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Culturally rich, traditionally vibrant... these can well describe the people of Andhra Pradesh. It goes without saying that their weddings reflect the same. Traditionally called Teluginti pelli, the wedding ceremony is rich in symbolism and spirituality. While in ancient times, it lasted for approximately 15 days, nowadays it is a week-long affair.
Nischithardham/Muhurtham: This is the ritual that can be considered as the formal engagement between the bride and the groom. Both the families sit with their family priests to fix the date for the wedding, which is both auspicious and convenient. The future mother-in-law gifts the bride clothes, gold and silverware to end the ceremony.
Pendlikoothuru: A day or two prior to the wedding, the ritual of pendlikoothuru takes place at both the bride's and groom's places. The boy and the girl are smeared with nalugu (a paste of turmeric and flour) and scented oils. After the cleansing, they go for a bath and change into new clothes. The bride adorns her hair with fresh flowers. The married ladies present are gifted with betel leaves, sweets, flowers and bangles so that they shower their blessings.
Snathakam: An important ritual of Telugu weddings, it refers to the tying of a silver thread on the groom's body. At times, it takes place before the muhurtham ceremony.
Kashi yatra: This is a fun-filled ritual which involves the groom. After the snathakam ceremony, the groom pretends to leave for a pilgrimage to Kashi, leaving all worldly pleasures, responsibilities and duties. With only the bare essential items, he starts walking out when the bride's brother intervenes and reminds him of his role as a householder. He further lures the groom by offering his sister's hand in marriage. Finally, the groom agrees to the wedding.
Mangala snanam: On the day of the evening, at an auspicious hour in the early hours, the bride and the groom are taken for their ceremonial bath. They are purified and made ready for the different sacred rites to follow from hereon.
Aarthi: After the bath, the bride and the groom are anointed with scented oils. Their respective families perform an aarti, a ceremony that involves placing a lit lamp on a plate and circling it around a person, in the same direction as the earth moves around the sun. The ceremony is significant as the family prays for wisdom for the soon-to-be married couple.
Gauri pooja: After the aarthi, the bride prays to Goddess Gauri who symbolizes motherhood, fertility and the victory of good over evil.
Ganesh pooja: After the aarthi, the groom sets out for the wedding venue. Once he reaches, he takes part in the Ganesh pooja at the mandap so that no obstacle comes in the way of their wedding and their future married life.
Kanyadaan: This is the first of the wedding rituals in a Telugu wedding. The maternal uncle of the bride carries her in a bamboo basket to the mandap. The bride and the groom are not allowed to see each other till the ritual of kanyadaan is over. Hence, a curtain separates the two. The priest now invokes the blessings of the ancestors belonging to the last seven generations of both the families. Finally, the bride's parents wash the feet of the groom that symbolizes their belief that he is an avatar of God to whom they now offer their beloved daughter.
Jeerakalla-bellamu: With the curtain still in place, the priest starts reciting wedding shlokas from the Vedas, following which the bride and the groom apply a paste of cumin seeds (jeera) and jaggery (gur) on each other's hands. The slightly bitter cumin and the sweet jaggery when ground together turn into an inseparable mixture symbolically communicating to the couple that they are supposed to be inseparable through thick and thin. This ritual takes place at the most auspicious hour pre-determined by the priest during the engagement ceremony.
Madhuparkam: This ritual signifies the changing of attire by both the bride and the groom. The bride changes into a white cotton sari with red border while the groom changes into a white dhoti with red border. White signifies purity while the color red denotes strength.
Sumangali: The bride is accompanied back to the mandap by ten married ladies (sumangalis). Six of them hold plates full of rice and turmeric powder mixed together. The remaining four hold plates with small lamps made from a mixture of rice flour, sugar and milk. Rice signifies abundance, the lit lamps represent sweetness and light, the two qualities that the bride brings with her in this new phase of life.
Mangalsootram: At this stage of the ceremony, the curtain is finally removed. After the prayers are offered, the groom ties the two strings of the mangalsootra (each with a golden disc) separately around the girl's neck, with three knots representing their union on the different planes—physical, mental and spiritual. The couple then looks at the pole star (Dhruva) and Vasistha-Arundhati (part of the Great Bear Constellation) and pays homage.
Kanyadaan akshata: After tying the mangalsootra, the couple now exchanges garlands. Those present at the wedding shower blessings on the couple by sprinkling flowers and turmeric-colored rice (akshata) on them.
Saptapadi: The couple now takes part in the ritual of saptapadi. Here, the bride's sari is tied to the groom's dhoti and they go around the sacred fire seven times. With each round, they pray for nourishment, strength, honor, comfort, health, prosperity and spiritual growth. After this ceremony, saris, ornaments and other gifts are offered to the couple and to the close family members of both sides.
Sthaalipaakam: This ritual formally ends the wedding ceremony. The groom adorns the feet of the bride with silver toe rings. It is also believed that the man bends to the woman in order to claim her as his. During the ceremony, the bride is also made to wear a string of black beads to ward off the evil eye. These beads along with the silver toe rings symbolize that she is a married woman.
Griha pravesham: After the wedding ceremony, the bride is formally taken to the groom's house. As she steps into her new home, she is welcomed warmly by her mother-in-law and other close relatives. She enters into her new household by gently kicking a vessel filled with rice with her right foot. This symbolizes abundance of wealth with her entry into her new family.
Uniting the mangalsootram: On the sixteenth day (16 days are symbolic of the time needed by a new bride to understand her husband's family) after the wedding, the two mangalsootrams are united on a common thread either by the husband or an elder member of the family. A few black/golden beads are slipped between the two discs so that they don't clash with each other, signifying harmony between the two families. The bride takes a bath and wears a new sari before the commencement of this ceremony.
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