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How American {couples}’ ‘inter-Hindu’ marriages are altering the religion

(RNS) — When my spouse and I began relationship, we thought our shared Hindu religion would make issues easier. We had mates who had dated non-Hindus who had encountered bumps when it got here to how they might tie the knot and the way the kids could be raised. The truth that we had been each Hindus meant we might sidestep these sorts of interfaith hassles.

We quickly discovered that, though we each referred to as ourselves Hindu, some key variations in the way in which we every practiced the religion difficult our relationship. 

The oldest of the foremost international faiths, Hinduism fashioned greater than 4,000 years in the past out of extensively various sects throughout what we now name India. Because it unfold to the 4 corners of the globe, thanks partly to the Indian diaspora prompted by British rule, Hinduism took on native colours.

The Hindu id of my spouse’s household was formed by generations of dwelling in Guyana, a former British colony on the northeast shoulder of South America. Their observe was formed by the trauma of indentured servitude, stress from Christian missionaries and cultural hybridity handed down from generations within the West Indies.


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My household traces its lineage to the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the place our religion was formed by 1000’s of years of rituals and rites of worship, a few of them germane solely to Tamils. 

As our lives had been intertwined, I tailored to singing bhajans, devotional songs that had been international to me rising up. I discovered to have fun Holi, or Pagwah, the spring vacation referred to as the pageant of colours, which is much less identified in South India. My spouse, for her half, needed to familiarize herself with my household’s observance of regional festivals corresponding to Pongal, celebrating the solar deity Surya, which is noticed extensively within the Tamil diaspora on Jan. 14.

Our conflicts could not have the identical implications as a Catholic marrying a Protestant, a Sunni marrying a Shia and even an Orthodox Jew marrying a Reform Jew, for whom the theological variations could transcend devotional customs. Nonetheless, almost 20 years after we met, we nonetheless often encounter tensions about when to have fun a given vacation or which mantras — prayers — are right in sure non secular observances.

However over time we have now come to know that our variations are cultural deviations and that our non secular practices are enriched once we meld the very best of each of our backgrounds.

In elevating our baby, we’re combining parts of each of our cultural practices and theological interpretations of Hinduism, ensuring that he participates within the Hindu devotionals his Caribbean ancestors did to take care of their faith by way of a lifetime of bondage, whereas educating him establish non secular symbols in Tamil, my ancestral language. 


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Teams, such because the Pew Analysis Middle, that research non secular demographics don’t preserve knowledge on intercultural and inter-tradition relationships and marriages, however such bonds amongst American Hindus are clearly on the rise as the kids of various diaspora communities meet at college or at work and as Hindus have begun figuring out extra with the thought of being Hindu than a particular sect or custom throughout the religion.

It’s now not unusual to see relationships between, say, Sri Lankan and Trinidadian Hindus, or Hindus from South Africa and people from the Indian state of Punjab. Whereas these {couples} have Indian heritage in frequent, nevertheless distant, we have now additionally seen rising numbers of relationships between Indic and non-Indic younger individuals, corresponding to Indonesian Hindus.

The alternatives American Hindus make about who they’ll marry may have profound implications for the subsequent era. In some sense, the implications are contradictory: Some Hindus will inevitably transfer away from regional and cultural identities — dropping a few of their grounding within the religion — whereas on the similar time extra deeply embracing a religion based mostly on frequent devotional observe.

Probably the most vital instance could also be caste, a system that isn’t theologically intrinsic to or scripturally codified in Hinduism however is internalized by many Hindus from India and different components of the Indian subcontinent. Already we have now seen caste grow to be a much less essential challenge as Indian-American Hindus enter into relationships with non-Indian Hindus (and, certainly, non-Hindus). 

However youthful American-born Hindus are additionally much less hooked up to theological issues or constancy to a sampradaya, or philosophical custom. Because of this, extra Saivites (followers of Siva) are marrying Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu) or devotees of the female goddess Shakti.


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There are additionally rising numbers of marriages between the largely Indian American followers of Chinmaya Mission and the numerous white, Black and different non-South Asian devotees of the Worldwide Society for Krishna Consciousness, identified popularly as Hare Krishnas.

This might imply some sampradayas might even see a dip of their memberships as extra Hindus establish with a broader non secular neighborhood and a extra unified concept of American Hinduism, distinct from different Hinduisms in areas like South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. 

For these of us who are actually elevating that subsequent era, these adjustments are a chance and problem as we redefine what it means to be Hindu in America.

(Murali Balaji, a former award-winning journalist, is a lecturer on the Annenberg College for Communication on the College of Pennsylvania and the editor of “Digital Hinduism: Dharma and Discourse in the Age of New Media.” The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)

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