Monday, July 21, 2014

What to give as a gift for an Indian (Hindu) wedding

(Our Indian wedding)

A lot of foreigners venture to India for the first time to attend the weddings of their friends and/or family members. Besides tourism of a country that is so rich in it's heritage, the second biggest attraction to make the trek to India is to witness an Indian wedding (we are also going for one this Winter).

But the foreign dilemma comes into play when many are unsure what to purchase as a wedding gift for the newlywed couple. Many are unsure of the customs and of what is an appropriate item to gift.

You see, in North America, things are more anal organized. Many couples have already set up a wedding registry at various stores (like major department stores or homeware stores) and list the registry information at the bottom of the wedding invitation. When you go to these stores, you can look up the couple by name and it will give the registry with how many items that have already been purchased. Couples set up a registry in order to prevent receiving items that they do not want or need. It is certainly functional, but a little controlled. 

In India, people are way too busy planning a wedding for hundreds of people to be concerned about a gift registry. There are so many moving parts to deal with with all the family dynamics, the finicky astrologers and priests, not to mention the complicated multi-layered family dramas. Generally, the couple likes to be surprised by the gifts they are given. 

So many foreigners (in typical Indian fashion) find this incredibly confusing. Many wrack their brain for months trying to figure out what kind of gift they should give the couple. In the past couple of weeks, I have been asked by a handful of foreigners about what to purchase for a wedding gift.

The first point that you should know is that Indians tend to give gifts both as individuals or as groups. If there is a group of foreigners traveling together, then you can all work together to contribute to a larger gift. This is common. Many times Indian family members (such as a group of aunts, or office co-workers) do this as a combined gift. If you don't know anyone attending the wedding, then you of course can give a gift individually.

You could bring a gift from your home country - but ONLY if it is really special - because you'd have to get it past customs. Some examples of things you could bring from your home country would be specialty items which are easy to pack (like European olive oil, fine perfumes or bath products, printed pillow cushions)

Indians view a wedding gift as something that both the groom or the bride can use starting their new life together. The two most common types of gifts could be monetary or something for the home.

(Img via)

A monetary gift is a safe bet for a gift, and it is very common. Money is presented in an envelope and it is a great gift that the young couple can use in so many ways (honeymoon, savings, expenses, wedding debts). I would also suggest that foreigners give the money in rupees. That way the couple do not have to go to the trouble of going to the bank and converting it - they can use it right away, if need be. However, one should also know that the monetary amount needs to be auspicious. For example, the amount should end in an odd number (preferably ending in 1). You will see people giving monetary gifts like 101, 1001, 5001 rupees, for example. Or the ultimate lucky number - 1116 rupees (or half of that is also lucky - 558 rupees). The reason this is auspicious is that the number 16 is symbolic in Hinduism for the 16 Sanskaras

For someone who is traveling from abroad, an appropriate monetary amount would be anywhere from 3000-12000 rupees (which is roughly 50-200 USD). A safe, generous amount would be $100 USD (roughly 6000 Rs). If you are on a budget, you can even give half of that and it would be totally fine.

(Bed sheets - img via)

Another great gift to get is something for the home. In India, it is taboo for a couple to live together before marriage, so post-marriage would be the first time they would be living together openly. You can purchase these things in India as it would be more convenient.

For example:
- a cutlery set
- kitchen utensils or tools
- kitchen electronics (microwave, blender, coffee maker)
- household electronics (music player, cordless phone, camera)
- fine bed sheets or linens
- pillow cushions 
- photo frame set
- basket of fine bath products/scented candles
- silver items (diyas, candlesticks, serving plates)
- paintings or art pieces 
- jewelry box
- lamps/lanterns (Hindus are big on light)
- furniture (usually only given by immediate family due to the price)

You can also give the gift of clothing for the newlywed couple. If you are traveling to India and plan on wearing Indian attire for the wedding festivities, you can easily purchase a saree for the bride and a shirt for the groom.

(Pooja thaali - img via)

If the couple is more devout and conservative, then you can give them a religious item, like an idol or something to assist performing poojas with. A very devout couple would be performing poojas on a daily basis, so it would definitely be of use (a pooja thaali, fancy incense holders, aarti stands). An example of good idols to give would be Ganesh (new beginnings), Lakshmi (prosperity) or Radha/Krishna (divine lovers). You can also give them a religious painting.

(Radha/Krishna painting - img via)

An expensive wedding gift, which can be contributed by a bunch of people would be either gold, or a vacation. Gold is only usually given by immediate family members. Gold prices are extremely high right now, but it is always valued in Indian culture (a gold pendant is a nice gift). The other thing would be a vacation package to a resort or a cruise (hello romance and alone time!)

What NOT to gift: leather items (cows are sacred), lingerie, alcohol/liquor.

Before purchasing a gift, you would need to take into account as to whether the couple are living in India or abroad. Many Indians return to India for their marriage, so if they are living abroad, it is not useful to purchase any decorative items for the home. But really, money is the easiest gift and more useful!

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Dear readers, have you been to an Indian wedding? If so, what is a good gift to give the newlyweds, in your region?


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33 comments

  1. My husband's south indian family have completely different traditions when it comes to gifts. Giving anything other than money by ordinary guest is a very big NO. You should not give things if you are not very close family (parents, siblings). Aunts, cousins and just guests are not supposed to give things only money. There is also no tradition of special amounts. Some nice envelope and money inside is what all the people expect. Amounts start from 300Rs. Yes only so less! Average amount will be 1000Rs. Very few people will give bigger amounts. Group gifts also happen. Many people bring also flower bouqets.

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    1. Yes I agree, mostly money seems to be the norm! In our family we have to give the $ in special number. We got a few flower bouquets too :)

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  2. If I am close to someone or if they are special to me I have given lingerie. Other times I just give a cashmere sweater or a book DG standard for all occasions.

    About wedding registry, it is a good idea coz' until 1990s-2000s I had seen in the weddings in the neighborhood couple receiving 3 toasters, 3 ironing boxes, doubles and triples of small appliances. Close family members gave larger items like sewing machine, beds etc. Average acquaintances gave an envelop with some decent amount (as you pay them back the same amount at their wedding or auspicious occasion), then there were bouquet givers and classmates or co-workers with group gift. Sometimes people gift those decorative items that don't go with your decor or of not your taste, it is a mess.

    For my wedding I strictly mentioned on the invitation card no gifts or flowers, still two people got me a melamine dinner set and a wire fruit basket each that were not of my taste, other guests complied. In my community gift giving is already on the last leg, in between it was a small gold ornament since the gold is shooting off the charts envelops move around smoothly

    Peace,
    Desi Girl

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    1. I think registries are a good idea too, it is more organized and gives the couples less work. My mother took half of my wedding gifts LOL.

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  3. Very interesting post, Alexandra. So finally you decided to go this winter, that should be really exciting ! I'm going this summer, meeting the Indian family for the first time, so it means lots of gifts and I am really struggling to understand the do's and don'ts... so I am just letting hubby take care of that... Take care (Padparadscha)

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    1. I thought I'd share a joke with you, coming from a young french-tamil comic : "you know you are Tamil when you go to a wedding with a big wrapped present someone gave you before" ;)

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    2. That will be really exciting! When are you going? I bet they can't wait to see the baby!

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    3. We're going in 2 weeks, I'm really excited !

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    4. @padparadscha - amazing! have a great time!

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  4. I don't think there are even rules as to what to gift the bride and groom in India, money end up with a 1, but everything goes when it comes to other gifts, and I have many stories of friends who received super tacky ridiculous things at their wedding, because gifting is a social obligation and the feeling of the bride and groom is actually secondary. At our own wedding we received a bit too many pudding sets, stub bowl sets and dinner plates of very very very CHEAP taking? I received an ugly neon pink nylon satin night gown and matching robe, and a plastic, cheap china, 50 rupees worth butt ugly jewellery box. DH and I still laugh about these. But it I have friends who received cheap tacky ceramics statues bought from a road side type stall, soup bowls that were chipped ( makes me feel better about the dead cockroach inside one of my own sets), dress materials that screamed AUNTIE, and yes another friend told me she got a cheap synthetic Nylong night gown as well, in black...damn what is whit gifting tacky lingerie to the bride????????

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    1. OMG so funny! We mostly got money, I guess because everyone knows we are living abroad, but we also got a bunch of Bibles. I guess they thought I was Christian or something, I have never even opened a Bible LOL

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  5. @Alexandra

    The money gifting is more common among north indians. They have fixed amont these days. You have to give a minimum of Rs.501/-. This puts pressure of people who perhaps want to gift less money.

    I think everyone would be very interested in your gift. You would be probably expected to gift to give something big maybe gold i.e. gold chain or necklace, since your are pereceived to be rich by virtue of living abroad. The gold rate is hovering between Rs.26000 to Rs.30000, pretty steep by Indian standards. Alternatively, you can gift an expensive sari but with gold it is written in the family history that so and so gave a gold jewellery. So, if you are seeking immortality in family history of your inlaws, go for gold.

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    1. I will probably just give cash, that's the easiest route! And also a saree for the bride, because she is my fave cousin-sister.

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  6. @Alexandra

    South Indian marriages are about lots and lots of gold. In fact, Indian marriages are about gold. People worry less about gifts and more about who gave/wearing jewellery. Gold items are weighed in hands to find out their weight. Jewellery is a topic of endless gossip among Indian women. Everyone is checking bride's jewellery. Information is passed around regarding the approximate cost of gold that the bride's is wearing. If she is wearing lots of jewellry, it means that her parents and family are not miser and have taken good care of her.

    It is funny to see women no wearing woolen clothes/shawls in peak winter just to show their jewellery. They end up sick but what is little sickness compared to the satisfaction you get when others turn red with envy seeing your precious jewellery. This typically happens in punjabi weddings. They are the ones who are more instersted in staying out, dancing on the roads. .

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    1. They really are all about the gold, it is really ridiculous. Many of these women look like decorated cows and it takes away from natural beauty in all of it's simplicity!

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    2. Isn't because the gold given to a woman is her own property, it's like a bank account. So sad there are so many gold snatchers in the streets.

      I happen to be maddl in love with South Indian gold jewellery. Once I did an amateur course in chasing and repousse and one of the most gifted students from the school did a replica of an ancient Tamil necklace for his degree, it took him months. And, when you see how the Indian jewellers are working, it's amazing. However it's way out of budget for me ! :(

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    3. @padparadscha - I love the Tamil temple style the best :) Gold prices are so insane now!

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  7. In our family, the brides family gives the husband's family clothing and vice versa. If money is given it needs to be an odd amount ending in 1. So for example, 101 Rs. or something similar. At my wedding the guests all gave money and we didn't get a single gift from anyone other than family. I got bed linens, clothing and jewelry from the adults and candies from the kids.

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    1. We got mostly cash too, all in odd numbers.

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    2. Money ends in 1, to indicate a +1, always a +1, implying "more of it" or that it will multiply. 101 means more than 100 etc. Get it? That's just a custom not a rule.

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  8. I wish I would have known this sooner, but I'm so glad to be learning it now. Thank you! I'm sure I will be attending many more weddings in my near future.
    When it comes to gift giving in the US, money is preferred. It's the universal gift card. ;)

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  9. So who takes all these money gifts ? My friend mentioned all these money gifts they received at weddings or receptions where taken by their respective family haha I was like WOW

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  10. I experienced a similar thing myself Cyrille. I was told the money was 'spent wisely'. But my husband and his family will not tell me / have not told me how much it totalled or what it was spent on. And we received 4 second hand stingy physical presents. Some crappy old dusty mugs, a plastic grater.... all together very odd.

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  11. Great article, It's one of the best content in your site. I really impressed the post. Good work keep it up. Thanks for sharing the wonderful post.

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  13. Deb from Australia. Attending a wedding in Udaipur shortly. Will give 1116 rupees to each of the two brides. Is it disrespectful to give it directly to the brides?

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  14. Can I give AUD101 instead of rupees as a gift to the couple?

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  15. My American daughter is dating an Indian man in the US. When they decide to get married, he would like to have a ceremony in India and one in the states. As the parents of the bride, would we be expected to pay for the wedding in India?

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    1. Probably not. But, the wealth of the Indian family will definitely matter. But, never broach the subject until the engagement is solidified with a ring and a date!

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  16. I will be attending my first Indian (Punjabi) wedding celebration and was at a loss for what to give as a gift. Your blog was extremely helpful.

    Thanks!

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  17. I am going to attend my north indian friend marriage , suggest me a good and innovative gift

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  18. Thats so good l learned a lot...

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