Updated: Aug 16
Attending an Indian wedding is a unique, vibrant experience steeped in rich traditions. If you've been invited to an Indian or South Asian wedding ceremony for the first time, it's helpful to learn customs and etiquette, including what to wear and what to give, so you can truly be part of the celebration. Our event planning experts explain what you can expect at an Indian wedding, along with their top tips for guests.
1. Know what type of ceremony you're attending
Indian weddings usually take place over several days with many pre- and post-wedding celebrations. Depending on the bride and groom's religion or their region's customs, there are differences in ceremonies—and you might not be invited to all of them. Read your invite carefully to see which events you're invited to.
Popular Indian wedding ceremonies include:
Mehendi, or henna, is an important part of pre-wedding rituals. The bride gathers her closest friends and family during Mehendi parties to celebrate and decorate their hands and feet with beautifully intricate henna designs. This happy, festive ritual features music and dancing and has become an increasingly popular part of Indian-American weddings.
Sangeet takes place the night before the wedding and is usually the last of the pre-wedding ceremonies. It feels similar to the wedding reception with spirited dancing, music, and delicious food. Family and friends perform special, choreographed dances to honor and celebrate the couple.
Indian weddings view the groom's arrival on his wedding day as a celebration unto itself. The groom's grand entrance during the baraat ceremony is traditionally made on horseback, but other modern and creative twists include arrival by boat, luxury car, and other showstopping entrances.
This energetic ceremony usually features choreographed entries with dancing and lively music, with guests leading the groom's procession toward the wedding ceremony.
Varmala Ceremony (Jaimala)
At Hindu weddings, this ceremony is the first time the bride and groom meet on their wedding day and represents the start of wedding day rituals. A varmala or jaimala is an Indian wedding garland, usually made of flowers and other ceremonial items. During the ceremony, the bride and groom exchange and drape the garlands around each other's necks and exchange gifts.
Most Indian wedding ceremonies take place under a mandap or canopy. The groom removes his shoes, enters first, and waits for the bride. The bride enters during the kanya aagaman, where her family escorts her toward the mandap. Before the bride joins the groom under the mandap, her father completes the kanyadaan ritual and symbolically gives his daughter to the groom.
The ceremony features many traditions, including the satapadi, considered the most important rite of a Hindu marriage ceremony, during which the groom leads the bride for seven steps around a small fire as they take their vows.
Reception Party or Feast
After the wedding ceremony, it's time to party! Expect lots of food, dancing, and music. During the reception, loved ones will make toasts and perform songs and dances for the couple. Guests can visit with the bride and groom to give gifts (traditionally money) and their best wishes.
2. Give the gift of money (and end it in a "1")
Gifts from guests are common at most weddings, and Indian weddings are no different. Giving money is a traditional Indian wedding gift. It is usually placed in an envelope or embroidered bag with a card expressing your best wishes for the bride and groom.
Like most modern American weddings, how much money you give depends on what you can afford and your relationship with the couple. But at Indian weddings, it's traditional to give in denominations of 1. So, if you were planning a gift of $200, make it $201. The 1 is viewed as an additional blessing according to customs and is an additional opportunity for you to wish them prosperity and good fortune in their new lives together.
3. Don't dance with or kiss the bride
At Western weddings, it's common to dance with the bride or to give a hug or a kiss on the cheek when extending your best wishes. However, at Indian weddings, these actions should be avoided, especially for men, as they may be considered culturally inappropriate or insensitive.
According to Indian traditions, brides should be demure on their wedding day, and the only man they should dance with is their groom.
4. Dress appropriately and conservatively
Deciding what to wear to an Indian wedding is important, but it doesn't need to be stressful. Here are some helpful tips to guide your outfit selection:
Look for instructions on the invitation or wedding website to determine if the event's dress code is traditional or if alternative attire is acceptable.
Women should dress modestly, covering their shoulders and knees. Traditional attire includes brightly colored lenghas and sarees, but colorful gowns and jumpsuits may be acceptable.
Men are encouraged to wear a sherwani, a long, knee-length coat that buttons up to the neck, but a colorful suit may be an acceptable alternative.
Wear something colorful. In Indian culture, white is a color of mourning and black is bad luck, so avoid all-white and all-black outfit choices. Indian weddings are colorful celebrations, and your outfit should reflect that.
Be prepared to remove shoes and cover your head if attending religious ceremonies. Women should bring a scarf or shawl (if not wearing a saree), and men can use a handkerchief.
Still not sure what to wear? Ask the couple or their families. They'll be glad to hear you're interested in honoring their traditions and can offer helpful suggestions that reflect their wishes.
5. Get involved and have fun
You shouldn't just attend an Indian wedding. You should be part of it—dance, eat, laugh, smile and have a good time. If you're unsure what's going on or how to be involved, just ask. Most guests would be happy to explain and show you the way. After all, your participation expresses your love and happiness for the couple.
Indian and South Asian Weddings at Crest Hollow Country Club
Attending an Indian wedding at Crest Hollow Country Club? Our venue is conveniently located at 8325 Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury, NY, and is easily accessible from the Long Island Expressway and the Northern State Parkway. In addition to offering ample parking for guests, we're close to several hotels so staying overnight for multiday celebrations is just a short drive away.
Planning an Indian wedding on Long Island? Our event planning team can help you plan a wedding that celebrates your heritage in a modern way. Contact us to schedule a tour or learn more about Indian, South Asian, and Pakistani wedding ceremonies at Crest Hollow Country Club.