It's Part of Evolution
By 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
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
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
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,
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
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 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.