Priests turn matchmakers in Kerala’s testy matrimony market
ChavaraMatrimony, run by clergy from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala, seeks to break fallacies around marriage and help people find love and companionship in the marriage market despite society-labelled ‘imperfections
A fat woman virtually pushes her lean husband off the seat as she adjusts her weight behind him on the motorbike. The contrast is stark, but they are happily married.
She is smart and on the go. He is physically challenged and sits in a wheelchair. Together they have found marital bliss.
Caught in the rain on their D-day, the lanky bridegroom is doing a balancing act sharing an umbrella with his short bride. They are enjoying the moment together.
He is bald and greying. In contrast, she looks ravishing. But they know they made the right choice getting married.
A dark-complexioned man meets a fair-toned woman for marriage. He fears rejection because of his colour. When hearts unite colour does not matter.
All of the above are snappy television commercials created by an online matrimonial service in Kerala, driven by a passion to create good families.
Breaking the ‘imperfection’ narrative
Interestingly, the ads are engaging Malayalee viewers to re-examine stereotypes in marriages, to get them talking and even trolling vicariously on social media. It’s not just the visual content that has been grabbing eyeballs, even the tagline ‘Soul-mates: Finding Perfection in Imperfection’ has kicked up a storm. The ads sign off as ‘Chavara Matrimony.com – Connecting Hearts since 1996’.
In the testy waters of the marriage market, finding perfection in imperfections is a long shot. If you are dark-skinned, ‘unattractive’ by standards of society or carry a scar of any form, chances are you will not find takers on a matrimonial site. The question is who will debunk these fallacies around marriage to make the difference?
Celibates behind nuptial bonds
Hope springs from an unexpected quarter. Picking up the gauntlet to turn matchmaker is a section of the clergy from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala, discounting popular belief that celibate priests know nothing about marriage.
They launched ChavaraMatrimony.com in 1996, a Christian matrimonial website headquartered in Kochi, becoming pioneers in this space.
Twenty-five years later, the CMI (the order of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate) clergy are happy triggering a shift in how people are looking at hooking up. “What got us thinking are the several profiles lying untouched because clients only go for the ‘best’,” says Johnson C Abraham, Executive Director at ChavaraMatrimony.com. “We want to impress on prospective brides, grooms and their families that it’s okay not to be perfect,” he emphasises. “Marriages succeed when we iron out the warts and weather the storms together.”
Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara was the founder of the CMI order of priests. Saint Chavara spoke of how families with good values make the world a heavenly abode. That inspired late Father Job Myladiyil to start the online matchmaking service.
From sifting a handful of proposals out of a small room to begin with, Chavara Matrimony.com has grown into an enterprise with 26 regional offices spread across Kerala and an expansive global presence with Father Thomas Puthussery as its director and Father Anil Philip as associate director.
Starting off with a desktop computer and printouts, they have their own mobile app today, giving clients information at their finger-tips. “We need finances to keep the operations going,” says Johnson. More than 2 lakh marriages have been arranged on ChavaraMatrimony.com and there are some 80,000 viewers visiting the website every day.
Challenges, trolling galore
The journey, however, hasn’t been smooth. The matrimony company’s ads have come under fire with the detractors venting their ire on the clergy.
Do priests know enough to take the moral high ground in matrimonial matters? Critics have questioned.
Johnson clarifies that the clergy do not interfere in the day-to-day running of the website. They leave it to the staff to execute their vision of “service first.”
Johnson is mindful of keeping away from controversy. When the ads get trolled on social media, they take them off the air or revise the content adequately to appease the hatemongers. “We are happy we’ve got people talking,” he reasons.
Free services for the differently abled
ChavaraMatrimony.com is getting bigger and better. Taking forward their social responsibility, Chavara Empower Matrimony.com was launched in 2019 to help differently abled persons from various communities find life partners. The 35+ Express Membership is for the older candidates looking to marry and the Undergraduate Membership targets finding partners for the less-educated prospects.
These services are totally free. The portal’s talk show, ‘Matchmaker: Let’s Talk Family’ debates on subjects around marriage. Johnson has more plans under his belt waiting to be unveiled.
The data bank has over 2 lakh testimonials of married couples. Take Davis and Caroline’s for instance. They met on the Chavara platform and love blossomed. “Ours was an arranged marriage, yet we felt like lovebirds – the best of both,” David recalls dreamily. The portal played Cupid for Joseph and wife Jess, too. The video chats online before they met in person were the perfect icebreaker, they say.
Trust is the key here. “The presence of the clergy ups our credibility,” affirms Johnson. Meanwhile, every day is a new challenge at ChavaraMatrimony.com as it strives to find soul-mates who bring out the best in each other.