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:
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
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 close...trust 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!
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).
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!
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.
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!
Saturday Night: Wedding Reception
Overview: Generally a black tie dinner affair. 95-100% of guests will attend.
Should you Attend: HECK Yes! Finish with a bang.
ATTIRE: Indian Formal or Suit/Tie/Tuxedo for Men, Indian formal or nice ballroom dresses for ladies.
The Actual Wedding
One of the great ironies of our weddings is that we are all there for this 45 to 90 minute wedding procession, yet sometimes everything AROUND the wedding occupies most of our time. The decorator, the food, the fashion, the guests ...but at the end of the day, it’s the 60 minutes at the altar that is really what the whole thing is all about.
But since technically it’s the most important event, here’s how you attend the wedding as a guest:
If you’re from the groom’s side, you’ll likely just take your seat once the baraat reaches the wedding area. Just follow the crowd.
If you’re from the bride’s side, just be at the venue of the wedding at the specified time, although you might wait 20 to 40 minutes as things always go late! (The wedding won't start until the baraat arrives).
Sit down, read the little pamphlet that explains the wedding ceremony, and just be polite.
Be mindful of sitting in front of small old ladies, they will happily tell you to get out of their way.
Don’t talk or look at your phone too much.
If you’re hot, you can use the pamphlet as a fan to cool yourself.
Even if you got there super early leave the first two rows of seats open for close family.
You should be wearing Indian clothes or a suit/blazer or at least a shirt and tie.
What to Wear to Your First South Asian Wedding
I know a lot of people are weird about wearing ethnic clothes, or spotting a turban on their head. To each his own I guess. You don't have to at all if it makes you uncomfortable and nobody will mind it. But I guarantee you will have way more fun if you do.
That being said if you do want to go all about Indian for your boy, please don't spend $1000 on an outfit or dress that you're going to wear once. Especially if you don't know what you're buying or how much you're paying relative to other Indian clothes.
PRO TIP: Ask the groom or bride (or close friends of theirs) if they can get you an outfit in the $50 to $100 price range you can wear at the events.
Men’s Wedding Fashion
Depending on the number of events you attend, you will at the bare minimum need a Kurta.
Groomsmen often get a Kurta from the groom, or are told what colors to wear, but if you're just a normal guest then you can simply buy one online.
What is a Kurta?
It’s just a long shirt and cotton pants. It’s the Indian wedding equivalent of slacks and a button up shirt.
How much is a Kurta in America? You can find stuff that suits you easily for $40 to $80. You can also find insanely awesome ones for like $200 but I would keep it down to the first range.
If you know someone going or coming from India, simply say "Hey I'm 6'2 and a jacket size of 40" and they'll find you something like this:
You can get stuff like this for $80 in India (USD) or $140 or less in America. Perfect for the ceremony or Sangeet.
Ladies Wedding Fashion
We have a full fashion guide at the links above, but ladies, especially first time lady guests should just opt for a Lehenga. A sari will be much more complicated for you to wear, but a Lehenga is more than enough to handle!
You can ask your girlfriend or guy friend who invited you for help, or send them links of things you’re trying to buy. But you will need to wear a Lehenga at least once to one event.
If you don’t want to spend money on an outfit just for this wedding, a nice cocktail dress or evening dress/gown is more than enough for any event.
Try to not be too clubby/hip as it’s still a traditional and religious function (both guys and gals).