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Magazine Web Edition > May 1994 > Mixed Marriages Part III

Mixed Marriages Part III

It's Part of Evolution

Maya Tagore-Erwin



I congratulate anyone pursuing relationships that cross religious and cultural barriers for being brave and adventurous. It's amazing how religion and one's culture can define our world and ourselves into realities of their own.

My own parents ventured upon this "brave adventure" decades ago. It never ceases to amaze me how brave they were to plunge into a marriage faced with disapproval from both families. My father is Indian/Hindu and my mother is Japanese and essentially Buddhist/Shinto with shades of Christianity.

At the turn of the century, my father's family hosted Japanese scholars and artists to learn Indian culture and washpainting. Later my father went to Japan on a Japanese scholarship realizing a long childhood dream. My mother was an ambitious college student studying English literature.

As a child growing up in the environment created by my parent's "adventure" and later marrying a Presbyterian American, I can't emphasize enough how conducive this is to finding one's own identity and understanding people of different backgrounds.

The most difficult stage in a relationship involving different religions and cultural backgrounds is with the children. My parents raised us as Hindus. We celebrated Durga Puja at Osaka's Vedanta Society, enjoyed Holi festival when we were in India, attended Hindu weddings, read the Mahabharata and chanted our "Namo Namos." We also celebrated all the Japanese religious and cultural festivals, as well as Christmas.

Instead of focusing on one deity or one religious belief, my parents emphasized Brahman, the universal spirit of Being. In retrospect, I thank my stars for being a Hindu because, I believe it has such flexibility and adaptability. In an atmosphere where I could have been very confused about my identity, being Hindu gave me confidence even as a child that I belonged to a basic, natural order of existence.

In addition to my parents' no-pressure religious environment and being Hindu, other factors that helped me assimilate my parents' religious and cultural differences. The first was an international education, at schools with children from many faiths from all over the world. Being different was assumed, even celebrated. The second was having the opportunity to travel to India and experience my father's background. The third was Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda which I read when only 13. It brought a world of sense and logic to my own understanding of Hinduism and gave me a sense of satisfaction in being Hindu.

Now I am faced with the challenge of raising two children who are American citizens and strengthening my relationship with my American husband. Though we have no daily religious regimen, we help our children experience various religious and cultural celebrations to enrich their lives.

I believe that one way to make the world a better place is for more people between different religious and cultural backgrounds to interrelate. We are all a part of this great evolutionary process. What an adventure to think that by pursuing a relationship that crosses religious a religious and cultural barriers you are actually enriching your life and your children's as well as making the world a better place!

Maya's father, Sandip Tagore, executive director of the Indian Culture Centre in Osaka, offered this pithy message:"Religion is to make life better. Nature is the greatest chunk of religion. Cross-cultural give and take creates a higher religion. The flower of that higher life is assimilation. And assimilation in peace and love is the true tenet of the Sanatana Dharma."

It's Love That Matters

By Shanthini Newcombe

My name is Shanthini from Madras and my upbringing was in the loving household of the Sivans in the Brahmin community. My parents were devout Shaivites and I always did a little puja to begin each day. Following my college graduation, I worked at the Sheraton Hotel in Madras and later as a flight attendant with Air India. While working at the Sheraton, I met my husband, Bernie, a businessman from Australia. He was sent to India on a special assignment. During his visits to the hotel, we developed a relationship, although not socially. His travels gave him a deep appreciation of different cultures. I was impressed with his understanding of my way of life. Though he was born a Christian, I could see he was a free thinker.

After I joined Air India, I took a three-month posting in Perth, Australia, and our paths crossed again. For the first time we met socially. Later in Bombay where I was based, Bernie visited me regularly. One day he invited me to a dinner party at a diplomatic mission in New Delhi. On the way home, he declared his feelings for me and I found myself reciprocating. After a few months, we acknowledged that our destiny was to be together. We knew well that our different backgrounds would cause problems-with my parents, society, our different beliefs and lastly, my leaving India, my family, friends and career.

Bernie spoke with my father. My father was happy for me on the understanding that this man was dedicated to my happiness. However, my mother was adamant that I should get a "nice Indian Brahmin boy." The "society problem" was not really a problem, as when you are in love, it does not matter what society thinks. To minimize the religious/cultural gap, I proposed a simple registered marriage. But Bernie insisted on a Hindu ceremony. He consulted with the Arya Samaj with a view to conversion. The Arya Samaj named him Satya Dev, "Lord of Truth." Relocating to Australia was fine, as all I wanted to do was to be with my husband.

The marriage took place in Delhi with my two brothers officiating. My father remained in Madras with my mother who was still upset. Secretly, I knew she was happy for me, but convention demanded her grief. She had little exposure to life beyond her own little world and feared the unknown. She did, however, present me with one her most prized possessions, a silver Lakshmi, Tumeric and Mangalasutra. Our wedding ceremony was conducted by two Arya Samaj pandits with whom Satya Dev had arranged that the Sanskrit would be translated in English so that he could be aware of his vows, promises and responsibilities. Our Hindu guests later humorously confessed it was the first time they understood what the Hindu marriage ceremony was all about.

After honey-mooning, we received a surprise invitation from my mother. She had finally accepted our union and fulfilled all the Brahmin traditions of marriage. We exchanged garlands in the puja room. Once realizing that my husband was wearing a pulnool, (sacred thread), she also saw that he conducted himself in a true Brahmin manner.

We have been married seven years now. The strength for our marriage is bound by love which gets stronger everyday and our belief that God is everywhere and in everyone. We have tolerance when faced with adversity, a hope for the future and realization that our well-being is God's will. Our recipe for a cross-cultural marriage is love, communication, sharing and understanding. Whilst remaining individuals, we are united by common ideals.

Sidebar:

It's Love That Matters

Marriages mixed by race, religion or culture are on the rise as a growing cosmopolitan spirit lends them a tolerant climate. Of these variations, those mixed by faith are the most challenging. Religious leaders of the major faiths in England-where mixed marriages are common-have noted that children and grandchildren of interreligious marriages tend to liberally homogenize them or not follow either of the parents's religions-thus ending traditional religion in that family line. But interreligious couples respond that preserving orthodoxy was never their overwhelming concern, and believe that a universal spiritual outlook is healthy. In this, our final article, seven couples reveal the wondrous power of love to bridge and bond.

Kannappan Selvi Lee Hwa, 24, and Mahendraan Kanappa, 26, both from Singapore, are engaged.

Selvi Lee: "My mother is a Chinese Christian and I have an American Catholic stepfather. While my Indian/Hindu father was alive, he took me to a Hindu temple until age 12. Then I went to Christian church for the next 8 years. Then I nearly became a Mormon. When I met Mahendraan, I started going to the Hindu temple again. My mom likes Hindu idols and keeps them at home with others like Buddhist Kuan Yin. When we have children I want a Chinese name as part of their name. Since being with Mahendraan, I have stopped eating beef, like my father raised me. My friends asked me, "Why are you putting that dot on your forehead and wearing a sari to work. At first, I felt quite upset because Mahendraan doesn't fancy a Chinese wedding. But now I think I will happily have a Hindu wedding. My mom doesn't mind as long as I am happy. My advice for those considering mixed marriage is to talk things over first so there won't be problems later." Mahendraan: "So many people questioned my marrying Selvi and encouraged me to marry an Indian girl instead saying, 'Selvi won't understand your culture.' I tell them I am educating her about Hinduism, my religious practices, and that she can be a perfect 'Indian wife.' In my family, one brother married a Swiss girl, another married a Buddhist Chinese girl and my sister married a Caucasian boy."

Mark Shoptaugh, a pediatrician, and Renuka, a Hindu kshatriya from Calcutta, have two children.

Mark: "I never looked at our marriage as 'mixed,' but, like any marriage, based on love, trust and faith. The unity of souls has no color, creed or religion. Although my parents were Christian, I never felt confined by those beliefs. My wife and I feel open to all denominations and will rear our children with only love, giving them eyes and hearts of peace, justice and vision. We have had little if any resistance from our families and friends."

Joseph, (Christian) and Rajini (Hindu) Thambi agreed if they have a girl she would be Hindu and if a boy, raised a Christian."We met in London through our parents proposal. Before marrying, we discussed what we want in life. We have absolutely no religious conflict. We share a belief in one God and will be bringing up our children the same."

Steve (American) and Indra (Sri Lankan) Andersen. Steve: "I was studying South Asian Studies when we became penpals. Later I embarked on a trip to Asia and her father asked me to visit. Eventually we got married. My father was a Baptist minister and probably wouldn't have approved, but I rejected Christian fundamentalism when I got into Raja yoga." Indra: "My father is a Buddhist Singhalese but also a Shiva devotee with a shrine for both Buddha and Shiva and a vegetarian. My father was soooo happy, mostly because Steve was also a vegetarian. In Sri Lanka, I just can't walk on the roads in Colombo with Steve. They call me all kinds of bad names because they don't know we are married. My sister married a Muslim. My brother still doesn't accept it."

Noboku, Japanese, and Kashinath, Indian. Noboku: "We met at Sivanand Ashram, Rishikesh, in 1981 where my husband was teaching yoga. I have been practicing yoga for 18 years. I came to know Indian philosophy while in Canada as an exchange occupational therapist. I went to a yoga center in Vancouver run by Swami Vishnudevanandaji. My Indian husband and I settled in Japan. He started to teach yoga in Kyoto. Our basic understanding of life is one same direction. Now my husband is constructing a small ashram in Rishikesh. I will join him as I have decided to spend the rest of my life in as a sort of vanaprasthi."

UK Report

By Gina Keene, London

It could be argued that, to a certain extent, all marriages are "mixed." After all, no two people have the same upbringing. Differences can be trivial, even hilarious-such as whether the toothpaste tube should be squeezed at the end or middle. But a couple who comes from different cultures or religions usually has to address much more serious issues.

Rani Atma of the Asian Family Counselling service in Great Britain, shared with Hinduism Today, "Families do object very strongly," although not so much now as in the past. Orthodox Hindus want their children to marry within their own caste and will not countenance anything else. As there is a difficulty in finding people from the same social, educational and economic background, less orthodox families are prepared to be much more flexible." Anne-Marie, a French lady who has been married to a Hindu for 14 years said "Neither of our families was over the moon. I was introduced to his family as his girlfriend and gradually got used to their ways." Anne-Marie was a Catholic and converted to Hinduism. "Although I am Hindu, I am white," said Ann-Marie, "People stare at me. It's almost like being in a zoo."

Mr. Shah, a pujari in London, said, "I think nowadays the selection of a spouse is up to the individual. It is not appropriate or possible to check the freedom of individuals. I have officiated at many such marriages," said Mr. Shah, "and not one of these has failed." There are cases where pundits have agreed to a marriage between a Hindu and non-Hindu when the parents are still objecting.

The upbringing of the children from such a marriage is a case for much discussion. Some couples give children experience of their respective religions and let them choose for themselves when they are older. Others bring up the children with just one of the parents' religions. Couples I spoke with said an understanding was reached before the wedding. Clearly, children of cross-cultural unions are now more socially accepted.

But still there are areas in Great Britain where mixed marriages are seen as a betrayal by both parties' families. At a time when, in Great Britain, divorce claims one in three marriages there is actually a great hope for mixed marriages. "But these kinds of marriages take time and a lot of effort," said Anne-Marie, who was engaged to her husband for five years.


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