A First-Timer's Guide to What to Expect at an Indian Wedding
If you've been invited to an Indian wedding for the first time you're in for a great celebration. But chances are you have some questions about what's in store for you on the big day and any etiquette or protocol you may be expected to adhere to. Indian weddings, especially Hindu weddings, are steeped in rich tradition. From the format of the events that take place to the rituals included at every turn, sentimental meaning abounds. To help first-time guests better understand Indian weddings, we connected with experts Sneh Diwan of Diwan by Design and Sonal Shah of Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants to get the scoop. Take a peek at their advice below as you prepare to attend your friend's Indian wedding day.
Are there Indian prewedding events to be aware of?
Indian weddings typically include much more than just a ceremony, cocktail hour and reception—they generally include a first day, second day and even third day of celebrations. It's common for Indian weddings to have multiple prewedding events. The Mehndi ceremony, or Mehendi, is one of the most common, and the Sangeet and Haldi are two other events that are likely to take place.
Can I expect to see lots of Indian wedding traditions?
Yes! One of the most beautiful things about Indian weddings and Indian culture is that most of the wedding rituals and practices have been passed down for generations. To help you more fully understand the rituals and traditions you can expect to experience, such as the Saptapadi (seven steps)f, Kanya Daan, and the Baraat, check the Indian wedding traditions guide we put together.
What is typical Indian wedding attire?
An Indian bride will likely wear a lehenga or sari while an Indian groom may wear a kurta or sherwani for an Indian wedding ceremony. As a wedding guest, it's appropriate to wear similar attire. Many formal attire rental websites have Indian formal wear, such as saris, that you can borrow. If you're unable to procure traditional Indian garb, formal Western attire, like a suit or cocktail dress, would also be acceptable. Shah notes that "Indian weddings are super colorful. Let your imagination flow with color choices for outfits. It is best to be wearing more flowy outfits versus things that are bodycon dresses. Most events, unless specified, are formal events which require suit and tie or tux."
Diwan concurs, adding that "one of the biggest faux pas tends to be centered around clothing. Dress codes should be stated on wedding websites or invitations. If not, reach out to someone in the bridal party to find out what should be worn to each event. The easiest outfit for women to wear to any Indian wedding is a lehenga choli, a long flowing skirt with a blouse, which comes with a dupatta to be draped over the shoulder. Don't be afraid to ask someone for help when it comes to getting ready!
What's traditional Indian wedding decor?
The color palettes at Indian weddings are typically very vibrant. Prismatic shades of red, orange and pink are especially common.
As for common Indian wedding motifs, a statue of the goddess Ganesha is often put on display at Hindu weddings ceremonies.
What Indian wedding food will be on the menu?
Many Indian weddings will serve a buffet-style dinner since the guest list is generally quite large, as we share below. Rice, naan, chicken dishes and lentil dishes are common.
"Most Indian food is spicy and very little is vegan or gluten-free. Plan your meal before you arrive if you have dietary restrictions," suggests Shah.
How big is an Indian wedding guest list?
Indian weddings are large affairs; typically 400 people will be invited to an Indian wedding.
However, Shah notes that despite the large guest counts seen at most Indian weddings, it is still "important to read the invitation carefully to see if you are invited by yourself or with a plus-one."
Is religion included in most Indian weddings?
Hinduism is the most-practiced religion on India and the one most commonly observed at Indian weddings. Other Indian couples may observe Sikh traditions at their nuptials while some couples may forgo religion altogether in favor of a secular wedding ceremony and wedding reception.
If the wedding you're attending is Hindu, Diwan explains that the "ceremony can be quite long, and most of it will be performed in Sanskrit. Most Indian weddings will have a program of events for their guests—a guide that explains each step in the ceremony and what it signifies. The pandit, or officiant, will likely translate during the ceremony as well so guests will have a good understanding of the ceremony."
Are gifts expected at an Indian wedding?
Gift giving is common at Indian weddings as a thoughtful way to offer the couple well-wishes for their new marriage. Money is one of the most typical gifts given at an Indian wedding. Many Northern Indian cultures refer to the tradition of giving cash for a wedding as Sagan or Shagun and regard the practice highly. Money is typically given in a customized paper envelope referred to as Paiso Ka Lifafa.
Silver gifts are a great option as they're said to bring good fortune. For example, dried fruit in a silver box would be appropriate as dried fruit is a symbol of good health.
What is a typical Indian wedding venue?
Since Indian weddings are often very large, it's important to find a spot that can accommodate lots of loved ones. Hotel ballrooms often have large capacities.
Is it ok to ask questions in preparation?
Absolutely! It's better to ask questions and show your interest in understanding your friend's culture than to stay silent and accidentally make a grievous faux pas. The traditions included in Indian weddings are packed with meaning and you'll be able to more fully appreciate the symbolism of you understand what's going on.
Since the couple may be getting inundated with questions, especially in the weeks immediately before their wedding, consider whether you can do some research to address your questions on your own. Read the couple's wedding website and consult other wedding-planning resources, such as The Knot, as a first step. You could also consult close friends, close family members or wedding party members for additional information. Diwan adds that "it's not uncommon for non-Indian guests to be curious about traditions and there is no shortage of Indian aunties and uncles who would be willing to explain how and why certain things are being done."