With more and more people content to let Internet play cupid, it is the wedding websites that are living happily ever after.
After overtaking the postman, the Internet began to take over the role of the traditional marriage broker as is evident from the surfeit of matchmaking portals on the web.
According to Charoo Walia, 31, finding her better half was a cakewalk. The Mumbai-based girl had registered her profile in a wedding portal—shaadi .com—and soon found her prince charming in businessman Gurmeet.
"Everything happened fast and smooth. It was his family that approached us after going through my profile and within six days I found myself engaged to Gurmeet. That was the best thing that could have happened to me," Walia told.
The sites not only provide profiles of prospective brides and grooms but also offer a plethora of value-added services like caste-based profiles, horoscope matching, wedding directory and other such services.
Murugavel Janakiraman, chief of Chennai-based BharatMatrimony.com, said: "Online matchmaking is now one of the most popular mediums for getting married. With the growth of PC penetration and the phenomenal popularity of the Internet, it has grown exponentially over the last few years."
"In fact, it has been growing at a rate of 100 per cent over the last couple of years."
The site, which claims to be a pioneer in the business, boasts of 7.5 million registered members.
Two leading global companies—Yahoo! Inc. and Canaan Partners—have invested $ 8.65 million in BharatMatrimony.com, as the company sketches out some major expansion plans.
"We have plans to open offices in Britain and in key Southeast Asian markets to cater to the Indian diaspora and to open up religion and country-based matrimony portals," said Janakiraman.
Other matrimonial sites, like jeevansathi.com and shaadi.com, are also on an expansion binge to cater to the Indian diaspora.
Sanjeev Bikhchandani, chief of Info Edge India Ltd that acquired a 100 per cent stake in jeevansathi.com in September 2004, said: "We have recently launched our first overseas venture to cater to the Gulf market based in Dubai."
Chairman and managing director of shaadi.com Anupam Mittal said: "We have offices in the US, Britain and the UAE. We are in the process of opening offices in other countries with a sizeable Indian population."
Mittal ventured into the business in 1997 with the vision of "making it a destination where people could meet potential life partners without the barriers of time and distance", he said over telephone from Mumbai.
The diaspora market seems to be the next coveted area of operation for these virtual cupids.
Stressed Janakiraman, "For NRI communities, Internet is the best possible option when it comes to finding a life partner from their community."
There are also sites that provide platforms in search format where prospective brides and grooms can interact with each other. One such site is matchmaker.rediff.com with a self-explanatory tag line, "Where progressive Indians find their match".
"We are not really a matchmaking site and we also do not believe in caste-based searches. The country is progressing, so the youngsters need to look for psychological compatibility and not caste-based matchmaking," said Rediff.com India chief Ajit Balakrishnan.
"Of every 100 Internet users, only six per cent visit matrimonial sites," Balakrishnan said quoting Comscore Media Metrix, a global source for Internet audience measurement.
People in the age group of 20-30 years, who constitute a large percentage of the population, are actively seeking partners. "This means there is a huge potential market that is waiting to be addressed," he added.
The flourishing business also depends largely on various offline initiatives.
BharatMatrimony.com, which rolled over 50 centres since last year, plans to open up 300 more by March 2008. The company also forecast that it would contribute 30 per cent to the group's total turnover.
Similarly, Shaadi Point, an offline business venture of shaadi.com, currently has a network of 100 retail outlets across 67 cities in India. The company has designs to increase them to 500 by 2009.
The portals offer both free and paid registration, with the latter entailing more features and advantages.
Chennai-based Manikandan Parthasarathi, 32, who registered his profile in BharatMatrimony.com for Rs 750, said: "I wish I had paid more for the happy married life I got due to BharatMatrimony."
So why are these matrimonial websites so popular with people in the 24-35 age group?
Parthasarathi said: "I prefer matrimonial websites to the supplements brought out by leading newspapers because newspapers are informative not interactive."
Agreed Walia: "These sites are the best way to go if you are sincere and determined to find your knight in shining armour sitting in your own home."