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Cultural Approaches to Pediatric Palliative Care in Central Massachusetts: Sikhism

This subject guide is a collaborative project with the Children's Medical Center Pediatric Palliative Care Team, the Lamar Soutter Library, and Interpreter Services.



          *Mostly from Pakistani and Indian region of Punjab


  • God is formless, eternal and unobserved
  • God is the supreme Guru, revealed as guide and teacher throughout the world
  • Reincarnation as a cycle of rebirth
  • Tension exists between God’s sovereignty and human free will
  • Salvation is liberation from the cycle of rebirth…Salvation can be achieved through disciplined meditation and spiritual union with God
  • Ideal life is one of work, worship and charity
  • Equality of all people

Daily practices

  • Private worship twice daily, morning and night
  • Following the 10 Sikh gurus (enlightened leaders) and the holy scriptures

Dying and death

  • Body is bathed, dressed and cremated
  • Floor is washed and covered with white sheets; shoes taken outside the room

Facilitating practices

  • Provide privacy
  • Respect wearing of religious objects; do not remove without permission


  • Fasting not acceptable as a religious practice, although can be observed for medical reasons


  • Adult members have made a vow never to cut the hair on any part of their body

Holy days and festivals

  • Meet as a congregation for prayer service and common meal on six primary holidays

Pregnancy and birth

  • Child is often named by opening the Guru Sahib (book of collected religious writings) at random; the first letter of the first verse on the left-hand page becomes the first initial of the child’s name 
  • There are no particular rituals connected with the birth of a child in the Sikh community. Some sections of the Sikhs recite the five verses of the Morning Prayer, Japji Sahib into the ears of the newborn child
  • Gurthi: A respected intelligent and favorite member of the family gives a drop of honey to the newborn child so as to give the child his characters later in life.  This is not a ritual and it mostly takes place in the hospital itself
  • Shushak: When a child is born into the Sikh fold, the maternal grandparents gift him a package called Shushak, which consists of clothes for the child and his family, a spoon, glass, and a bowl for the child, money and gold ornaments for the child according to their financial status. 

Rituals and ceremonies

  • Sikh Baptisms (Amrit)
  • Naming Ceremonies
  • Birth Ceremonies

Spiritual instruments, structure, and symbols

  • Guru Granth Sahib, collection of religious writings, is the ‘Living Word’ and the ‘Living Guru’, or teacher
  • A turban may be worn as a symbol of personal sovereignty and responsibility to others
  • Symbolic objects include wooden comb, cloth around chest, and iron bracelet which must never be removed
  • Local leadership consists of elected committee of 5 elders
  • Khanda, which reflects certain fundamental concepts of the faith (looks like two swords crossed with a circle overlapping)

 Reproduced by permission from George Handzo, BCC at 

Dictionary of Patients' Spiritual & Cultural Values for Health Care Professionals was developed by the Pastoral Care Leadership and Practice Group of HealthCare Chaplaincy, New York, NY. (Revision and update of earlier work by the Rev. Susan Wintz, BCC and the Rev. Earl Cooper, BCC)