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  • Writer's pictureAjay Manaktala

Indian Wedding (facts, event timeline and attire)

Updated: Nov 16, 2019

Are you invited to your first Indian wedding? Maybe you’re wondering: 

  • what to expect? 

  • how to behave? 

  • the types of food 

  • fashion and what to wear

  • and how not to make a fool of yourself? 

You’re in the right place! 

In this post I’ll cover the following topics in an “Indian weddings for dummies” sort of way, as many first time guests have a million questions and don’t want to bother the couple too much with seemingly silly questions. 

Indian Wedding Guide for the Non-Indian

Since this is a long post, to outline it, we’ll discuss:

  • Background on Indian Weddings

  • RSVP and Invite Protocol

  • What kind of Wedding are You About to Attend?

  • The Main Events you see at most Indian Weddings in the USA, Canada or the UK

  • Do I need to Attend All Of it? 

  • The Actual Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Mixed Wedding

  • What to Wear, Kurta, Leheng and Sherwani Basics. 

  • The types of Food you can Expect

  • FAQ for First Timer Guests and Things not to Do

  • Should you give a gift or cash or nothing or look at the registry? 

  • Sangeet or Garba Dancing Guide

  • Reception Seating

  • And pretty much any other questions first time Indian wedding guests have! 


  • I'm going to assume your a first time guest.

  • Your probably a colleague, acquaintance or similar relationship to the bride or groom.  

  • I'll assume you don't have an Indian background and probably just have an Indian/Pakistani friend you know or work with, and this experience is new. 

  • If you’re best friends or best man with the bride or groom then you’ll have to take some personal input from them to double check what is required of you! 

Side Note: Many times we see an Indian person working in America for a few months, then give out invites to everybody in his office in Michigan for some wedding back in India.  This is probably just a formality and unless you guys are super us, he's not expecting you to fly across the world.

Background on Indian Weddings

Indian weddings have gone on the world map in 2019, with folks like Priyanka Chopra marrying Nick Jonas in AMERICA AND INDIA and the billionaire Ambani family hiring Beyonce to play at their Sangeet  (I'll explain what a Sangeet is below don't worry).

Just like with American weddings, you can have a small church wedding with a brunch buffet for 50 people and keep the costs down to a few thousand, or you can have massive celebrity weddings that go into the millions.  

On average, however, most Indian weddings in the west go about two to maximum of 3 days, and first time guests are mainly required to attend the Sangeet, Wedding and Reception. 

So don’t feel overwhelmed as every experience is unique and different!

First things first...what do you do about that invitation or email you got! 

RSVP Etiquette

Don’t worry if you’re not EXACTLY sure if you’ll be able to attend the wedding.  

Invitations will go out either in card form (for which the hosts will ask for your postal address, or even in some cases come over to hand deliver it) or via email.

These days invites are preferred to be digital so don’t take it personally if you don’t get a physical invite or feel it’s a “half-invite.”  

It’s the same process across the board. In a small portion of real massive luxury weddings they do sit down dinners and need an exact headcount for meal preparation, but chances are you if you’re 80% sure you’re going to make it for some or all of the wedding events, go ahead and confirm. 

There is always a 10-15% buffer in food and alcohol at big fat Indian weddings and guests pop-in/drop out ALL THE TIME.  So don’t fret. They just want a yes/no to account for and later if things change it’s fine. I know it doesn't make sense but as a planner, it helps to just narrow down the planning decisions to at least have SOME answer. 

ANY RSVP  answer is better than no answer. 

What Kind of South Asian Wedding Are You About to Attend?

Not all South Asian weddings will give you the same experience.  95% of Indian or Pakistani weddings will be in the following buckets:

Big Fat Indian Wedding Party: 

Most weddings in places like America/Australia/Canada (e.g. the West) will have plenty of customs, tradition, alcohol, chicken/lamb/fish, and music/dancing.  They can be a non stop party, especially destination Indian weddings.

Big Fat Indian Wedding (Traditional) 

But many (30 percent I'd say) still opt for the strict religious/traditional customs of no meat and no alcohol, or one without  the other. There will be dancing and games but don’t expect 4AM raging nights!  

Big Fat Pakistani Weddings

You probably won’t see alcohol, but you will see plenty of meat, gorgeous decor and grand celebrations and speeches!  Enjoy these and eat to your heart’s content! 

Super Traditional/South Indian

Another sizeable chunk of Indian weddings in America are South Indian weddings, which are much less complex in their productions and don’t last as long.  Many of them are also Christian so it might even be a small church wedding like you’re used to! But you get to wear a lungi (a long Indian sort of Scottish kilt) and they’re awesome! 

All Weddings Bring Something Special

While you probably shouldn't ask "Hey will your wedding be fun or boring?" to the guests, you can probably figure out which one yours is based on if the word "cocktail hour" appears anywhere on the invitation and/or if you see events going until midnight or later.  

If you’re the party type looking for a rager, the first and second weddings may give you that experience, and if you just want to experience the food and culture and warmth of the family I think you’ll get that from all the wedding types!   

The beauty of Indian weddings is while everybody is required to attend the actual wedding, the rest is up to you! (I’ll also explain what most people attend as well). 

We are all here for the wedding itself bro!

The Main Events

LATEST TRENDS: Most Indian weddings in America, the UK or Canada/Australia follow a 2-3 day schedule.  As of 2019 we're seeing this more often be 1.5-2 days as folks are busy and things can be expensive. 

The standard sample Indian wedding schedule is:


Religious Ceremony for immediate families only (You're not Required). 

Often called a Puja (look for this word on the invite).

Should you Attend: No

Attire: Indian for sure!

Friday Afternoon: 

Mehendi. It's where the girls get the hands painted.  Even some guys too! Generally includes brunch/booze and music. 

Should you Attend: Yes, (If you can work it into the schedule). About 75% of guests will attend, those who have a schedule conflict and need to come late or leave early will likely choose to skip as this is the least formal of the events.  This often serves as the kickoff party and happens during the day/afternoon.

ATTIRE: Indian Clothes for Women, Smart casual for Men or also Light Indian Clothes for Men.

Friday Evening:

Sangeet or Garba

It's a big dance party with performances, food, drinks (sometimes) and music.  

Guests either hang around the hotel if they live locally after the mehndi, step out for drinks/catching up, or go back to their rooms and change/freshen up/relax.  90-95% of guests will attend.

Should you Attend: HECK Yes! This is where the party starts!

ATTIRE: Indian Formal Clothes for Everybody!

Saturday Late Afternoon

Baraat.  A mini parade for the groom’s guests. More details here.

Should you Attend: HECK Yes if your friends with the Groom!

ATTIRE: Indian Formal Clothes for Everybody!

Saturday Early Evening

Overview:Wedding Ceremony.  You sit and watch the wedding for 1-2 hours.  100% of guests will attend.

Should you Attend: HECK Yes! This is why you're here!

ATTIRE: Indian Formal Clothes for Everybody!