Whenever I talk about clothes, someone always mentions that Indian clothes are not the same as Hindu clothes. You don’t have to wear a sari or a dhoti to be a Hindu. Which is true, of course.
But it gets a little more complicated than that.
Because Hinduism is so closely tied to India and became what it is within the backdrop of Indian culture, Indian clothes are pretty ubiquitous at temples. My experience has been that if I don’t wear Indian clothes for worship, I feel like a tourist and I feel that people don’t take me as seriously. Wearing sari is a way I kind-of prove that I belong? That might sound mis-guided, but that’s where I’m at.
However, I’m sure for many of you preparing to go to a Hindu temple for the first time, you’re probably not ready to jump right in wearing a sari (it’s easier for guys, since most guys at Hindu temples wear western-style slacks and button down shirts!)
So, for the guys: when you go to a Hindu temple for the first time wear nice slacks and shirt. Business casual kind of look.
Ladies: I recommend a long skirt (calf or ankle length), something loose that will allow you to sit cross-legged on the floor. Keep your top reasonably modest. A transition idea might be to get an India-inspired tunic or top, which can often be found at TJMaxx.
Both: wear shoes that are easy to remove. You will be taking them off either outside the building or just inside the door. Socks are fine to keep on (so make sure your socks look clean and nice!).
Please don’t wear leather or animal skin of any kind!
If you want to wear Indian clothes, the easiest way to get started is to wear a kurta top with western bottom. So leggings or pants with a long Indian tunic top (this works for both men and women).
Once you get comfortable with that you’ll be more confident in wearing more intense styles like sari and dhoti, if you’d like to. (A guy could get away with not ever going as far as dhoti, though, I’m sure! A few places you are expected to wear them. Like when we went to the maath in Sringeri, the men were expected to wear dhoti and the ladies wore saris.)
There’s plenty of variety in the clothes you’ll see at the temple. For me, I prefer to wear sari because, as I said, it makes me feel like I fit in better and look like I belong and also because there aren’t enough opportunities to wear all my great saris!