Bharat Matrimony.com is an India-based website that combines the services of a traditional wedding broker with the global reach and variety featured in the hottest online dating services.
In most typical dating websites on the Internet, single men and women log on to read the profiles and gaze at the photos of other singles, hoping for romantic good times and possibly more. But Bharat Matrimony.com exists solely to connect prospective Indian brides and grooms - anywhere in the world. The six-year-old company, which has offices in India and nine other nations, claims to have brought 100,000 Indian couples to the altar worldwide.
"The whole focus of our business is to make marriages happen," said Seema Singh-Zokarkar. "It's a very very big service to our community, I would say it's an ancient thing done in a modern way."
Seema Singh-Zokarkar oversees Bharat Matrimony.com's American operations. She says the company actually manages 14 websites - one for each of India's major languages. Ms. Zokarkar notes that one's language group is a key affiliation among India's diverse peoples.
"A Punjabi boy would like to get married to a Punjabi girl," she said. "A Gujarati girl would like to meet a Gujarati boy. That's a natural preference. They can be of different castes, but language plays a very important role. So we have based our website on the basis of this." There are many other factors prospective mates can relate about themselves or search for in others. Ms. Zokarkar types a sample profile into the computer and initiates a search for possible matches, complete with photos.
With a pool of over one million men and women to choose from, chances are excellent of finding a suitable mate. Things certainly worked out for Bhaskar Ganguli, a south Indian software engineer living in New Jersey, and Chanrani, a Calcutta schoolteacher. They learned about each other on Bharat Matrimony.com's website, and became sufficiently intrigued to exchange emails, then finally meet. Soon, arranged to marry - all within weeks.
"That's correct, absolutely! Because I have an artistic background and it was very worthy for me to get a person who at least appreciates art, Bhaskar Ganguli said. "And in the ad I made that preference and that aided me tremendously to get a girl I wanted."
"Similarly, I wanted somebody who had that artistic bend of mind, Chanrani said. "And over time when I couldn't get a proper match in my city, then I started searching over the Internet."
Journalist Nina Mehta is researching a book about traditional marriages. She says that when compared with professional matchmakers or personal contacts, which deal with mainly local connections, the Internet's global reach and convenience offer huge advantages for singles with marriage on their mind.
"It's international," she said. "So people who live in different cultures have a way of meeting. And many people who have arranged marriages are willing to move somewhere for someone else. So you don't have to look for someone just in your own community or your own town or a town that is an hour away by car. They can look for someone in another continent. That's a lot easier to do online. And the Internet also holds out the promise of anonymity."
Bharat Matrimony.com offers other modernizing influences. For example, the website forbids any mention of a dowry - the price a girl's family was traditionally asked to pay a boy's family for the match. "If the girl's parents are giving something willingly, it's a different issue," said Seema Singh Zokarkar. "But when the boy's family or the boy insists on getting something from the girl's family, it is no good. Then it's like you are buying the boy."
The website does retain certain elements of traditional matchmaking, in particular, the involvement of the family. Parents and siblings are often intimately involved in writing the profiles, vetting marital inquiries, and proposing possible matches.
"Finally, in Indian society, it's the blessings of parents that matter," Bhaskar Ganguli explains. "In Indian society, marriage is not just marrying to an individual but to families." Advocates for traditional marriages cite at least two benefits to family involvement. First, prospective mates are carefully scrutinized for qualities that a young man or woman might not focus on. And because family members have a stake in the match, they tend to give more emotional support to the couple after they are married.
As a young Westerner, journalist Nina Mehta was initially offended by the marketplace quality of traditional matchmaking, but she soon realized that even her freewheeling New York friends went to singles bars looking for certain qualities in the opposite sex.
"They may not always spell them out in their minds," she said. "But they do in other, more subtle ways by the places they go, by certain kinds of bars or certain looks, or the music people listen to, [or] the clothes they wear. People have different ways of making judgments about what someone's personality or background is like whether they admit it or however subtle they may be. The idea is the same. Ideally, you want someone you feel intimately connected with, someone that you could potentially marry."
In the West, one is expected to fall in love, then make a commitment. In India and other traditional cultures, one makes the commitment first, and hopes that true love will follow. But now, thanks to the Internet, it has become possible to mix and match.