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We then follow Dana as she and Fred attempt to figure out how to fit their religious lives into one marriage.
The couple is determined not to “water down” their respective traditions in order to find common ground.
When Neil Bajpayee, a Pennsylvania-born Indian-American, made his vows in Sanskrit to Stephanie Young, a Californian raised in a non-religious family, he became the first member of his family to marry a non-Indian, non-Hindu. Along the way, he also became a devout practitioner of Hinduism. Decades later, weddings have become Dasa’s main business. But as South Asian communities have grown in the state, so has the demand for wedding officiants. One foot in both worlds “The Gujarati priest will work with the Gujarati community, the Punjabi priest will work with the Punjabi community, and so on like that,” Dasa said, “The typical scenario for me is, a young Hindu boy or girl goes off to college, falls in love with a Jewish, Christian or non-Hindu partner and wants to get married. Call the priest who can put one foot in both worlds.’” Dasa, who is on faculty at the Claremont School of Theology, applies classroom-teaching skills while officiating weddings, taking time to explain Hindu customs.
Shukavak Dasa, the Hindu priest marrying the couple, had seen it all before. He took an interest in Eastern religions as a teenager, then studied Sanskrit and Indian studies at the University of Toronto, where he earned a Ph. Then in the early ‘80s, he performed his first Hindu wedding. He is based in Riverside, where he is the head priest of Shri Lakshmi Narayan Temple. But word of mouth has made him a go-to officiant for Hindu mixed-religious weddings, not just in Southern California, but also worldwide. During the Bajpayee-Young wedding in Pasadena last May, he coached the bride’s parents through Sanskrit prayers and explained the symbolism behind the small flame, the flower garlands, and each part of the ceremony to the diverse crowd.
Weddings between Indian-American Hindus and non-Hindus are rare. But even if interfaith Hindu weddings are uncommon now, Dasa sees them as a growing trend. Bajpayee pointed out that many of his Hindu relatives had never understood what had been going on during their own weddings.
Dasa also worked with the couple to create a ceremony with more equal gender roles.
“One of the vows, literally if you translated it, was like, ‘As your wife I promise to cook you a hot meal every night,’” Young said, “I looked at it not with a lot of judgment, but I thought if I were to go through this, I wouldn’t want that.” Dasa knows not every Hindu would agree with his willingness to occasionally break traditions.
But he feels that adaptability is important for keeping millennia-old customs relevant.
She found his corpse two days later, washed up on the bank.
When she went to the police, they told her to go away.