Will the Saptapadi Shape Our Marriages?
HAF's Board member and co-founder, Dr. Aseem Shukla's response to yet another question ("What role, if any, should religious institutions, traditions or beliefs have in the legal act of marriage?") reflects my stance for the current times.
But when I think of marriage in the Hindu-American context, it is not about history or the current context of same-sex marriage; it is of interfaith marriage, and especially the future. The Saptapadi—seven steps that the bride and groom take together around the sacred fire—refers to procreation. This ritual, beautifully described by the character of Gandhi in Richard Attenborough's biographical movie, is a common thread in all Hindu marriages, even most interfaith ones. The bride and groom take seven steps and make seven promises to one another, including that they will care for their children, but there is no clear mention in the vow of what faith the child or children will be.
Friends and acquaintances alike have had interfaith weddings, with events or rituals from both the bride's and groom's religious traditions. I have saved the pamphlets distributed at American Hindu weddings that explain the significance of the Hindu rituals, and appreciate when they clearly spell out the seven vows taken with the seven steps. And I wonder how they will incorporate both faiths into their lives, especially in regard to raising children.
There are a myriad of ways to celebrate one holiday, with a multitude of languages and cultures that are intertwined within the various Hindu sampradaya (traditions, similar to denominations). Hindus don't have a single set of beliefs, or a single scriptural text, so what will the couple teach their children about the Hindu faith? Will the child or children be Hindu, especially when one parent's faith doesn't prescribe conversion or adherence to a particular set of beliefs, and the other's does? And I realize that I think more about interfaith marriages because they will impact the continuity of Hindus and Hinduism in America.
Padma Kuppa is a writer, IT professional, community activist, wife, and mother working to build a more pluralistic society within a Hindu and interfaith framework. You can also read her blog A Balancing Act, at padmakuppa.blogspot.com. The views represented in this column are not a reflection of the views of any organization of which she is a part.