RELIGION
06/03/2016 01:53 pm ET

This Hindu Couple's Remarkable Love Story Will Give You All The Feels

The universe had to do a lot of conspiring to bring these two together.

John McCane and his husband-to-be, Salaphaty Rao, live on opposite sides of the world -- McCane in Peebles, Ohio, and Rao in Melbourne, Australia. Against innumerable odds, faith (and Facebook) brought these two soulmates together.

Earlier this year, they got a chance to celebrate their remarkable love story in a deeply meaningful way -- with big, beautiful Hindu engagement ceremony. But much had to happen for them to get to that point. 

John McCane (left) and Salaphaty Rao at their engagement ceremony in Australia.
John W. McCane
John McCane (left) and Salaphaty Rao at their engagement ceremony in Australia.

McCane, 28, was raised as a Protestant Christian. He was exposed to Hindu philosophy and scripture during visits to India.

One of the things that drew him to Hinduism was how its scriptures have a history of accepting gender fluidity. Although politically and culturally, LGBT rights in India have a long way to go, ancient Hindu scriptures tell stories of gods who changed genders, gods who cross dressed, gods who were born from two males or two females, and gods who are of a "third sex."

Christian theology didn't seem to have a place for him. But Hinduism did. 

"For me, Christianity felt alienating .... especially living in a conservative area, it was very hard for me to connect with it," McCane told The Huffington Post. "But the gender fluidity [in Hinduism] was absolutely wonderful and that really hit a note with me." 

He eventually moved to India and began studying for priesthood in the Sri Vaishnava tradition, a denomination within Hinduism. When he returned to Ohio, McCane set up a worship space in his house, all the while dreaming of building a temple of his own in the future. 

McCane and Rao at Melbourne Pride 2016.
John W. McCane
McCane and Rao at Melbourne Pride 2016.

Oceans away, Rao was going through his own faith journey. The 23-year-old was born in Malaysia to a family of Indian heritage that, providentially, also followed the Sri Vaishnava tradition. Rao moved to Melbourne for college, and according to McCane, became deeply involved in the Hindu community there, often visiting people's houses to help them conduct ritual ceremonies.

Rao started connecting with other LGBT people through a Facebook group for LGBT Hindus -- the same group that McCane was involved with, back in the United States. One day, McCane posted a link that sparked Rao's interest, and the two started chatting. 

"The first time we talked, we talked for eight and a half hours straight," McCane told HuffPost. "It was such a bond, something that absolutely clicked between us."

The couple perform a fire sacrifice ceremony together. 
John W. McCane
The couple perform a fire sacrifice ceremony together. 

The pair met in person in India in 2013 and decided to take a train trip around the country to show each other their favorite places. 

"When we finally met, it was amazing, a breath of fresh air," McCane said. "There were some absolutely horrible parts when he became very ill and I had to take care of him, and other small adventures. It really helped us to grow together. [By the end of the trip,] there was enough of a connection that I was willing to try to do a long distance relationship." 

During the summer of 2015, Rao proposed to McCane during a trip to the United States. The couple wanted to make sure that Rao's family also had the opportunity to celebrate with them. 

So in February this year, Rao's family threw the couple a big engagement party. Since the pair couldn't find a priest willing to perform the ceremony, Rao did it himself.  

Rao's family and friends surround McCane during a procession.
John W. McCane
Rao's family and friends surround McCane during a procession.

McCane said that throughout it all, he was "floored" by the amount of support that Rao's family and friends showered on the couple. 

"His family was completely involved and supportive, from grandparents in their 80s and 70s, to middle-aged families, everyone, because they have an absolute love for him," McCane said. 

The couple is planning to have two weddings next year -- one in the U.S. and one either in Melbourne or India. McCane is hoping that Rao can eventually move to America so that they can live on the same continent for the first time. 

No matter what the future holds in store for them, McCane said that he and his husband-to-be share the same dream -- to open up an eco-sustainable temple and ashram that is welcoming to people of all faiths, sexual orientations, and gender expressions.

"It was very unique to meet someone else with that same dream," McCane said.

Scroll down for images from this couple's engagement ceremony.  

  • John McCane and&nbsp;Salaphaty Rao in&nbsp;Vrindavan, a holy village in India where the <a href="https://www.lonelyplanet.com
    John W. McCane
    John McCane and Salaphaty Rao in Vrindavan, a holy village in India where the Hindu god Krishna is said to have grown up.
  • Rose water, rice and sugar candy offered to each guest as they enter.
    John W. McCane
    Rose water, rice and sugar candy offered to each guest as they enter.
  • Some candid shots before the rituals begin.
    John W. McCane
    Some candid shots before the rituals begin.
  • Johns symbolic procession to Salaphaty’s family home.
    John W. McCane
    Johns symbolic procession to Salaphaty’s family home.
  • Salaphaty and his mother waiting to welcome John in and ward of the evil eye before the rituals.
    John W. McCane
    Salaphaty and his mother waiting to welcome John in and ward of the evil eye before the rituals.
  • Salaphaty’s mother (Simsalaram) removing the evil eye by waving a camphor flame (Dhrishti).
    John W. McCane
    Salaphaty’s mother (Simsalaram) removing the evil eye by waving a camphor flame (Dhrishti).
  • Salaphaty’s parents before the rituals begin.
    John W. McCane
    Salaphaty’s parents before the rituals begin.
  • . The beginning of the Niscayatartha. In the ritual we both promise to create a union and I (John) am accepted into Salaphaty
    John W. McCane
    . The beginning of the Niscayatartha. In the ritual we both promise to create a union and I (John) am accepted into Salaphaty’s family. Here our dear friends took the place of my own parents so that they could symbolically agree to have me join with my new family.
  • The auspicious Purnakumbha (ritual vessel) as well as offering that will be made and then distributed to the guests as well a
    John W. McCane
    The auspicious Purnakumbha (ritual vessel) as well as offering that will be made and then distributed to the guests as well as the box containing our engagement rings.
  • New clothes that we will wear after the rituals as well as flower garlands for us to signify our bond.
    John W. McCane
    New clothes that we will wear after the rituals as well as flower garlands for us to signify our bond.
  • As the couple&nbsp;found no priest willing to conduct the ceremony, Salaphaty, who is a fully trained priest, conducted the r
    John W. McCane
    As the couple found no priest willing to conduct the ceremony, Salaphaty, who is a fully trained priest, conducted the rituals himself.
  • Salapthaty’s parents offering a new set of clothing to John to welcome him into the family.
    John W. McCane
    Salapthaty’s parents offering a new set of clothing to John to welcome him into the family.
  • Salaphaty symbolically receiving new clothing as well.
    John W. McCane
    Salaphaty symbolically receiving new clothing as well.
  • After having changed the two partners now enter back into the hall to receive the blessing of everyone present.
    John W. McCane
    After having changed the two partners now enter back into the hall to receive the blessing of everyone present.
  • Everyone throws rice to bless us
    John W. McCane
    Everyone throws rice to bless us
  • The engaged now sit so that each attendee can come offering sandalwood paste, kum kum (Vermillion), rose water and rice to sy
    John W. McCane
    The engaged now sit so that each attendee can come offering sandalwood paste, kum kum (Vermillion), rose water and rice to symbolize their blessing on the promises made.
  • More Rice…
    John W. McCane
    More Rice…
  • Finally exchanging the engagement rings.
    John W. McCane
    Finally exchanging the engagement rings.
  • Eggless Cake cutting… not a part of the tradition but yummy
    John W. McCane
    Eggless Cake cutting… not a part of the tradition but yummy
  • Mehindi in a very traditional style was applied to both of our hands and feet.
    John W. McCane
    Mehindi in a very traditional style was applied to both of our hands and feet.
  • Exchanging garlands to solidify our promises
    John W. McCane
    Exchanging garlands to solidify our promises
  • Salaphaty giving John his garland.
    John W. McCane
    Salaphaty giving John his garland.
  • The happy couple.
    John W. McCane
    The happy couple.
  • The happy couple.
    John W. McCane
    The happy couple.
  • The happy couple.
    John W. McCane
    The happy couple.
HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
Interfaith Weddings
CONVERSATIONS