typically wear the sari, a length of cotton or silk cloth wrapped around the
waist, with one end left free and thrown over the right shoulder.
With the times changing, most ladies do not use silk cloth, but rather
The choli, a tight bodice that leaves the midriff bare, is worn under the
Like the men, dress is determined on regional location.
Some rural women draw one end of the sari through the legs and tuck it
into the waist at the small of the back.
In some other rural areas, women do not wear the bodice, using just the
end of the sari to cover their upper body.
Regional variations in dress
occur throughout India, reflecting differences in caste, community, and
locality. In urban areas, however,
Western-style clothing has become the norm, especially for males. Although women in cities, especially the younger generation,
wear Western fashions, the sari is till the preferred form of dress for most
are recommended to dress modestly unless they wish to invite unwelcome
stares. Since many of India's monuments are also places of worship bare
heads and arms must be covered. It is important to understand the proper dress
of a particular culture so an individual is not insensitive to their new
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Body language and movement
Indian people are direct in
conversation. It is not uncommon to be approached my someone and asked: How old
are you? How much do you earn? Are you married? How many children do
you have? In their culture, it is not seen as too forward or insulting to
ask questions. It is also assumed that two people of the opposite
traveling together are married, and any couples traveling together through India
should refrain from showing any affectionate gestures because some gestures
could be found offensive.
Indians, like all cultures have
distinct gestures and hand movements that mean different things. There are two
types of gestures; illustrators, which accompany words, and emblems, which have
a meaning all their own because they aren’t used with any words or sounds. One
type of gesture is a ‘fight or flight’ gesture. In India, a particular fight
or flight gesture is when you slide one hand over your wrist, indicating the use
of a traditional Hindu woman’s bracelet called a bangle. If this is done to
man, it questions his manhood and provokes him to a fight. Another distinctly
Indian gesture is the suicide gesture. This gesture is done by having your palms
facing your body then throwing them outward. This gesture evokes the meaning of
throwing yourself off of a bridge in to a river. These two distinctly Indian
gestures offer us a look at the uniqueness of Indian culture.
The traditional form of
greeting is the namaste, where the hands are neatly folded together in a
prayer-like gesture. Handshakes are becoming more common, but women
usually refrain from physical contact.
Indians have have a curious
non-verbal way of agreeing with you. They shake their heads from side to
side when they mean "yes," so be careful how you interpret their
signals. Indians are incredibly hospitable, and they are easily offended
if refused. For example, it is not uncommon for an Indian to invite
someone in from off the street in which they will treat their guest with tea or
coffee. In such occasion, it is common for the individual to sit on the
floor with their legs crossed.
When sitting try to be as
comfortable as possible, because you will be expected to eat with your
fingers. Not only do you eat with your fingers, but it is considered
insulting if an individual eats with his/her left hand. The right hand
should only be used, because the left hand is seen as unclean. Likewise,
never receive or give anything with your left hand.
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In India, touching somebody is
considered a special act. Only someone within the same caste system or family
may touch you affectionately. The religious significance of touch is very high
because there is a lot of touching involved with Hindu ceremonial acts. Touching
somebody represents an bond with them and is reserved for family occasions.
Touching somebody on the head is
considered an insult. This is especially true if this person is a foreigner or
somebody who is foreign to the caste system or family. To the Hindu tradition,
the head is the place where a person's soul resides. We can see the significance
of honoring your head in the placement of red dots by Hindu females who have
gone through some of the rites of passage. Touching somebody else's head without
permission or in a wrongful way represents the tarnishing of their soul and
should not be done.
The feet hold the opposite
importance for Indians. Feet are considered dirty and the worst part about a
person. If you touch somebody with your feet then you have severely insulted
them. Touching somebody else's feet is looked at as groveling and begging and
again, a person insult to whomever is committing the act. Touching someone's
feet is like licking the ground.
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Source for this
Gall, Timothy L., ed.
Worldmark encyclopedia of cultures and daily life.
c. 1998, pg 290-292.