PASADENA, CALIFORNIA, May 4, 2014 (Southern California Public Radio): When Neil Bajpayee, a Pennsylvania-born Indian-American, made his vows in Sanskrit to Stephanie Young, a Californian raised in a non-religious family, he became the first member of his family to marry a non-Indian, non-Hindu.
Shukavak Dasa, the Hindu priest marrying the couple, had seen it all before. Weddings between Indian-American Hindus and non-Hindus are rare. Pew Research reported as many as 94 percent of Hindus in the U.S. were married to other Hindus in 2012. But even if interfaith Hindu weddings are uncommon now, Dasa sees them as a growing trend.
"In general Indian parents don't like [interracial, interfaith marriages]; they would like their children to marry nice Indian boys and girls in their own community," Dasa said, but, he added, "We have a lot of parents who are now saying, 'I don't really care, as long as my children are happy.' "
And that is when Dasa comes in. His specialty is interfaith Hindu weddings. Dasa, 60, is white. He took an interest in Eastern religions as a teenager, then studied Sanskrit and Indian studies at the University of Toronto, where he earned a Ph.D. in Eastern theology. Along the way, he also became a devout practitioner of Hinduism. Then in the early '80s, he performed his first Hindu wedding. Decades later, weddings have become Dasa's main business. He is based in Riverside, where he is the head priest of Shri Lakshmi Narayan Temple. He performs many Hindu-to-Hindu weddings. But word of mouth has made him a go-to officiant for Hindu mixed-religious weddings.