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.
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.
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 . . .
- Are you going to convert? Who?
- Are you going to have children?
- 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.