Harika Dronavalli's Wonderful Wedding
Karteek and Harika on their wedding day. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Harika Dronavalli's Wonderful Wedding

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
Aug 30, 2018, 1:34 AM |
149 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Harika Dronavalli's wedding with Karteek Chandra on August 19 was special, and two Chess.com reporters were among the lucky ones attending.

GM Humpy Koneru hasn't played much classical chess since her wedding in 2014, and even dropped from the FIDE rating list of active players. That made Harika Dronavalli the number one active female Indian player, and so her wedding was a big deal in the Indian chess scene.

It's good news for India that both Vishy Anand and Koneru will be back representing their country in the upcoming Olympiad, and that Harika will continue to be an active chess player!

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Karteek and Harika during the wedding ceremony. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Harika was born and brought-up in the state of Andhra Pradesh in southeast India, while Karteek is from Hyderabad, the sixth Indian city behind Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore.

They had an arranged marriage, which is still customary in India. It means that the parents of the bride find a suitable boy, she then meets him over coffee and decides if she wants to take it further.

In Harika and Karteek's case, it was "love at three hours' sight" (their first "date" lasted that long). Harika was impressed with Karteek (who is a managing director at a construction and civil engineering company), and the two moved on to next stage of engagement in June and marriage in August.

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The wedding even had its custom-made logo.

The festivities lasted no less than four days which is impressive by itself, but this writer was told that it used to last even longer! An old Indian traditional marriage could last up to 10 days.

This wouldn't be possible in modern times, which means there are alterations in the customs, ceremonies and rituals during the marriage. Harika and Karteek's wedding was fairly modern in general.

Our photographer Maria Emelianova and yours truly had been invited, among many other friends from the chess world, including German IM Elisabeth Paehtz (who was joined by her mother), Armenian IM Lilit Mkrtchian and Chinese GM Zhao Xue (who brought a friend).

Later in the week, even stronger players came along as well, including GMs Baskaran Adhiban, S.P. Sethuraman, Krishnan Sasikiran, Lalith Babu, Parimarjan Negi, Chanda SandipanMurali Karthikeyan, Prasanna Vishnu, Humpy Koneru and also IMs Eesha Karavade, Subbaraman Vijayalakshmi, Nisha Mohota, Harsha BharathakotiWGM Meenakshi Subbaraman and WIM Bodda Pratyusha. Surely we forgot a name or two, for which we apologize in advance!

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Recognize the titled players in this selfie! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Aruna and Akhil Anand also joined for two days, and Vishy himself would definitely have come as well if he hadn't been playing in St. Louis. Pentala Harikrishna was busy playing in the Chinese league, but his parents did attend.

Aruna and Akhil Anand

Akhil and Aruna, the family of a five-time world champion, attended the festivities as well. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After some extra holidays in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, Maria and I joined the first festivities on Thursday, August 16. In the evening, a cocktail party was organized for about 40 close friends. This wasn't an official part of the wedding, but quite enjoyable nonetheless.

The party was also fairly 'western', you could say, in the sense that there were drinks, food, music and lots of people simply having a good time. There was one clear difference though: quite early in the evening, just about everyone was hitting the dancefloor! The mix of Indian and western pop music, as well as the different nationalities present, ensured an excellent atmosphere where everyone could chat with the bride and groom, and everyone else.

Harika dancing with Elisabeth Paehtz' mom.

The remaining three days saw different parts of what was a Telugu Vivaha Veduka: a Telugu Hindu Wedding. It started on August 17 with "Sangeet." Mostly used in North-Indian weddings, this musical segment is sometimes used in the south as well, since it's a lot of fun!

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Beautifully dressed and dancing: family and groom & bride in the centre. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The word "Sangeet" means music, but when it is used as a term to describe a celebratory event during an Indian wedding it translates to music night or musical party. It is a celebration that can be as lavish or as toned down as the families can afford.

Harika and Karteek dance

Bride and groom meeting each other on the dance floor. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Held in a spacious conference room of a luxurious hotel, it consisted of a lot of musical and dance performances on a stage, decorated with video projections, music and lights. Even some of Harika's western friends had practised a little dance in the morning, although it seemed that their instructor skipped some of the moves, adding to a slightly chaotic but funny performance!

Family dance Harika wedding

A dance with the whole family together. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

August 18, the day before the wedding, was dedicated to "Mangalasasanam," or the "praying that the holy shrines be happy all the time." On separate locations, both the bride and the groom underwent several rituals.

First, they took a holy purifying bath, after which they were anointed with oil and traditional aarti was performed. 

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Harika taking the purifying bath... | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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...and getting pretty wet indeed! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Following this was Gauri puja, which is done by the bride to seek the blessings of Mother Goddess. After this, the groom performs Ganesh puja and requests the Lord to remove all obstacles. After Harika performed her puja, lots of friends went on stage to bless her with akshantulu (rice mixed turmeric).

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Harika performing puja with her niece Geethika Vallepalli. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Elements of the puja ritual. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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The three priests that performed the rituals and sang mantras. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Fire plays an important role in Hindu weddings. It represents Agni, the Vedic fire god. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Harika's afternoon was dedicated to Mehendi: the application of henna decorations on the hands. Many friends joined her and had their hands decorated as well. The tradition is very old, and described in the earliest Hindu Vedic ritual books. It is intended to be a symbolic representation of the outer and the inner sun. Also these rituals were done together with music and dance.

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Mehendi. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Harika, in yet another outfit, watching others dancing. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Harika's hands after the Mehendi. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Karteek searching for his name, of which the letters 'K', 'A' etc. were spread out. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The wedding ceremony took place on August 19, at an even bigger conference hall at Hyderabad's N Convention, a special venue for such occasions. It was estimated that around two thousand guests attended.

The actually wedding moment was at exactly 10:57 p.m., the best astrological moment for the couple, but again lots of rituals were performed before and after. We'll name a few:

Kanyadan: The ceremony in which the bride’s family hands over their daughter’s responsibility to the groom. The groom is considered an incarnation of Vishnu, one of the main Hindu deities, whereas the bride is considered as Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity.

Harika and her father

Harika and her father. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Panigrahana: Holding hands near fire, while mantras are spoken, such as: "the Devas have offered you to me in order that I may live the life of a householder; we shall not part from each other."

Jilakarra Bellam and Madhuparkam: A priest recites the shlokas from the Vedas. Then the couple is asked to place a paste made from cumin seeds and jaggery on each other’s head, to communicate that the married couple's relationship is unbreakable and they are inseparable.

Chiranjeevi at Harika's wedding

The famous actor and politician Chiranjeevi attended the wedding as well. This was before the actual marriage ceremony. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Shortly before the actual wedding moment, a partition between bride and groom was put. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Mangalasutra Dharana: Tying the 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 Mangalasutram, each with a golden disc, around the bride’s neck. The Mangalasutram represents the physical, mental and spiritual union of the couple. In the Telugu wedding, the groom ties three knots of Mangalasutram. Married people witnessing this occasion come forward to bless the couple, by sprinkling flower petals and rice coated with turmeric powder.

The priest is handing out the strings of Mangalasutram... | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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...which are tied together... | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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...around Harika's neck. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Saptapadi: The groom and bride walk seven steps together around the fire, while taking their oaths of caring, protecting, understanding, loving and guiding each other. Each step includes a promise to each other, with the fire god Agni as witness.

Sthalipakam: A ritual where 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.

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One of the rituals shortly after the wedding. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After this, a kunda (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 Agnihotraṃ, symbolizing she is now responsible for taking care of the health of her husband and family.

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Rumor has it that members of Harika's family were tickling Karteek in the back to let her win the ring battle! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It was an honor and a pleasure to attend the wedding of Harika and Karteek, who are, at the time of writing, enjoying their honeymoon in the Maldives. Chess.com wishes them a happy life together. Many more chess fans will get a chance to meet Karteek, who said he is looking forward to joining Harika to chess events whenever possible.

Karteek and his family.

Karteek and his family. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Harika praying. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Blessings after the actual marriage moment. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Note the decorations of flowers and the beautiful colors. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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The throwing of rice turned into a fierce battle! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Harika putting a garland around her new husband's neck. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Making one of seven steps. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Some rituals are world-wide, such as putting on the ring. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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Another tradition: bride and groom pointing at the direction of the "double stars" of Arundhati and Vashista (actually Mizar and Alcor) as an example of the ideal couple symbolizing marital happiness and devotion.

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Left-right Maria Emelianova, Harika Dronavalli, Peter Doggers.

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A group photo with foreign female friends, right-left: Zhao Xue, Maria Emelianova, Lilit Mkrtchian, Harika Dronavalli, Karteek Chandra, Elisabeth Paehtz, her mother Anna and Zhao's friend Sammie.

Meenakshi Subbaraman and Maria Emelianova contributed to this story.

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