The Chinese funeral is an elaborate ceremony that involves several rites and rituals, and they occupy a very important place in Singapore’s Chinese society. The funeral ceremony is aimed at helping the deceased transit to the afterlife, and people have been following these funeral customs and practices throughout time. People still value their age-old traditions as much as they embrace modernisation – and the chosen funeral company can provide the relevant services to meet those needs.
We take a look at some of the more commonly practised customs around Chinese funerals and their significance.
1. Buddhist monks and Taoist priests chant when performing rites
Buddhist funeral services are presided over by Buddhist monks who chant Buddhist scriptures, which are known as sutras. Buddhists believe beings undergo cycles of rebirth till Nirvana, and continuous recitation of the Buddhist scriptures (sutras) are done on behalf of the departed soul to attain enlightenment and achieve a better rebirth. Family members and funeral visitors can take part in the chanting along with Buddhist monks to help dedicate merits from the recitation to the deceased.
Taoist rites are chanted by the priests to aid the deceased’s soul from malignant spirits as it makes its journey across the bridge and over the river that separates the dead and living. This is done in the priests’ Chinese dialect and family members are encouraged to participate accordingly to their instructions.
With that said, it is not uncommon to see Buddhist monks and Taoist priests at the same funeral on different days to offer their spiritual services as a Chinese funeral usually incorporates religious elements based on Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, as well as filial piety according to Confucian concepts.
2. Placing of pearls in the deceased’s mouth
This act can be attributed to Chinese beliefs that the pearl will help in the safe passage of the deceased’s journey in the afterlife. It also assures that the deceased can be reborn with a better life. A coin and a grain of rice can also be placed in the mouth to pay guardian spirits during the passage and ensure sustenance, respectively.
3. The offering of joss sticks to the deceased
This cultural practice reflects the Confucian concept of filial piety and portrayal of deep respect to the elders of the family. Many believe in ancestor worship, and once an elder family member passes on, they are ascribed the status of an ancestor who is seen as a spiritual guardian for the family. This is also dependent on the last rites performed at the funeral to ensure that the deceased makes it to heaven.
In Singapore’s multi-religious and multi-cultural society, it is understandable if the practice does not align with your beliefs in offering joss sticks. There are also other ways to show respect for the deceased, such as offering bows or observing a moment of silence before the coffin or prayer altar.
4. Blankets are often hung at Chinese funerals
Sent by well-wishers, blankets provide a source of coverage in earlier days – to protect mourners from curious eyes while keeping them warm as they perform overnight vigils around the body. Blankets were also used to form a tent for the funeral when poor families were unable to afford a coffin or parlour to place the dead. In present times, the blankets serve as wreath or sympathy blankets or banners for the purpose of conveying condolences.
5. Mourning period for the bereaved
After a Chinese funeral takes place, the mourning period is usually 49 days after death. Mahayana Buddhists believe that rebirth will take place within the six realms in the period of 49 days, depending on the deceased’s karma. Prayers are conducted for the soul of the departed every 7 days until the 49th day.
During the 49th day, 100th day, 1st year, and/or the 3rd year from the date of death, “Kong Teck” is held to celebrate the life of the deceased and symbolises the peaceful passing of the deceased from this life to the next. This memorial service includes chanting of mantras and burnt offerings to create merits for the deceased’s soul and have a smoother journey in the afterlife. It is a post-funeral procession that can accompany any Buddhist or Taoist funeral service.