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
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
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
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
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
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.