This is a list of Indian words that I sometimes use in my blog posts that may not be familiar to Western audiences. I do my best to keep it as updated as possible, but if I missed something please let me know!
Anarkali – a traditional Indian outfit consisting of a fitted dress that flares out at the hips, with pajamis or churidar underneath. They can be worn with a dupatta.
Bindi – a small ornament worn on the forehead near the center of the eyebrows of many Hindu women – this is the location of the Third Eye and has religious, spiritual, and cultural significance. Bindis are worn in different ways – married women often wear a simple red bindi every day, while almost all women – married and unmarried – will wear a bindi (and a fancy one at that) for a festival or dressy occasion. Contrary to popular belief, bindis are not tattooed to our foreheads – they are just stickers 🙂
Choli – a short top, similar to a crop top. Cholis have a wide range of lengths and designs; some show practically the entire midriff, others reveal hardly any. Cholis are worn with sarees and lehengas.
Chooda – a large set of bangles that many North Indian (especially Punjabi) brides wear, which covers much of the forearms. The set is worn the day before or the day of the wedding, and the bride continues wearing the chooda day and night until a certain period of time passes, often up to a year. The length of time that a bride wears her chooda is determined by family and region. Chooda are typically red and white in color, but can vary.
Chunni – another word for a dupatta.
Dupatta – a large, lightweight scarf of varying embroidery and embellishment that is draped in different ways depending on the location and occasion.
Gurudwara Sahib – the name for a Sikh temple; Sahib is an honorary term. Sikhism is a religion that is common in Northern India.
Hindi – a widely-spoken language in India. Not to be confused with Hindu.
Hindu/Hinduism – a polytheistic religion that is practiced throughout India, the Indian subcontinent, and the world. Not to be confused with Hindi.
Indo-Western or Indowestern – combining elements of Indian (from India) culture and Western (from Europe/USA/Canada/Australia/New Zealand) culture.
Juttis – Indian shoes that are flat and can range from simple leather to heavily embroidered and embellished.
Kada – an iron, steel, or silver bangle that is one of the “5 K’s of Sikhism”, which are the religious markers that Sikh followers always have on their person. Kadas are worn by many Punjabis – both Sikh and not. Sikhs encourage people of all faiths to wear a kada, as it represents the “totality of God”.
Kalire – metal umbrella-shaped ornaments that are hung from many North Indian brides’ wrists during the wedding ceremony and reception.
Kurta/Kurti – an Indian tunic-style top that can be worn with either Indian or Western bottoms. They typically feature a long slit on either side, and come in a wide variety of colors, styles, and lengths. Kurtas are for men, and kurtis are for women. Women’s tops are also sometimes referred to as kurtas for long styles, and kurtis for short designs.
Lehenga – a traditional Indian outfit consisting of a full-length skirt, a choli, and a dupatta. This is one type of traditional bridal attire in India.
Maang Tikka – also referred to simply as a tikka, it is a piece of jewelry that is worn in the center of the hair and on the forehead, typically for fancy events and bridalwear.
Mehendi – also known as henna, this is a plant-based paste that is applied to the skin in beautiful patterns; when it dries, it temporarily stains the skin for a week or more. Mehendi is typically used to decorate the hands and feet of women for weddings and other special occasions.
Pajamis/Pajamas – a type of Indian lower garment that is tighter around the legs and bunch at the ankles, typically worn with very long kurtis/kurtas. Pajamis are for women, and pajamas are for men. Not sleepwear 🙂
Punjab – pronounced pun-JOB, and meaning “the land of five rivers”. Punjab is a large state in North India that was split during Partition in 1947. Today part of Punjab is in India, and part is in Pakistan, but the language and culture remain much the same as pre-Partition. My husband’s family is from Indian Punjab.
Punjabi – of or from Punjab, male
Punjaban – of or from Punjab, female
Salwar – loose pants that are voluminous near the waist, and gradually become skinnier towards the ankles. They are worn under longer kurtis/kurtas, and are pleated in the front to allow for more ballooning of the fabric. The number of pleats varies in certain areas.
Saree/Sari – a traditional Indian outfit consisting of an underskirt, choli, and a very long piece of cloth that is wrapped and pleated around a woman’s waist, then draped around the midriff and bust and hung over the shoulder. Saree designs vary in fabric, embellishment, and more all across India. This is one type of traditional bridal attire in India.
Sikh/Sikhism – Sikhism is a religion that is common in Punjab and other parts of North India. Followers are known as Sikh, which is pronounced similar to “sick”, and not the oft-mispronounced “seek”. Sikhism is its own religion, and is not a denomination or type of Hinduism or Islam, which it is sometimes mistaken to be.
Sindoor – a vermillion red powder or gel that is applied in the hairline in the center of the forehead of many married Hindu women in India.