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A Wedding to Remember: When Age Old Traditions Coalesce With Modern Trends to Make Memorable Memories

A Wedding to Remember: When Age Old Traditions Coalesce With Modern Trends to Make Memorable Memories

  • A minimalist like me, changed my mind after attending a grand Telugu Hindu wedding which included South Indian Mangala Snanam, North Indian Sangeet and Mehendi, and a Western line dance.

As the world was obsessing over Ambanis’ pre-wedding events, I had a little obsession of my own — my nephew’s wedding in India. It takes a village to raise a child, but it sure took half the population in Hyderabad Metro to deliver on all the wedding events my sister had planned. We are blessed to have that many close friends and family members helping us out with event prep but more importantly making it fun. Even though I showed up a good three weeks before the event(s), I didn’t have much to do other than plan my own outfits — and plan you have to, as there were many events and most of them themed with a dress code.

Pasupu kottadam, a pre-wedding event signifying the beginning of wedding planning.

First things first — thanks to hours of dance practice everyday for Sangeet, happy to report that I did not put on any weight at all. But I want to let you know how easy it is to gain a pound or two or ten, given the food scene in Hyderabad these days, all that in addition to my mom’s home cooking. The best thing however, is those “borrowed” cuisines, Indianized to perfection. I was super jealous as I do not have access to this kind of food back home in the U.S. (but then it is easier for me to maintain my figure). Ahem, those grapes are sour.

People in India have a bottomless appetite for celebration with an emphasis on food, decoration, clothes, and jewelry. They love to spend time, effort, and money on wedding events. Sure, my opinion is subjective but you may find data on the internet to prove me right. My North American counterparts (of Indian origin) in their celebrations focus more on comfort, convenience, and entertainment, as they mostly have to fend for themselves, labor and material being expensive (subjective again).

The wedding party’s train ride from Hyderabad to Rajahmundry.

Telugu Hindu Weddings

Having missed the engagement event and “pasupu kottadam,” an event where turmeric is ground to signify the beginning of wedding event planning, I was only too eager to get to Hyderabad to help with the wedding events. Working U.S. hours overnight, while shopping, distributing wedding invites, and practicing for Sangeet during the day was a little taxing on my body and mind. But FOMO kept me going. Of course, with that many helping hands, you will find it easier and fun.

After evolving over the years, Telugu Hindu weddings now include the best from both worlds — North Indian Sangeet and Mehendi and South Indian Mangala Snanam and Deeparadhana, and even have a bit of Western influence in the form of reception.

Mangala snaanam, a purification bath for the bride and groom.

The train ride from Hyderabad to Rajahmundry was fun-filled with games, songs, and even dances but more importantly because of the 40 or so friends and family that I shared it with. With most of the events planned at a resort in Rajahmundry, my nephew’s wedding falls under the destination wedding category, which is getting popular these days. We checked into the resort and didn’t step out for three days until all events were done (and all our senses were satisfied and/or overwhelmed).

It was dark when we reached Rajahmundry and I was surprised to see the welcome party that came to receive us. After checking into the hotel and having a good meal, and getting the much deserved sleep, we were ready for our very first event — Mangala Snanam (Haldi). This purifying bath that is supposed to be a pre-wedding ritual for the bride and groom pleasantly got extended to all of us. Our bright yellow saris and kurtas, as was the theme, together with the morning sun, required the Minnesotan in me to wear my sunglasses but through those we all looked more mellow. Involved in the same activity but more in a supporting role were turmeric, vermillion, water, and flowers, all ended up abundantly on our bodies and had to be scrubbed clean later. What messy fun that was.

Women preparing “talambralu” by mixing rice with turmeric.

Men in Florals

I feel that men in India are competing with women with their colorful outfits and even jewelry. My jaw dropped when I saw a few men in florals, but I loved the confidence with which they were donning them. I stand corrected with my judgment — a thing of beauty, any gender, any pattern, any color, is a joy forever. Women, no surprise, were all decked up in their heavy kanjeevarams, diamonds, and gold belts. I tried my best to fit in but the weather was not cooperating so my outfits were underwhelming and not up to the standard. I always wondered why people in a hot tropical country like India wore that many clothes, some of them heavily starched or embroidered. They irritate my skin but I have not only women, but men to compete with now.

Ride on the ceremonial bullock cart.

More vermillion, turmeric, and other “spices” were applied to the groom right after washing them off after Haldi, as part of the “Pelli Koduku” event (dressing up the groom in wedding attire) and trust me this is only day one. When my sister suggested that we “give panchelu” (coming of age ceremony for Telugu people) to my son and my other nephew, my cousin and I jumped at the opportunity. We saw savings as my sister’s feeding all our guests anyway. Each of the three boys looked like a million bucks, adding up to three million. It’s the mother and aunt in me speaking, I am sure.

Before lunch we gorged on some local delicacies — fruits and sweets. “You don’t get this everyday” some parents said as they force fed “thati kallu” (palm liquor) that tastes like sour buttermilk, to their kids as if that justified underage drinking. Not to worry, as it happened under adult supervision, so what if the adults were a little intoxicated themselves? 

Arrival of the bride as women play the shehnai.

Mehendi, another pre-wedding event, where the bride and other interested women get henna applied to their hands and feet, was a little more subdued, as we felt lethargic after that delicious lunch. Patience not being my virtue, I skipped henna, as it requires staying like a statue for hours, and enjoyed chai and fried food instead, in moderation of course.

Diversity and Inclusion

Our ancestors had family harmony and D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) in mind when they designed these wedding rituals. Most relatives have some exclusive ritual(s) that only they can perform — menamama (paternal uncle) for example, is usually tasked with presenting clothes and sisters/cousins get to give “aarti” (flame from camphor) to the couple and take return gifts. This makes them feel included and special — their two minutes of fame. However, the priest under whose guidance all the rituals take place gets to claim fame that usually lasts much longer than two minutes. I would not mess with them, nor the photographers for that matter. Do as they say for your own wellbeing and pictures respectively.

Men in their elegant traditional clothes.

Sangeet was one such inclusive affair where our friends and family members, clad in their sequined outfits, were encouraged to participate mostly by whistling and cheering as we danced on.  A select few were even invited to dance themselves, sequence and position assigned based on their skillset. We had representation from all generations and cultures — my mom and aunt opened the ceremony with their performance and my son Neel and I did a Western line-dance, a novelty we thought, to our Indian audience. Complete with DJ, Sangeet was right up there on my list of favorite events.

Deeparadhana has to start before sunrise so we were up and ready by 5:30am the next morning. Groom’s sisters and cousins were in play again as they were required to start the “deepam” that is supposed to stay lit until the wedding is done. Another dress-up event, this time for both bride and groom, at separate venues, kept us busy until lunch time. I was told we have some free time before the main event starts later that evening.

Game time for the bride and the groom.

I thought I needed that beauty nap more than anything, but when I heard of the massageman, I realized my feet needed a massage, “thel malish” more than anything. There was also an “IronMan” in the building to press clothes, which I thought was very convenient. Another man who got my undivided attention was Edla thaatha, the older gentleman who got us a bullock cart all decked up with flowers ready for rides. Forget the beauty nap, I ended up flushed red like a potato after multiple rides on the cart. The bulls were friendly and allowed me to take selfies with them. 

Bride and groom with cousins.

As happy as I was with all the men that crossed paths with me that afternoon and offered their services, I was relieved I didn’t have any Spidermen (or women) in my clean room. On that note, I was pleasantly surprised to see women playing “shehnai” in the music band which used to be a man’s task. That to me is women’s liberation, at least a step in the right direction.

See Also

The main event has many rituals and sub-rituals which are not easy to describe for someone who has not gone through those herself (yes, my own wedding was not as elaborate and only involved simple exchange of garlands followed by mangalyadharana). So, the main event starts with “baraat” — groom’s entourage dancing in front of his decked up vehicle. Needless to say, I chose to sit in the car with the groom. Ganesh, remover of obstacles, needs some appeasing before anyone else and anything else.

The wedding reception.

Kanyadanam and Jeelakarra Bellam

I am not sure of the sequence but may be able to share my limited knowledge of the other rituals. “Kanyadanam” is about the bride’s father giving away his daughter in marriage. ”Jeelakarra bellam” the recipe to which is cumin and jaggery ground to paste,  is worn on their heads and symbolizes life’s bitter and sweet moments and needs to happen at exactly the right “muhurat” auspicious date and time decided by the priests based on planetary movements. 

“Mangalyadharana” is the ritual with the yellow sacred thread called “thali” that the groom ties in exactly three knots around the bride’s neck. The bride is supposed to wear this her entire life just like a wedding ring. This is followed by “saptapadi” where the couple take seven vows and seven steps together  — this in my opinion is equivalent to the until-death-do-us-part vow in a Christian wedding. 

The main event is not devoid of fun and entertainment. There are some activities and games that the couple get to engage in under the priest’s direction. After “varamala” exchange of garlands, the couple gets to play with yellow rice, rice “spiced” with turmeric but luckily for everyone involved, not cooked. The ladies premixed some pearls and other colored beads with rice to make it look more attractive and the couple poured it on top of each others’ heads to their hearts’ content. Some more supervised frivolity in the form of games was allowed before ending the event. I am pretty sure I missed several other sub-rituals.

With the main wedding rituals done, the entire wedding gang had to be transported back to Hyderabad for the next big event, Reception. Different routes were taken using different means of transportation by different groups to get there. The couple with their entourage took a detour to Annavaram, a temple town close to Rajahmundry to perform “Satyanarayana vratam,” a post wedding ritual, before flying back to Hyderabad.

Happily ever after.

Reception was a much bigger affair with over 500 people in attendance, as it was in Hyderabad where most of my sister’s friends and family live. To my sister’s relief, professional help was professional and customer friendly which made it easier to manage the event. My jaws hurt from talking and smiling for the pictures, my feet hurt from being up the whole time, but my heart was full and content with all the happy reunions. I met some people after 30+ years and it was as if we never left.

As I am wrapping up here, I started wondering what motivated me to write about this wedding. For a minimalist like me when it comes to events like weddings, this wedding has changed my opinion. If you have the means and interest, why not create these beautiful moments to share with friends and family. My blessings to the happy couple and my gratitude to everyone involved in making this such a memorable experience.

Our choreographer takes a selfie with his Sangeet students.

Padma Nadella is an IT professional who lives in Eagan, Minnesota with her husband and 15-year-old son. She manages a Facebook group for Minnesotans to collaborate on events and activities related to health and fitness. The group now has over two thousand members. Jack of all trades, she enjoys playing volleyball, traveling the world, and entertaining mostly but dabbles in everything else.

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