Telugu wedding ceremony
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The Telugu Hindu wedding ceremony (Telugu: తెలుగు వివాహ వేడుక, Telugu Vivāha Vēḍuka ?) is the traditional wedding ceremony of the Telugu people in India. In the 19th century, the ceremony could last up to sixteen days (Padahaaru Rojula Panduga). In modern times, it can last two or more days, depending on the family's financial and social status. The wedding ceremonies depend on the caste of the bride and groom. Each caste has its own customs with the upper castes engaging the Brahmin caste to performing their ceremonies while lower castes engage non Brahmins. The pendli or wedding is considered the strongest of social bonds, and is said to spiritually merge two souls opening the doors to gruhastaashramam (household life). There is a Telugu saying that "Marriage is supposed to be a family union and not an individual formality.""
Telugu marriage is sanctified by seven pledges made by the bride and groom and begins when the bride and groom have completed seven revolutions around a sacred fire. Symbolic gestures and rituals surround the ceremony and ensure that the bride and groom are united in the presence of Panchabhutaalu —five essential elements for life, namely: Bhumi (earth), Akaasham (sky), Agni (fire), Neeru (water) and Vaayuvu (air). The ceremony is held under a Kaḷyāṇa Maṇḍapaṃ or wedding pavilion decorated with fresh flowers. The Nādasvaram (also called the Shehnai in North India) is an Indian musical instrument that traditionally accompanies most Telugu weddings.
Each element in the ceremony is connected and is given special importance. Historically, the groom would ride an elephant to the bride's home where the wedding is supposed to take place. This practice is called Gajaarohana. Today this tradition is declining. Some marriage ceremonies are held in a temple in the presence of god, but most are conducted outside because of the number of people in attendance. After every ceremony, they serve food to all the guests, which is also the main part of the culture of offering food to anyone who comes on an auspicious day. It is also a tradition to eat ice cream or sweets after dinner because it is considered auspicious. All the rituals conducted throughout the Telugu wedding ceremony hold religious significance.
The decorations mostly consist of rich colourful flowers and mango leaves. Families renovate their houses and invite all the guests going to each of their houses by the use of kumkuma (colourful, decorative powder).
The rich and varied cultural heritage of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh of India, is reflected in the ceremonies conducted there. Almost all festivals are celebrated with religious observances, holding supreme importance in the lives of the state's residents.
- Niśchitārtham (నిశ్చితార్థం)
Niśchitārtham means engagement. The two families meet to perform rituals to make the engagement official. A muhūrtaṃ (auspicious date & time) for the wedding is decided based on horoscopes. The Telugu people generally avoid the months or a time period where Aashaadham, Bhadrapadam and Shunya maasam occurs, because they are considered inauspicious for the ceremonies. The couple is then blessed by elders of both families, and is given gifts including jewelry and clothing by their new family. During this ceremony, the bride's future mother-in-law presents her with clothes, gold and also silverware, formally ending the engagement (Niśchitārtham).
- Snātakaṃ (స్నాతకం)
- Snātakaṃ means "graduation" or "Bath Graduate" or "Post graduation". It is usually performed before householder responsibilities are handed over to the groom. Snātakaṃ ritual takes place at the bridegroom’s residence before the muhūrtaṃ. As a part of this custom, the groom is asked to wear a silver thread on his body. The ritual is conducted a few hours prior to the wedding.
- Kāśī Yātra (కాశీ యాత్ర)
- Traditionally, after Snātakaṃ, the groom will be eligible for higher studies and eligible to go to Kashi and study further or become Sanyasi. However, as a pre-wedding ceremony, the groom pretends to go to Kashi and says that he has discarded the worldly pleasures (such as marriage, relations and properties) and is no longer interested in leading a family life. He will then be stopped by the brother (cousin) of the bride, who persuades him to assume the responsibility of a household, and they tease each other quite a lot until the groom readily agrees to do it in the end.
The rituals conducted by the Telugu speaking people during the ceremonious occasion of the wedding are different from those conducted in neighboring southern states of India. In Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu people follow their own traditions while conducting a wedding. The bride’s maternal uncle and her brother play a prominent role at the time of her marriage. Unlike other South Indian weddings, the muhūrtaṃ in Telugu weddings do not take place in the morning, but close to midnight. Telugu Brahmins' wedding customs differ from the wedding customs of the other Telugu communities. In addition to the rituals mentioned below, their weddings start with rituals common in South Indian Brahmin weddings like Punyahavachanam, Niśchitārtham, Matrukapujanam, etc. 
- Maṅgaḷa Snānaṃ (మఙ్గళస్నానం)
- As a part of Maṅgaḷa Snānaṃ custom, the bride and groom are required to take an auspicious bath on the wedding day. The aim is to purify them and make them prepared to perform sacred rites. This bath is called Abhyangana Snānam
- Bridal Makeup
- In this ceremony at the bride and groom's respective houses, all the relatives and well-wishers gather and they smear them with turmeric paste (Nalugu - which is a mixture of flours and turmeric powder) and oils. This is done to cleanse their skin, so that it radiates a natural glow after they bathe. This is where the actual ceremony begins. They are given a new set of clothing to wear and are blessed that everything goes by well in the preparation. The bride is told not to go out of town until the actual wedding ceremony.
- Aarti or Hārati (హారతి)
- Oil is applied to the bride and groom at their respective houses. Thereafter, the family members get together to perform Aarti. They pray for the bride and groom to be granted the wisdom to lead their lives happily.
- Ganēśa and Gauri Pūja (గణేశ పూజ ; గౌరీ పూజ)
- Before the wedding ceremony, the groom attends the Ganesha and Gowri pooja, which is conducted at the maṇḍapaṃ. And the bride does the Gauri Pūja at the house with all her family members and relatives attending before going to the ceremony. It is during this time that Pravara a ritual of changing the Bride's gotram (clan) from her paternal gotram to that of the Groom is performed. Elderly couples from both families are required to attend and witness the Pravara while the bride is performing Gauri Pūja.
- Kanyādānaṃ (కన్యాదానం)
- Kanyādānaṃ is the ceremony in which the girl’s family hands over their daughter’s responsibility to the groom. During the ceremony, the bride sits in a bamboo basket. Her maternal uncle brings her to the maṇḍapaṃ. Until the completion of the Kanyādānaṃ, the bride and groom are not allowed to look at each other and are separated by a curtain that is placed between them, as a partition. Thereafter, the bride’s parents wash the groom’s feet, as a gesture of respect because on the day of wedding the bride groom is considered as "Lord Vishnu Svarūpaṃ" or the incarnation of lord Vishnu who has come to marry their daughter who is considered as "Devi Lakshmi". The groom is made to chant "Dharmēca Arthēca Kamēcha Mokshēca Nāti Carāmi" three times and assure the bride's father three times that he will remain her companion in joy and sorrow forever.
- Paṇigrahaṇaṃ (పాణిగ్రహణం)
- This means "holding hands". The groom holds the hand of the bride. The Mantras is spoken: "The Devas have offered you to me in order that I may live the life of a householder (Gruhasta); we shall not part from each other."
- Jīlakarra Bellaṃ and Madhuparkaṃ (జీలకర్రాబెల్లం ; మధుపర్కం)
- The priest recites the ślokaṃs from the Vedas. Then the couple is asked to place a paste made from cumin seeds and jaggery on each other’s head. This custom is referred to as Jīlakarra-Bellamu. This ceremony is observed to communicate that the married couple's relationship is unbreakable and they are inseparable. This is the actual muhūrtaṃ time. The ritual (Pravara) of changing bride's gotram is once performed again on the marriage dais in the presence of the groom and everyone attending the ceremony. Henceforth, the bride no longer belongs to the father's gotra, but now belongs to the groom's.
- Sumangaḷi (సుమంగళి)
- Ten married women (Sumangaḷi) accompany the bride. Six of the ten women hold plates containing sacred rice (a mixture of rice and turmeric powder), while the rest of them hold small lit lamps on their respective plates. Rice represents abundance, while the lit lamps symbolize light.
- Maṅgaḷasūtra Dhāraṇa
Maṅgaḷasūtra Dhāraṇa means tying Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ (holy thread). In order to perform the ritual, the partition between the bride and groom is removed. Then the groom ties the two strings of Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ, each with a golden disc, around the bride’s neck. The Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ represents the physical, mental and spiritual union of the couple. In the Telugu wedding, the groom ties three knots of Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ.
- Akshitalu (అక్షింతలు)
- In the Akshitalu or Talaṃbrālu ceremony, the bride and groom exchange garlands. Married people witnessing this occasion come forward to bless the couple, by sprinkling flower petals and rice coated with turmeric powder.
- Saptapadi (సప్తపది)
- As a part of the Saptapadi rituals, the groom and bride walk seven steps together around the fire, while taking their oaths of caring, protecting, understanding, loving and guiding each other. Only in a Telugu brahmin marriage the pallu (edge of the sari) of the bride’s sari is tied to one end of the groom's scarf (Kanḍuva).
- Sthālīpākaṃ (స్థాలీపాకం)
- Sthālīpākaṃ is a ritual where in 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. Also in order to ward-off the evil eye, the bride is adorned by a string of black beads during the ceremony. These beads, along with the silver toe rings, symbolize that she is a married woman. After this, a kunḍa (decorated silver or terra-cotta vessel) full of water is placed in front of the couple, and a ring is put in it. The groom puts his right hand in and the bride puts her left hand in and they fish for the ring. They do this three times and whoever wins more often is supposed to be the dominant one in the marriage. This is a time of fun, because water splashes everywhere and there are chants and shouts of support for both sides. Also, the bride is made to cook (a namesake meal) on the sacred flame of the Agnihōtraṃ, symbolizing she is now responsible for taking care of the health of her husband and family.
- Arundhati Nakshatram (అరుంధతి నక్షత్రం)
- Arundhati Nakshatram is a ritual where bride and groom are shown the stars representing Arundhati and Vasistha. These stars represent the perfect couple complimenting each other. Mizar and Alcor are two stars forming a double star that can be seen with the naked eye in the handle of the Big Dipper (or the Plough) asterism in the constellation of Ursa Major. Mizar is the second star from the end of the Big Dipper's handle, and Alcor its faint companion. Alcor is recognized as Arundhadi.
- Appagintalu (అప్పగింతలు)
- Appagintalu takes place at the end of the wedding. This is when the bride is traditionally handed off to the groom and his family.
- Gr̥uhapravēśam (గృహప్రవేశం)
- After the culmination of the wedding ceremony, the bride is formally taken to the groom’s house. This is called Gr̥hapravēśam of the bride. As she steps into her new home, she is welcomed by the groom’s family members, including his mother and closest relatives. The uniting of Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ takes place after a fortnight
- In karanam caste ,the consumation takes place depending on tidhi,usually after a gap of one day. Havan puja is performed before the time fixed for physical consumation of the marriage.
- Satyanārāyaṇa Vratam (సత్యనారాయణ వ్రతం)
- Satyam means "truth" and Narayana means "the highest being" so Satyanārāyaṇa means "The highest being who is an embodiment of Truth". The Satyanārāyaṇa Vratam is very popular in Andhra Pradesh India. Satyanārāyaṇa Vratam is performed by bride and groom after Gr̥hapravēśam in the groom's residence. This pūja (ritual) is first mentioned in the Skanda Purana, Reva Kanḍa by Sūta Mahāmuni to the r̥shis in the Naimisharaṇya (ancient forest). The details are part of the Katha ("story") that is usually read after the pūja. The Satyanārāyaṇa pūja/vratam can be performed on any day except on the new moon.
- Uniting the Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ
- Gr̥uhapravēśam is followed by a ceremony, wherein the Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ is united. As a customary, the Telugu speaking people unite the two Maṅgaḷasūtraṃs (which was tied by the groom around the bride’s neck), on a common thread. This ritual is done sixteen days after the wedding. This ritual can be performed by either the groom or an elderly member of the family. A few black or golden beads are slipped between the two 'plates' of the Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ, so that they do not clash with each other. The unison of Maṅgaḷasūtraṃ signifies the harmony between the two families. After the ceremony is over, the bride takes a bath and wears a new sari.
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