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A matchmaking tradition with an up-to-date twist

Artfully crafted bios, often written by parents, aid the search for a perfect mate.

December 26, 2008|Raja Abdulrahim

Gujarati parents of 25-year-old Brahman boy, NRI (nonresident Indian) living in the United States, working in management, seek suitable match with Brahman girl.

Send photo and biodata.

It wasn't how Dhaval Thaker, 27, expected to meet his wife. Born in India but raised in Artesia, Thaker assumed he would find his soul mate on his own.

But two years ago, while Thaker was in India, his parents posted a matrimonial ad in a local newspaper. About 30 women, or rather their parents, sent him their matrimonial resumes, or "biodata." Thaker initially objected, but his parents insisted. It was tradition.

"To me, biodata is just a piece of paper with information," Thaker said. "I didn't really believe in it."

Part resume, part personal ad and part family tree, biodata can cut through the time-consuming process of finding a spouse by turning it into something akin to a job interview: What are his qualifications? Is she a good match? What is his income potential?

Used primarily by South Asians in arranged marriages, biodata emphasizes compatibility, education and family history, including caste, more than romance. There are also physical factors to be considered, such as complexion and, occasionally, blood type.

Even among assimilating South Asian Americans like Thaker, the exchange of biodata is popular. In fact, some believe that the deeply rooted tradition is on the rise in part because of the rapid pace of modern life and the increasing popularity of matrimonial websites.

Still, it can require a bit of research.

Thaker, a manager at an Artesia ice cream shop, remembers feeling frustrated after interviewing numerous spousal candidates whose biodata proved less than interesting. But there was one resume that appealed to the former DJ. It was from a Patel woman (a lower caste than Brahman), who seemed outgoing and loved music.

"She was probably the last one [I saw]," Thaker said of Jignasa. "It was like love at first sight. . . . I was like, whoa!"

That was Sept. 15, 2006. Less than two months later, they were married in a wedding ceremony in India.

For those who share Thaker's initial reluctance, meeting prospective spouses either through the exchange of biodata or with the help of their parents can become increasingly attractive with age.

"A lot of people that might have been against it in their early 20s rationalize it in their 30s when they realize that it's no different than a personal ad," said Purnima Mankekar, a women's and South Asian studies professor at UCLA.

Generations ago, South Asian marriages were less complicated; people married neighbors or distant relatives. As India became more urbanized and people moved abroad to work, families found themselves in unfamiliar communities where finding compatible spouses became trickier, Mankekar said.

Relatives and friends turned into matrimonial search parties and the cross-country exchange of biodata became more common.

Unlike personal ads and popular Internet dating websites that rely heavily on personal information, biodata is largely focused on family history, Mankekar said. That's because it is based on the premise that marriage is not a union between two individuals but between two families.


Updating the old tradition

Rhythm Shah, 28, hoped to meet a wife while attending San Jose State University. But after graduation, he was still single.

Encouraged by friends and family, he drafted his own biodata and posted it on, a popular matrimonial website based in India.

"What else can you do?" Shah said. "Finding a life partner, you can't do that in a club."

Shaadi, which means wedding in Urdu, was founded by Anupam Mittal in 1997 after he met a marriage broker in India who went door to door carrying biodata in his suitcase. Mittal figured an online forum would increase a person's chances of finding the right mate. Today, the website boasts more than 12 million users and more than 800,000 marriages.

Despite being able to chat or use the "express interest" button with other singles, the website's profiles diverge little from what has been exchanged on paper for decades. Among the "about me" and "hobbies" sections are the more traditional questions about family values and parents' education, Hindu horoscope signs, married siblings and mother tongue.

" caters mostly to the South East Asian community who are quite traditional in their approach," Anjan Saikia, North American manager for the site, said in an e-mail. "People are moving to other forms of connecting and communication and hence there has been a rise in online matrimony in the last decade."

Though biodata is associated primarily with arranged marriages, the increasing popularity of matrimonial websites -- the others include and -- has prompted some singles to post their own information.

Others think serving as their own matchmaker carries a whiff of desperation. For those, allowing parents to post anonymous matrimonial ads may be preferable.

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