Last updated: 12 february, 2010 - 10:58 GMT

Netrimony: how to find love online

Indian wedding

Anita and Jagdish met in the traditional way - but increasingly partnerships are happening online

Millions of people around the world have met partners online - either looking for a brief liaison or a full life partnership.

BBC World Service takes an inside look at the world's biggest marriage agency to show how internet dating and marriage-making is changing who we love and the way we love.

Stories from people who had met this way were broadcast on click Outlook. You can also listen to the click Netrimony documentary.

Rajini Vaidyanathan travelled across India to follow couples who have met in this way. This is her diary.

The traditional way

As part of the SuperPower series I've been looking at the role the internet plays in helping people find love in India.

I've spent time in Mumbai in India speaking to people who've married after meeting a match online - and lonely hearts who are hoping to virtually "click" with someone. But I've also been meeting people who think the traditional - non web - route is the best.

The question I'm trying to answer is simple - how is the internet changing marriage in India, and indeed beyond.

Meeting online

The wedding industry has always been booming in India, so it follows in many ways that the online matrimonial sites are big business too.

There are all sorts of online marriage sites available to those seeking a perfect match.

During the course of my travels I met people who'd met on sites including click Jeevansathi, click Nimatrimony, click Bharatmatrimony and click simplymarry... but the website that is most synonymous with online matrimonials is click

Shaadi means wedding, and the website - the worlds largest matrimonial service - claims credit for more than 1.3 million marriages.

The company which started out in 1996 has helped to define the online wedding business in India, and beyond. It is widely used by the Indian community abroad, including in the UK and USA.

Its offices in the Wurli district of Mumbai are unassuming for a company with such a global profile. We climb two flights of stairs to enter the office of Gaurav Rakshit, head of business development for the company.

You can watch some of what he told us here:

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For the uninitiated, online matrimonial sites like Shaadi offer lonely hearts the chance to search for a partner from an extensive database.

Gaurav tells me that there are as many as 10 million people using their site, and that thousands of people sign up every month.

A site such as Shaadi allows people to be very specific about what they're looking for.

Not only can you pick someone from the same part of India as you, but you can specify what caste you want them to be, how much they earn, what they do, how well educated they are, and what their Indian horoscope is.

The list of attributes is similar to what a traditional Indian matchmaker, or parent arranging a marriage might be looking out for, so in many ways these specifications allow Indians to continue with tradition using modern technology.

It begs the question - do websites like these break down, or conform to traditions?

Gaurav tells me that despite Shaadi allowing people to select their chosen caste, more than half of those searching online choose the box which says "caste no bar" - a sign he says that India is moving away from those pre-requisites for a life partner.

More than one third of those creating profiles on Shaadi are parents looking for a match for their child. Tradition has it that parents who want to arrange a mariage in India would ask family and friends if they knew of any suitable partners for their children. Sites like Shaadi give families a much wider pool of suitors to choose from.

So to some extent, online matrimonial sites are simply a new take on an old tradition - but there are some innovations.

These sites allow you to specify whether you've been married or not before - and even whether you have a physical deformity.

Such categories have opened up the dating market in India. A divorcee can now go online and look for another divorcee to marry - in fact there are even online marriage sites devoted to just that.

There's still a huge stigma to divorce, let alone remarriage after divorce in India; sites like these claim some part in breaking down those barriers.

That's equally true of the role such sites play in helping people with physical and mental disabilities to meet someone who might share a similar plight.

All the dating companies I've spoke to have told me the same thing - online matrimonials aren't about dating for datings sake - they're there to help people find their life partners.

So that means they're traditional, right? Or are they? Next stop - finding people who've found love in this way.

Match made in cyberspace

There are many who are sceptical about putting themselves online, baulking at the idea of revealing your salary, skin colour, caste and profession even before you've met someone face to face. Then there's the stigma - however wrong that might be - that internet dating amounts to some sort of desperation; that you've failed to find someone in a romantic introduction.

But then I met couples who have met online, and who are so in love, that any sense that the internet has somehow compromised romance, vanishes.

Watch Watch Rajini's video, From Cyberspace With Love

Take Nikhil and Jueli from Mumbai. They met through an internet matrimonial site. Both had spent years trying to find a match through introductions from their parents, and family friends.

As a last resort they decided to sign up online. Both wanted a partner who came from a similar cultural and religious background, but who, on top of all that, shared a similar outlook on life.

For Nikhil, a photographer, that meant being with someone who also worked in a creative industry. Jueli, who is a fashion designer, really is his perfect match. For them it was fate that brought them together. Fate which was gently nudged along thanks to the internet.

Netrimony will be broadcast on BBC World Service's Outlook programme from 8 March 2010. The documentary was broadcast on 10 March 2010.

SuperPower: Exploring The Internet

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