Ghatak Literally one who makes things happen, but socially one who takes to marriage negotiations professionally. He is a middleman who establishes links between the two parties in a marriage. In the past it was not the custom of Indian society, especially of Bengali society, to allow boys and girls to mix freely. This is why the services of ghataks were widely used to arrange marriages. Many ghataks were professionals, and matchmaking was their source of livelihood. When the matchmaking resulted in a wedding, the ghatak used to be rewarded by both parties.

In the past, educated and respectable people used to take up matchmaking as a profession. They were known as 'kulacharya' and used to maintain books with detailed histories of families. Some of these books have been used as sources for writing the history of Bengal. Some of the well-known matchmakers were Edu Mishra, Hari Mishra (c 13th century), Dhruvananda Mishra, Devivar Ghatak (15th century) and Nulo Panchanan (18th century). They used to enjoy a great deal of social prestige.

It seems these matchmakers had a major role in establishing casteism in Bengal. While considering the marriages of their sons and daughters, people used to look for brides and grooms from higher castes. But this information was available only with the matchmakers who used to maintain a complete record of different families.

In Bangladesh professional matchmakers belonged to many communities. brahman matchmakers were the largest in number. There were also women matchmakers. Matchmakers used to perform an important social responsibility by collecting and providing information and helping establish social contacts. The matchmakers also helped keep birth records.

Modern education and the inroads of foreign culture have greatly reduced the need for matchmakers today. Professional matchmakers have almost disappeared. Today, young men and women meet and often fall in love and decide to get married without any external aid. Social customs, however, still prevent young people from arranging their own marriages and planning their weddings. Go-betweens, often friends or relatives, make the formal contact between the two families. Matters relating to the date of the wedding, the amount of dower or din mohr in case of Muslim marriages, formal gifts to the bride and the groom are often conveyed by go-betweens. Though these days quite a number of young men and women are choosing their partners themselves, many still have to rely on go-betweens. Instead of going to professional ghataks, however, they seek the help of friends or relations.

Though the professional ghatak is disappearing, the need for his services remains. In Dhaka as well as in other towns, several organisations have started to do the work previously done by ghataks. There are also a number of websites on the internet which have been set up for this purpose. These websites carry advertisements with photographs and full bio-data of brides and grooms. Matchmaking organisations initially charge a small fee for membership and then charge full fees if a marriage is fixed. [Sambaru Chandra Mohanta]

See also kulaji.