Weddings of all kinds are special occasions. For anyone familiar with wedding planning or attendance, there may be rules, customs, and expectations one should follow.
At Hindu weddings, it is important to understand the culture and be respectful of the traditions. Six highly important considerations to keep in mind are planning, dress code, gift giving, dancing, food, and traditional ceremonies. It is also key to keep etiquette in mind when attending a wedding.
In this article, we will explore those six categories, breaking down the dos and don’ts for each. Keep reading to learn more about the custom and tradition of Hindu weddings, and what to expect if you’re attending one!
If you have ever been involved in the planning of a wedding, you know it can be a stressful ordeal. Whether you are helping to plan the wedding itself, or just planning your travel and lodging to attend, there are many considerations to keep in mind.
Do: Know the Wishes of the Bride and Groom
With any wedding, it is important to respect the wishes and guidelines set forth by the bride and groom. At Hindu weddings, especially, it is crucial to know what is expected of you. For instance, there are a number of ceremonies that can take place over several days. Some of these may be open to all guests, while others are closed to just family.
“It is important that all these ceremonies are performed with an amount of seriousness so as to make the wedding ceremony both memorable and enjoyable.”
Similarly, the bride and groom may request no gifts. It is important to respect this wish. This can be because the ceremony is already packed full of events and decorations. Gifts may cause unneeded stress or distraction.
Since the celebration is likely to occur over several days, make sure you keep your itinerary on hand. If you cannot attend all ceremonies, be transparent with the bride and groom, so they know how many guests to expect.
Don’t: Give Unsolicited Opinions
Giving unsolicited opinions is looked down upon at weddings. This can be especially true if you are unfamiliar with Hindu culture. While you may have a great idea for décor or catering, keep in mind there are many cultural traditions at play that you may know nothing about.
Always keep in mind that there is a great deal of planning and religious ceremony that goes into a Hindu wedding. The engaged couple will also likely be juggling the opinions of their respective families on how the wedding should be planned. With all that considered, it is often best to keep your opinions to yourself.
Instead, consider offering your help in setting up before or cleaning up after the wedding. This help will likely be greatly appreciated.
Do: Plan Travel and Accommodations Accordingly
As mentioned, Hindu weddings can take place over several days. This means you may need lodging and outfits for more than one night. Depending on how many guests there are, the bride and groom may offer suggestions on where to stay.
In some cases, ceremonies may be held in hotels that offer both lodging and ceremonial spaces. In this case, it may be most convenient to stay in the hotel where the ceremony is being held. Conversely, if the ceremony is held outside of a hotel or lodge, be sure to stay close by. This way, your attendance won’t be hindered by traffic or other unexpected circumstances.
Don’t: Wait Until the Last Minute or Be Late
Waiting until the last minute can spell disaster when preparing to attend a Hindu wedding. You may find yourself unable to book affordable travel or lodging. Plus, you may end up with less than enough time to get outfits together.
Depending on the dress code, you may need traditional Indian garb. You should give yourself plenty of time to find the right outfits. Additionally, you should arrive on time or early to the ceremonies. Late arrival may cause disruption to important rituals and can be very disrespectful.
Hindu weddings are often a cultural spectacle. The outfits of the bride and groom are often dazzling, but the attire of attendees can be just as important! Some things to keep in mind include colors, jewelry, and modesty.
At any wedding, you should know what type of attire is acceptable before choosing your outfit. For Hindu weddings, this may mean wearing clothing outside of your comfort zone. Some weddings may have very specific dress codes, while others may leave it largely up to you. Remember to always check beforehand and be respectful of the culture and traditions.
Do: Consider Wearing Traditional Indian Attire
For non-Hindu attendees, traditional attire is certainly not required. However, choosing to wear traditional attire is a great way to immerse yourself in and pay homage to the culture. According to Wedding Wire, women typically wear elaborate draped fabric that is full body-length, while men wear long-sleeved tunics and pants.
“Both men and women’s clothes come in dazzling, highly saturated colors with lots of patterns and prints.”
For purchasing, look for Indian marketplaces in your area, or order online. It is best practice to buy from Indian clothmakers in order to support the culture and community.
Don’t: Wear Black, White, or Red
Hindu weddings are very colorful affairs. When choosing your attire, it is important to keep colors in mind. You will want to pick clothes that are colorful and festive. Black and white are both colors typically seen at funerals or during mourning. Thus, they are not good picks for a wedding. Red ensembles should also be avoided as red is the traditional color for the bride to wear!
Here are some common acceptable colors to wear:
- Bright blues
- Jade or mint greens
Don’t forget to accessorize! Bright and vibrant jewelry is a staple for Hindu wedding attire.
Do: Dress Modestly
Whether you wear traditional attire or not, your outfit should maintain modesty. It is culturally traditional to be mostly covered at wedding ceremonies. For non-traditional attire, be sure to wear long dresses or skirts. Avoid showing too much skin on the torso. Here are a few examples of clothes to avoid:
- Dresses or tops with plunging necklines
- Dresses or tops with exposed shoulders
- Tight and short skirts or dresses
- Tight pants
- Tank tops or similar casual wear
Tight clothing is also to be avoided. This is largely due to the active nature of Hindu weddings. You will most likely be eating a lot, dancing a lot, and moving around a lot. Thus, tight clothing can prove to be quite inconvenient and bothersome.
Don’t: Disregard Ceremonial Dress Codes
In addition to dressing modestly, you should bring a scarf or similar article of clothing to serve as a head covering. Head coverings are typically not required for the entirety of the wedding celebration. However, there will be important religious ceremonies in which head coverings are expected. Not complying with this expectation will likely be seen as a sign of disrespect.
“[Women] carry a long scarf or a pashmina stole, which can also be used to cover up bare shoulders or arms, if necessary. Men usually wear the head covering provided at the temple or carry a large white handkerchief to place over their head.”
It is also important to note that Hindu religious spaces often require you to remove your shoes. Be sure to remove your shoes promptly and store them in designated areas if this is the case.
Gift-giving in any situation can prove difficult. For those unfamiliar with Hindu traditions, choosing a gift may be a hard task. As we have covered, the most important thing to do is to check with the bride and groom. In many cases, a wedding website or blog will be established that includes guidelines for gift giving.
However, it is also important not to overwhelm the couple with questions as they may already be overwhelmed with planning the wedding. These do’s and don’ts will help guide you in purchasing the best gift for the couple.
Do: Give Money
Giving money as a gift is actually the most common and traditional gift at a Hindu wedding. This is seen as a symbol of your support for the couple’s future. Though it is a simple gift, it should still be embellished. Fresh and crisp bills are a must. It can be presented in elaborate and decorative envelopes.
Simply giving money may seem strange to people more familiar with western-style weddings. Luckily for you, giving money takes away a lot of the stress of deciding what gift to give. There are also a few other traditional gifts to give as an alternative to money:
- Gold or silver coins
- Gold or silver jewelry
It may also be most appropriate to give money in the form of rupees, which are the traditional Indian currency. However, these may be difficult to get ahold of outside of India.
Don’t: Give an Amount Ending in Zero
There are many cultural considerations to keep in mind at a Hindu wedding. One of these is that monetary gifts should not be given in amounts that end in zero. Culturally, numbers ending in zero are considered bad luck because they represent nothingness.
“There’s a finality with zeroes, whereas by giving $51 or $101, we are starting the couple off to accumulate their next $50 or $100. That $1 is in its own way a blessing that wishes the couple good fortune and prosperity.”
Numbers play a huge spiritual role in Hinduism. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to respect this when giving monetary gifts. It will show that you have taken the time to understand the culture of the couple and have committed to showing them your respect and support.
Do: Check for a Wedding Registry
While money is the most common and traditional gift, some couples may still choose to have a gift registry. If this is the case, take the time to look through it. If it is within your budget, consider purchasing a gift from the registry. Registries are useful tools for couples to list what they need and want and avoid unwanted gifts.
Thus, if you choose to give a gift other than money, it is best to fulfill the couple’s wishes as listed on the registry. It is always a good idea to look at any websites, registries, blogs, or other postings the couple has provided. There is where you will find most guidelines, dress codes, etc.
Don’t: Mail the Gift
Gifts should be given in person rather than mailed if possible. Orange Carton states:
“Now, according to the Indian tradition, if you are attending the wedding ceremony, you should handover the gift, personally, to the couples. That is when a ‘gift’ becomes complete.”
Keep in mind that it is also traditional to not open the gift in front of the giver. If you are unable to attend the ceremony but still wish to give a gift, mailing the gift would be acceptable in this circumstance. The couple will likely be grateful for the gift regardless. Remember, respect their wishes if they request guests not to bring gifts.
Dancing at a wedding reception is a common practice for all modern weddings. For Hindu weddings, dancing is highly traditional. Some games and activities are played during the celebration. Hindu weddings can span over three days typically. On the second day is generally when most of the dancing will occur. Here are some more do’s and don’ts to help you in joining in on the fun.
Do: Take Part in Traditional Folk Dances
Many traditional folk dances are likely to be performed at Hindu weddings. Some of these may be choreographed performances by friends and family of the couple. However, there will also be many dancing opportunities for everyone to participate in. This celebratory dancing is sometimes referred to as Raas-Garba.
“Raas-Garba is a night of energetic and playful dancing that commonly takes place before weddings. Raas and Garba are typical Gujarati folk dances that everyone can participate in.”
It is also typical for this dancing to occur in pairs. This can make it easier to learn if you have an experienced partner. Entering or exiting during the dance is not considered rude either.
Don’t: Feel Pressured to Learn Dances Beforehand
In many cases, there will be experienced dancers who will be more than willing to teach newcomers the steps to traditional dances. Therefore, it should not be a source of embarrassment if you have not learned and memorized the dances beforehand. Instead, treat this opportunity as a great chance to learn some new moves and immerse yourself in the culture!
Here are two fun videos of traditional dancing:
- Best Indian wedding reception dance – 2017 (Bollywood & Punjabi dance)
- Traditional Garba-Raas at Gujarat Kharva Samaj Porbandar
Do: Familiarize Yourself with Sangeet Ceremonies
Sangeet originated in the Punjab regions of India. However, it has become a widespread celebration for many weddings. Sangeet typically occurs as a pre-wedding celebration of song and dance. It often will be the main ceremony of the day and take place across many hours.
“In earlier times, the Sangeet would last for ten days, celebrating up until the wedding day – however over time this tradition boiled down to a one day function in order to fit all of the wedding events into one week.”
Familiarizing yourself with this celebration and other ceremonies is a great way to help yourself know what to expect.
Don’t: Be Afraid to Just Watch
Many of the song and dance routines may be choreographed beforehand. If you are a nervous or new dance, do not be afraid to watch from the sidelines and simply tap your toes to the beat. For those new to Hindu culture, it can be quite an amazing experience to get to watch the family and friends of the couple perform.
Of course, if you want to join in on the non-choreographed parts, you should! This can be a wonderful learning and social experience.
Food, glorious food. The time to eat can be one of the most exciting parts of weddings for food lovers. Hindu weddings especially will have a vast assortment of savory and sweet treats. This is great news for those who love to eat! If you are familiar with Indian cuisine, you’ll know that these dishes can be quite delicious.
Do: Try Many Dishes
Indian cuisine is incredibly versatile. There are a wide variety of dishes, ingredients, and recipes to be combined and served for ceremonies and celebrations. At a Hindu wedding, you will find there are many dishes for you to try. Here are some dishes you can expect to see:
- Rice-based dishes
- Chicken dishes, especially butter chicken
- Paneer dishes
- Curries, such as kofta curries
“Food is a very valued and personal aspect of an Indian lifestyle, and this is especially true with a wedding. The bride and groom, along with their respective family members, have carefully considered each dish and ingredient that is served to the guests.”
A lot of hard work and time has undoubtedly gone into the creation of these dishes. Therefore, you should try as many as possible and find out what your favorites are!
Don’t: Be Unhelpful
There are many ways for you to show your respect at a Hindu wedding. One of these is to offer your help in setting up, serving, or cleaning up after food is served. Those who have done the cooking will likely be grateful for the help.
In some cases, the wedding may be catered. However, some weddings will rely largely on familial traditions and recipes. In this case, it is likely the families of the bride and groom doing most of the work. Offering a helping hand can be a good way to express your gratitude for their hard work. It is also crucial to remember to thank the chefs for the delicious food!
Do: Expect Food to Play a Part in Rituals
In Hindu weddings, there are many ceremonies and rituals. Certain foods especially hold a significant and symbolic role in rituals. These foods include:
- Cumin seeds
- Brown sugar
Coconuts are especially symbolic. The bride often presents coconuts to the groom.
“The coconut was a divine offering to ensure the marriage was blessed. Coconuts are considered a symbol of prosperity in Hinduism.”
Rice may also play a wide symbolic role. It is sometimes used in games played by the bride and groom. One such game is a competition to see whether the bride or groom can throw the most rice over the other’s head. This is said to symbolize who will be the more dominant one in the household.
Don’t: Bring Alcohol to a Dry Wedding
It is extremely common at western weddings to have open bars and for guests to drink lots of alcohol. This may not be the case at a Hindu wedding. Many Hindu weddings are often dry. This means there is no alcohol served and is often rooted in religious reasons.
However, Hindu weddings these days may depart from tradition and serve alcohol. It is critical to know when alcohol is being served and when alcohol is extremely inappropriate. If the wedding is, in fact, dry, you should respect this. Bringing alcohol to a dry wedding is a major sign of disrespect to the bride and groom.
If the wedding does allow alcohol, you should look into when and where alcohol is permitted. Many of the religious ceremonies will still be dry despite alcohol being provided at the reception. The key is to drink in moderation if alcohol is permitted. You do not want to become a nuisance or take away from the couple’s special day.
Ceremonies and Traditions
It is important to keep in mind the many traditions and rituals that are the foundation for any Hindu wedding. A Hindu wedding is likely to take place over the course of several days. In this time, many rituals and celebrations will occur. Some of these will be just for family, but many will be open to all guests. We will now cover do’s and don’ts in regard to etiquette and participation in traditions.
Do: Learn the Customs and Schedule
The array of ceremonies and amount of days the wedding takes place over may be partially dependent on what region of India the couple comes from. Some couples may be born and raised in India, while others may just be of Hindu descent. This can affect the level of traditionalism at the wedding.
You are likely to receive an itinerary alongside your invitation. This is because there will be many ceremonies, unlike western weddings that feature typically only 2 – 3 events. Hindu weddings can be divided into three basic parts: pre-wedding, main day, and post-wedding. Each day will have its own special ceremonies.
Back to Culture provides a list of typical ceremonies for each part:
- Pre-Wedding: Engagement ceremony, Mehendi ceremony, Sangeet ceremony, Sagan ceremony
- Main Day: Var Mala and the Mandap ceremony
- Post-Wedding: Vidaai and the reception.
“All these ceremonies are not mere rituals. They are aimed at blessing the couple for a happy married life. Apart from this, they also add a great deal of zeal and zest to the whole celebration.”
Don’t: Be Disruptive with Photography
For loved ones of the bride and groom, you may want to immortalize the memories with photos and videos. While photography is often welcome in the more light-hearted ceremonies and celebrations, it should be approached with caution.
Photography can be very distracting, especially if performed during the more serious religious ceremonies. The clicking and flashing of the camera can detract from the sacredness of the rituals and is thus highly disrespectful. The couple is likely to have photographers for the moments they want to be captured.
For non-professional photographers, remember to be respectful of the ceremonies and use common sense before taking pictures.
Do: Get Involved
As we have covered, there will be many instances of dancing and game playing in which you can participate. It is highly recommended to get involved! This is especially true if you do not come from a Hindu culture or friend group.
This wedding may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for you to immerse yourself in Hindu culture. Plus, getting involved is the best way for you to show your excitement and celebration of the couple! Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance from other guests if you are unsure about what to do.
Don’t: Be Disrespectful of Elders
Like many religions, Hinduism places great respect and admiration on elders. It is important to be respectful of the elders present at weddings.
When interacting, it is best to use a more formal title rather than addressing elders by their first name. Remember, elders are highly esteemed members of Hindu families and deserve your respect.
Hindu weddings are joyous celebrations, and it is a great opportunity for those unfamiliar with Hinduism to get involved and learn about a culture different from their own.
The key with any Hindu wedding you attend is to remain respectful of traditions. Always familiarize yourself with any rules or schedules put forth for the wedding you are attending. Most importantly, have a great time celebrating the lucky couple!