If you are attending a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh traditional ceremony for the first time, it’s likely that you’ll be unsure about what is expected of you as a guest. Follow our guide to participate with composure, grace and style…
If you’re invited to the actual ceremony, you don’t have to wear a sari or an ethnic dress, although it will be greatly appreciated if you do. Modest dress is the order of the day; bare shoulders, plunging necklines and short skirts will be out of place at a religious venue. Besides, you may be required to sit cross‐legged on the floor and this will prove difficult in tight or short clothing.
Colours of joy
Generally pure white and black are avoided at the actual religious ceremony. Although bright colours are considered most auspicious at South Asian weddings, pastels are also acceptable in the summer. Try not to wear bright red as this is traditionally reserved for the bride and you wouldn’t want to outshine her on her special day!
Carry a scarf/stole
Several ceremonies, such as a Sikh wedding, will require you to cover your head when you are in the temple. 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.
Most religious places will require you to take off your shoes and place them in the designated space before you enter the sanctified area. While some places may require you to be barefooted, usually wearing socks or stockings is acceptable.
Find your side
Some places of worship require women and men to sit separately on different sides of the room. Just observe the seating when you enter the room or ask someone if you’re unsure. If you’re the only woman sitting amidst many men or vice versa, you’re probably not sitting in the right section!
Check before you get clicking during a ceremony. Mostly it should be fine, but during some of the rituals, particularly in a Hindu ceremony, even the official photographer may be barred in order to avoid distracting with the flash of the camera.
During a Sikh ceremony held at a gurudwara (Sikh temple), you may be given blessed food called ‘karah prashad’, which is made with flour, sugar and ghee (clarified butter). It is received in cupped hands and eaten by transferring it into one hand and eating it with the other. You can ask for a very small portion if you are unsure of whether you will be able to eat much of it. Putting it into a small plastic bag to eat later is acceptable, however it would cause offence to refuse it or throw it away. Carry some paper tissues for cleaning the ghee from your hands afterwards.
Entering a sacred space
Most religious disciplines require some form of ‘cleansing’ before enter the blessed space, which mostly means taking a bath and not consuming non‐vegetarian foods or alcohol on the day. Although you will not be asked, it may be something you’d like to observe as a mark of respect. It’s important to remember that all South Asian religious places require you to avoid alcohol on the premises. Cigarettes are forbidden at Sikh temples, while tea and coffee (seen as stimulants) are forbidden at several Hindu temples.
If there is no gift list mentioned, it is perfectly acceptable to give a monetary gift to the couple at a South Asian wedding. Usually this is done by placing money or vouchers with a card or a note into a pretty envelope or embroidered bag, along with best wishes to the couple. Numbers that end with numerical one are considered lucky, for instance, £11, £21, £51, £101.
If the ceremony is at a Hindu or Sikh temple, you will be served vegetarian (sometimes vegan) food. At muslim weddings, you can expect the meat to be halal, but there are sure to be vegetarian options as well. It is best to accept only what you can eat and it would be rude to eat nothing at all, since taking part in the wedding feast as a guest, is a part of bringing good luck to the couple.
Kissing the bride
It is not generally a custom for male guests to kiss or dance with the bride. Even the most liberated bride will follow the custom of being demure on her wedding day and it’s best to respect tradition on this.
No one will mind if you ask questions about various aspects of the ceremony or about what is required of you. Showing an interest in the rituals and taking as much of a part as possible is certain to make you a welcome guest.