them in this corruption. As an English idiom goes, it’s like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’! The Gurmat does not approve such fraudulent Soch (thinking).

ਵਢੀਅਹਿ ਹਥ ਦਲਾਲ ਕੇ ਮੁਸਫੀ ਏਹ ਕਰੇਇ ॥: Vadheeahi hath dalaal kae musafee eh karaei: The dictionary meaning of this verse available in the market or internet is: ‘The hands of the go-between are cut off; this is the Lord’s justice.’ That sort of superficial translation does not bring out the gist or deeper meaning of this verse. To the contrary, it gives rise to the delusion or doubt that the Divine is having a strong desire for revenge! The very first line of the SGGS indicates that Rabb is Nirvair — without animosity or vengeance.

Here Baabaa Nanak is strongly rejecting the Pujaaree that acts like a ‘Dalaal’ (go-between, broker, middleman, etc.).

In the strongest terms, here Baabaa Nanak is saying that the hands of Pujaaree ‘Dalaal’ (go-between, broker, middleman, intermediaries, ਵਿਚੋਲਾ, etc.) should be cut off who acts as he has the contract of exclusive access to deliver the goods in heaven, Sachkhand etc.!

IN spite of Baabaa Nanak’s such strong statement, there are plenty in Sikhi who act as intermediaries (‘Dalaal’, go-between, broker, middleman, intermediaries, ਵਿਚੋਲਾ, etc.)!

ਨਾਨਕ ਅਗੈ ਸੋ ਮਿਲੈ ਜਿ ਖਟੇ ਘਾਲੇ ਦੇਇ ॥੧॥: Nanak agai so milai ji khatte ghaale daei ||1||: This verse highlights the importance of Truthful Living (Gurmukh Lifestyle), following a strict code of ethics to earn an honest living, and sharing from an honest earning…! Sikhi is a Way of life based upon the Wisdom of the SGGS. This is what avails hereafter!

Celebrations of death anniversaries of Gurus!

The Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS is very consistent throughout, without any contradictions. It does not have double standard.

We Sikhs not only observe or celebrate death anniversaries of the dead members of our families, but also our Gurus!

Although he Gurbani asserts the Guru never dies, but we still observe or celebrate the Gurus’ death anniversaries!

How can one celebrate death anniversary of somebody who is NOT dead or never dies? The Gurbani asks: ‘Who can say the Guru is dead‘:

  • ਹਰਿਬੰਸ ਜਗਤਿ ਜਸੁ ਸੰਚਰ੍ਯ੍ਯਉ ਸੁ ਕਵਣੁ ਕਹੈ ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੁ ਮੁਯਉ ॥੧॥: O Harbans! The Glory of the Guru (Wisdom or ਗਿਆਨ) is spreading all over the world; who can say that the Guru is dead? (i.e., the Guru – Wisdom or ਗਿਆਨ – lives forever)||1|| (sggs 1409).

It seams like the Sikh Pujaaree-Vaad does not much bother to find out as to what the Gurmat has to say about this practice in Sikhi. Now, pause for a moment and think how they can tell public not to believe in ‘Siraadh-ਸਿਰਾਧ’ and ALL other Karamkaand and superstitions!

Gurmat’s counsel

The Gurbani (Guru’s Shabad) gives us Wisdom (Aatam-Giaan, the Divine Knowledge…).

The Gurbani urges us to bring about a storm of Spiritual Wisdom in life, which will destroy the ignorance (Durmat or evil mindedness, Bharam or doubt, Abidiaa or false knowledge/Maya etc.). It’s with this mindset (i.e., Gurmukh-hood) based on the Wisdom of the SGGS, we would be able to truly love, care, and respect everybody including our elders when they are alive, instead of waiting to do something after they are dead!

In other words, since a life can end anytime, we should spend as much time as we can, loving and caring people and enjoy each moment with them before they are dead. Appreciate them NOW, laugh or cry with them NOW, forgive their shortcomings NOW — NOT after they are dead!

If we offer feasts after their demise, then all we are doing is feeding the crafty priests along with animals, birds, etc. It will never reach the dead.

Understandably, the Gurmat’s Counsel is NOT to practice all this Karamkaand related to death, ‘Siradh-ਸਿਰਾਧ’ or death-anniversaries.

Instead, the Gurbani’s counsel is to churn the Gurbani through Shabad-Vichaar and then live the Wisdom of the SGGS in daily life.

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਮਨੁ ਸਮਝਾਈਐ ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਸਾਲਾਹ ॥: O Nanak! Instruct the mind through the Gur-Shabad’s Counsel (or Advice, Wisdom…). (sggs 23).
  • ਜਿਸੁ ਸਿਮਰਤ ਸਭਿ ਕਿਲਵਿਖ ਨਾਸਹਿ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਹੋਇ ਉਧਾਰੋ ॥: Remembering Him (Hari, Gobind, Prabh, Raam, rabb, Mool…), all faults (defects…) are gotten rid of, and elders are delivered (sggs 496).

Once the worldly mind dies in the Gur-Shabad (Wisdom, Upadesh), it transcends Maya’s attachment and its reincarnating nature stands transformed into the Divine Nature (Jot Saroop, Gurmookh-hood). This is accomplished through the Shabad-Vichaar, not through any Karamkaand (rituals or formalities) or any other worldly pursuits. Such is the Gurmukh Lifestyle — free of Karamkaand (‘ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਕਰਣੀ ਸਬਦੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥’ sggs 841).

  • ਘਰ ਕੇ ਦੇਵ ਪਿਤਰ ਕੀ ਛੋਡੀ ਗੁਰ ਕੋ ਸਬਦੁ ਲਇਓ ॥: I have renounced the gods and ancestors of my house, and taken to the Shabad (Gur-Giaan, Wisdom, Upadesh…). (sggs 856).

Bhagat Kabeer Jee has similar Message for those who offer feasts to lifeless idols:

  • ਭਾਤੁ ਪਹਿਤਿ ਅਰੁ ਲਾਪਸੀ ਕਰਕਰਾ ਕਾਸਾਰੁ ॥ ਭੋਗਨਹਾਰੇ ਭੋਗਿਆ ਇਸੁ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਕੇ ਮੁਖ ਛਾਰੁ ॥੪॥: Rice, pulse, semi liquid sweets, pancakes, pudding — the (priest) enjoys these, nothing goes in the mouth of idol (because a lifeless image or object cannot eat!). ||4|| (sggs 475).

I will conclude this post with a poem by a Noble prize winner poet, Rabindra Nath Tagore:

When I’m dead.
Your tears will flow
But I won’t know
Cry with me now instead.

You will send flowers,
But I won’t see
Send them now instead

You’ll say words of praise
But I won’t hear.
Praise me now instead

You’ll forgive my faults,
But I won’t know…..
So forget them now instead.

You’ll miss me then,
But I won’t feel.
Meet me now, instead.

You’ll wish you could have
spent more time with me,
Spend it now instead

When you hear I’m gone,
you’ll find your way to my house to pay condolence
but we haven’t even spoken in years.
Look, listen and reply to me now.

Spend time with every person around you,
and help them with whatever you can to make them happy, your families, friends and acquaintances.
Make them feel special because you never know when the time will take them away from you forever.

Alone I can ‘Say’ but together we can ‘Talk’.
Alone I can ‘Enjoy’ but together we can ‘Celebrate’
Alone I can ‘Smile’ but together we can ‘Laugh’

10 comments

  1. Gurinder Pal Singh Ji, I believe that Gurbani is implying that using ill gotten gains/gains earned through the sweat of the brow for the deceased affects their legacy rather than their status (if any) in the hereafter.

  2. Dear Prof. Harbans Lal Ji,
    If there is no after life or soul, then how does one interpret the Gurbani lines “ਜੇ ਮੁਹਾਕਾ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹੈ ਘਰੁ ਮੁਹਿ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਦੇਇ ॥ ਅਗੈ ਵਸਤੁ ਸਿਞਾਣੀਐ ਪਿਤਰੀ ਚੋਰ ਕਰੇਇ ॥ ” ? in my view and many translations “ਅਗੈ” refers to the next world or afterlife and “ਪਿਤਰੀ” refers to ancestors.
    regards
    Gurinder

  3. There is no evidence that there is left any specific soul of any person after death. So, there is no benefit to anyone except to clergy who often put money in their pocket.

  4. This blog though largely correct seems confused about its key point. Key Question is can any of our acts help our loved ones after they have passed away? It agrees that if we donate the ill gotten wealth in name of our ancestors, they also become partners in crime. We are thereby harming them. By same logic, Why will then they not become beneficiaries if we donate honestly earned money or materials in their
    name? We are not talking of benefit or harm to their physical body, but to their soul.

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