How likely is it for American Hindus to marry one of their own? (And what happens to people who try to marry “out”)

“Ninety-four percent of married Hindus are married to other Hindus” according to a recent statistic from the Pew Research Center. This contrasts with personal experience with my Hindu-American friends, many of whom have married men and women from other faiths. We’ve married Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. So I was surprised when I discovered that When Latke Met Ladki only represents 6% of married Hindus in America. This is also unexpected juxtaposed with the fact that Hinduism is religiously inclusive, and over 90% of the Hindus surveyed said “many religions can lead to eternal life and that there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their religion.” I would assume that this inclusiveness would mean that Hindus would be open to marrying people outside their religion. But no.

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It makes sense that I thought the numbers of intermarriages amongst Hindus would be higher because generally, people choose to surround themselves with people like themselves. I’m friends with people who share the same values, likes and dislikes as me. In statistical terms, me and my friends are outliers. When making conclusions, most scientists throw out the outliers. (Except people like Malcolm Gladwell who not only hold on to the outliers, but study them and try to find patterns in them.)

Finding the perfect Hindu priest

It is always eye-opening to read statistical reports that show where you fall in the full spectrum. So yeah, I guess I’m not as normal as I thought. While reading the Pew study, I reflected back to 15 months ago when we were in full wedding planning mode and I started an email exchange with a Hindu priest in New Jersey.

Dear Mr. Ganguly,

I look forward to meeting you next week.  I just wanted to send out an email to share our ideas for integrating Hindu and Jewish traditions for our wedding. I even color-coded it or you. I made the Hindu elements red (to represent the fire god Agni, pretty clever right?) and the Jewish parts blue (the color of the Israeli flag). Secular elements are black.

1. Bor Boron/Baraat - at entrance of ceremony location
2. Bride & Groom’s Processional to wedding canopy
3. Introductions by Rabbi & Hindu priest
4. Mala Badal - exchange of garlands
5. Shehekiyanu - prayer of gratitude
6. Kanya Sampradan (Hand-Over)
7. Granthi Bandhan (Tie the Knot)
8. Sheva Baruchot – 7 blessings
9. Shaath Paak - 7 steps
10. Sindoor Daan
11. Exchange of rings
12. Declaration of Marriage/Breaking of Glass

Please let me know if this works for you. We are looking forward to meeting you.

Best wishes!

About a week and a half later, he figuratively told me to eff off. In email. We never even got to meet. Whatevs, he was my backup officiant anyway.

Is it all even worth it?

Even though it was only about a year ago, wedding planning seems like such a distant memory. I’ve especially tried to forget the stressful parts, like this. Now it makes sense why there is a such a small fraction of mixed Hindu marriages. Because folks, planning an interfaith wedding, and more importantly an interfaith marriage and household, is a giant pain in the paacha (that’s ass, in Bengali in case you were wondering). But if you love your ladka, its totally worth it . . . so read on. It requires lots and lots of conversations between you and your boo, and your respective families. So if you want to make it work, you gotta make sure everyone is clear about the important things and on the same page.

You have to ask yourselves . . .

  1. Are you going to convert? Who?
  2. Are you going to have children?
  3. What religious tradition will you raise them in (if any?)

(Everything else is just details. Handle the most important things first.)


The competitive market of Hindu priests

 

Leading up to our interfaith wedding last year, our original Hindu priest had to have heart surgery. It was a month before our wedding. I was really bummed because not only did he become a friend of our family, but he shared our vision of having one inclusive interfaith ceremony blending both Hindu and Jewish traditions, not two separate ones. We wanted to publicly prove to everyone that two people from two different religious backgrounds can live harmoniously in the same house, and we would do that by having two religious officiants orchestrate our marriage together in one ceremony. Why have two ceremonies if we are not going to be living in two separate houses? To me, your wedding ceremony is a microcosm of your future home. And this Hindu priest met with us and the Jewish rabbi at a centrally-located Panera Bread and everyone hugged as we left behind sandwich remains in our corner booth.

Any bride could tell you that finding an officiant they connect with is a challenge. But if you belong to one of the major religions like Christianity, than at least you have options. Even then, wedding planning sites like The Knot tell you to give yourself a year to book the most “choice” officiants. People who belong to minority religions, like Hinduism, just have a fraction of choices when it comes to officiants. You may think I have many choices living in a metropolitan city in the northeast region of the States, but pair that with the fact that these regions also have a large population of desis, and summer is a popular time to get married, and all of a sudden you are competing with the Boses and Choudhurys for the same priest. The supply doesn’t meet the demand.

Anyways, after learning about the Hindu priest’s heart condition my mom and I went on a frantic search for an understudy and a family friend connected us to this other priest who later condemned what we were doing.

 

“Integration of two different religious rituals is totally absurd, unacceptable and unethical”

 

He wrote in an email,

“Your idea is that the Hindu and Jewish rituals will be done simultaneously in other words intermingled at the same time. That way the whole process of wedding will be confused. When we meet, we would discuss the impracticalities. The best thing I would suggest as I have done in the past that either the Jewish wedding is done first and then the Hindu wedding or vice-versa. It turns out very easy for both the families.  Integration of two different religious rituals is totally absurd, unacceptable and unethical. We do not celebrate X-Mas in a Temple nor do we do Satyanarayan Puja in a Church. However, it is your wedding and you are at liberty to choreograph in your own way.  Religion is a personal choice.”  


Our collective prayers get answered

 

We let our rabbi know about the health of his co-officiant and he wrote that he would pray for him every day. Something magical must have happened because our original Hindu priest (the one we connected with) healed wonderfully from an open-heart surgery and was able to officiate our wedding after all. We couldn’t have asked for a smoother integrated wedding ceremony. Our guests, which included people of all different faiths, commented on how seamlessly our officiants worked together. It just felt very normal and natural.

 

As for how my side of the family felt about me marrying outside my religion, they were very supportive. That part does mirror another statistic from the Pew study that states, among Asian-American Hindus 34% say they are very comfortable with a child marrying outside of their faith.

 

After a year of marriage, I realize that even though our union may only represent a small fraction of a fraction, in many ways we are just like other couples. We share the joys and connect with family and friends during holidays, we sit together and support each other when a family member passes away, we sing together (mostly off-key), we fast, we prepare special foods (how about egg curry for Passover?), we light candles on special occasions, we can dance bhangra, the horah and the Cha Cha slide at weddings, and we fight about whose turn it is to take the dog for a walk. As far as I’m concerned, we’re as American as coconut kugel pie.

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. hema latha
    Aug 12, 2012 @ 15:14:03

    “This contrasts with personal experience with my Hindu-American friends, many of whom have married men and women from other faiths”.
    Don’t forget most Hindus are newly minted Americans who have already married women in India or fellow immigrants/men brought up here. But, without making too many assumptions, your friends maybe people brought up in America. This may account for the skewed statistic.

    Another reason is that the Hindu partner converts at some point before/after marriage. I read a U of C, Berkeley survey which showed conversion at around 90% for Hindu men in mixed marriages (I forgot about the women). I don’t think these men would figure in the survey you quoted.

    According to the Manu Smriti, a Hindu who marries a Dalit (non-Hindu) is no longer considered Hindu and is to be “shunned”. There is no room for another interpretation of this, but it can be ignored like many other religious practices are in different faiths. The “many religions can lead to eternal life” refers to respect for Dalits to right to practice their way of life without Hindus infringing on it. Not marrying Dalits is part of this isolation. I hope it resolves this paradox.

    Reply

  2. 2c
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 19:57:22

    Stats are tricky (not going into the details here), but I am not surprised.

    I always felt that my partner should have the same values and believes as me. It was not necessary for him to be of the same faith as me. However, many of my friends thought differently. They felt it was ok to have “fun” with someone outside of their faith, but when it comes to settling down – their partners needed to be of the same faith. I think there are many factors as to why they felt this way. One factor is family and society. They didn’t want to cause pain and complicate things for their families or for themselves. Another reason could be that they believe that in order to have the same values and believes their partner needs to be of the same faith. I am sure there are other factors that come into play.

    I have found that I have more in common with people outside of my faith when it comes to values and believes than I do with people of my faith. I agree with you – if you want your interfaith relationship to work, then you need to ask the most important questions to make sure you are on the same page. The rest are details…

    Reply

  3. NS
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:35:46

    As a Hindu who married outside of her religious faith, I am also part of the small minority that you speak of. I was very surprised to learn of the statistic in the Pew Study as most of my Hindu friends have married outside of their religion. In fact, I think Hindu’s tend to embrace other faiths more easily because to practice it, you are not required to think it is the best religion in the world.
    I think every Hindu friend I had growing up celebrated Christmas. This might have something to do with the commercialization of the Holiday but it also speaks to the openness of this faith to learn more about others, and its desire to conform with society.

    My dad accepted my marriage after some time because as he says “If you are born a Hindu, you can never stop being a Hindu. You are born a Hindu, you did not have to recite some lines to claim it as your faith, it is in your nature, its at the core of your being”.

    I think couples in interfaith marriages do have to work harder as they have twice as many holidays, religious ceremonies, and customs to follow. I often feel that I have more pressure for my marriage to succeed if only to prove to the naysayers who didn’t think it would last. Once you have children, you constantly worry if they are getting enough exposure to both sides. In the end its important for my kids to understand that all roads lead to the same place, you either take the turnpike or the parkway but you will still get to Delaware.

    Reply

    • ladki
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:39:37

      I love this . . . . “You either take the turnpike or the parkway but you will still get to Delaware.”

      So true!

      Is Delaware a metaphor for heaven? or . . . . you know, the other place?

      No sales tax in Delaware. Sounds like heaven to me!

      Reply

  4. keyamilla
    Aug 28, 2012 @ 11:34:12

    I love your blog and am definitely going to continue following. My sister is newly engaged to a Jewish boy and they are in the midst of their wedding planning bonanza now, so I will be directing her this way also. Also, I love that you incorporate elements from your Bengali upbringing into your blog. I grew up half Bengali and half Gujarati, but because my Bengali mother grew up in Gujarat, we speak Gujarati and have more Gujarati influences than Bengali. Now that I am raising my own daughter though, I’m trying to do everything I can to make sure she knows about her Bengali side, and I am trying to learn with her. Of course, I love your post on doodh-bhat (we sing her the thai-thai song about eating doodh-bhat at mama’s house) and “aushubbho-meye” has become a daily part of my vocabulary, just as it was part of my mother’s. I love that these bits of your Bengali side surface through discussion of your mix marriage experiences!

    Reply

  5. Orange Jammies
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 14:35:11

    This is the cutest post, with all those adorable caricatures. :) I relate, since I’m Indian but not Hindu, married to one. I am also the editor of the Feminism & Diaspora section of UltraViolet.in. May I contact you at some point for your thoughts?

    Reply

  6. Anita
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 18:30:08

    Came across your blog while doing research for my new book. We seem to have a lot in common. Check out my new book, A HinJew Story: http://ahinjewstory.com/
    We should connect, you can contact me at: hinjewstory@gmail.com. Btw, do you know of any organized HinJew groups?

    Thanks,
    Anita

    Reply

  7. ladki
    Dec 20, 2012 @ 19:55:42

    Hey Anita, Thanks for visiting. That’s so great that you are working on a book about HinJews :-)

    I don’t know of any organized HinJew group actually, but I know plenty of HinJew couples both IRL and online. That was actually why I started this blog, to find others and connect with them and talk about our unique issues.

    Reply

  8. Rahul
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 12:36:05

    We are a immigrant hindu family with 2 daughters 4 & 7 living next door to a US born Jewish couple with sons 3 & 6. Recently my wife had just come back from taking my daughters from an easter egg hunt. My daughters got out of the car and started playing in the common area with my neigbours sons. Soon all four children came into the house followed by my neighbours wife. My children started showing the booty they collected at the easter egg hunt and all 4 children started opening the easter eggs and getting out the candy and small toys etc. I was shocked to learn that my neighbours children had no idea what an easter egg was and had never been on an easter egg hunt. I understand Jews don’t believe in easter and hindu’s don’t either. I don’t believe in depriving my children of a memorable childhood experience just based on my beliefs.

    Reply

    • ladki
      Apr 19, 2013 @ 12:52:45

      Hi Rahul, thank you so much for your comment. My parents were the same way when raising me. My Muslim friend’s dad used to organize easter egg hunts for all of us when we were kids and I remember choosing a Christmas tree with my Hindu parents and the joy that came with decorating it. To my family, those Christian holidays were a fun part of American culture, not just Christian culture.

      What is ironic though is that my father-in-law (who is a devout Christian) does not do any of the fun parts of Christmas or Easter. No Christmas tree, putting up holiday lights or Easter Egg hunts. He says those have Pagan roots and are a distraction from Jesus.

      I think its great that you are giving your children these fun memories, it does not make them any less Hindu. In fact it is giving them more “cultural capital” and more able to relate to their friends of different religions in their schools and communities.

      Reply

  9. Denise Ong
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 14:12:14

    Hello Ladki!

    I stumbled upon your blog post this afternoon and I cannot even begin to tell you what a HUGE sense of relief I felt upon reading this. I had recently gotten engaged to the most wonderful man I have ever known, the one I am destined to spend the rest of my life with – and he is Hindu, while I am Catholic. We both come from very religious families (although he is agnostic) and we have agreed between ourselves that neither will force the other to convert and as to having children, as long as we raise them to be good, decent people with the core values we gained when we were children ourselves, we believe that our married life will work out. The biggest hurdle we are facing is actually having the ceremony as we want to honor both religions without necessarily “siding” with either (such as which religion’s ceremony goes first, etc). Your blog post, however, has shone such a wonderful light on our current situation, that I am hopeful that things will just progress from here.

    We both want an interfaith ceremony and we already have a Catholic priest lined up (he is a family friend and we are getting all these dispensations from the archdiocese, etc). I am curious to know if you can perhaps share the name of the Hindu priest that you had worked with as that is one of my most difficult tasks to check off my list, and I would appreciate any direction you can give me.

    Please feel free to e-mail me at denise.o.ong@gmail.com. Thank you so much for your assistance in advance, Ladki! And hopefully I can pick your brain a bit more as to how you actually crafted your ceremony to integrate both religions together.

    All the Best,

    Denise

    Reply

  10. Shyam Babu Thapaliya
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 00:48:52

    I am hindu so I like hindu.

    Reply

  11. Shyam Babu Thapaliya
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 00:56:03

    I am nepali boy I want a american girl if there is possible cantact me my nepal’s mobile no is 9841821656.

    Reply

  12. east indian
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 07:06:09

    hindus marry their own they don’t marry outsiders and there is no converts to Hinduism. you must be mistaken as islamists marry outside not any of us hindus.

    Reply

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