Mr. Janardhan Singh Pathania retired as a Drilling Engineer in 1991, worked for many years in fields for the exploration of Oil & Gas, Ground-water and Minerals all over India. History and languages are his favorite subjects. In 1976, he attended the 1st World Roma Festival at Chandigarh, which inspired him to learn Romani language. In 1983 the 2nd World Roma Festival took place at Chandigarh, there he made his maiden speech in Romani which was very much appreciated by Roma. He has got published many of his Romani poems and articles in European Romani magazines. He attended International Symposium on Romani language at Sarajevo in 1986 and read his paper on “Standard International Romani language”. He participated in IRU and WRO conferences and Roma Conference in 2001 at New Delhi. He is currently working on standardization and grammar of Romani language and its dialects. <>


Roma and Hindu Common Customs & Traditions
Ranging from Birth to Death

- Janardhan Singh Pathania

I have heard from varioua Roma/Gypsy people about the Roma people’s way of life from the birth of a child to his journey into old age and death. I have compared all these old Roma customs and traditions with the north Indian Hindu customs and traditions.

Birth Rituals

1. When a Romni (Gypsy-woman) delivers a child she does so in a separate room or tent. She is also declared as a polluted woman for forty days by the Roma/Gypsy society and she is prohibited to touch anybody. She is confined with her infant to live in a separate -tent or room. In comparison to this Roma custom, the Indian Hindu woman also delivers the baby in a separate place and is declared polluted for twenty days and she too is not allowed to touch anybody.
2. Then after forty days the Romni (Gyp-woman) takes a cleansing bath wherein she puts on clean clothes and her infant too is cleaned. After this ceremony they Molisaren i.e. pray to God and following which the senior Gypsy women tie a Red-thread on the wrist of the mother and child. Similarly the Hindu woman after twenty days of giving birth too bathes and cleans herself and her infant. Thereafter she prays to God and a red-thread which is called ‘Mauli’ is tied to her wrist and that of the infant.
3. Gypsy women at night keep a burning candle or a lamp near the bed of the sleeping mother and child. The Indian Hindu women also do just the same as the Gypsy women do to ward off the evil spirits from mother and child.
4. The Gypsy women consider a weeping infant to be under an evil spell when it cries incessantly and immediately she takes to tending it. When the child suddenly starts weeping and crying loudly, the Indian Hindu women too jump to the conclusion that their infant has been attacked by an Evil spirit.   
5. The Gypsy women use amulets and other Magical objects to keep away Ghosts and other Evil spirits from the mother and child for they believe that both are susceptible to their evil spells. The Indian Hindu women also use amulets and magical objects and charms to ward off the same.
 6. The Gypsy woman puts a Kalakh/black-soot on her child’s fore-head to ward off the evil eye and evil spirits. The Hindu Indian women also apply ‘Kalakh’ in a similar fashion on the fore-head of her child.
7. The Gypsy woman always holds her child to her breast and never to the back , which is familiar with the Indian Hindu woman’s way.

Roma /Gypsy Life

1. The Roma life is full of travelling from place to place with their wagons/vordona and tentage. The Indian nomads like Banjaras and Gaddi-Lohars and some others tribes also move the same way from place to place with their carts and tentage.
2. The Gypsy people do odd small jobs such as those of Black-smiths, Copper-smiths, Wooden-tool makers, Carpenters, Herbal medicine men, Horse Trainers and traders. They are Bear and Monkey handlers/trainers, Peddlers, tinkers, Magicians, Musicians, Singers, Dancers, etc.etc. The Indian people also do such jobs like the Gypsy people.
3. For marriage the Roma/Gypsy use a middle man to look for a match for their child’s marriage. If the matchmaking is successful the gypsy call it ‘Xanamika’, which signifies the meeting and agreeing of the boy’s and the girl’s family for marriage. Thereafter they immediately declare that their children are engaged known as ‘Mangipi’, which is called ‘Mangni’ in Indian Hindustani language. They pay money to the girl’s father i.e. bride price and purchase the girl. Earlier the Indian people also used to pay money for the bride like the Gypsy people. However now this practice exists in India only among the illiterate people, in far off remote areas and more often among the tribals.
4. The Roma/Gypsy marriage is celebrated with all the pomp and show, even they borrow money and sell their land for celebrating the marriage of their sons. The Hindus in India also do the same way.
5. The Roma people on the wedding -night have the verginity-test. In past the Indian nomadic tribal people also used to have this custom but it is no more now.
6. When a Gypsy man and woman become old, their social status is elevated whereby they become more important and command a lot of social respect. They head their big joint families and social groups. All the major decisions are taken by this Head of the family i.e. the old man and woman. A similar practice like those of the Gypsy people of Europe also exists among the Indian nomadic and other tribal people. 

Romano Meripe / Gypsy Death

1. When a Roma-Gypsy man dies, his dead body is left alone in a room or a small tent. The children of the deceased family are taken either to their uncles, cousins, or neighbour’s house away from the deceased person’s body. Indian village Hindu people too have similar practices.
2. The Roma dead body is left alone in the room and the window of the room is kept a little open. They keep a tumbler full of water in the window inside the room for the dead man’s soul to drink. A belief that it is the last drinking of water by the departed soul and thereafter the door of the room is shut. The Hindu people also do like this they too put a Jug (Garhvi) full of water near the dead body, for his soul to have the last drinking of water.
3. The Roma give to the dead man’s soul, his last food, for his onward journey to God. They keep a plate full of flour near the dead body. The Indian Hindu people also put a plate full of flour and some other eatables near the dead body like the Roma people for his onward journey to God.
4. The whole night Roma people sit near the dead body and maintain a night vigil. They talk all good things in praise of the deceased and sing a dirge with his eldest son. They weep loudly and bitterly to show that they are in mourning and feel the loss of the deceased. Indian Hindus also do the same but in their case the women weep loudly and bitterly. In the past they would sing dirge and only women used to beat their breasts but Hindu men will not do any such thing, they will only weep silently.
5. In the morning the Roma people like Hindus see if the water in the tumbler is a little empty or the plate of flour kept near by the deceased has some finger or some other prints on it. They feel that these signs show whether the soul of the deceased has taken his last food and water and has, thus, left for his last journey to God.
6. In case of Roma in the morning wagon i.e. ‘vordon’ comes to take the dead body to the cemetery for burial in the grave yard. Whence the dead body is put in the grave, little splinter pieces of wood are put into the grave atop the deceased person’s body and thereafter, he is buried. The Indian Hindu people also have corresponding customs of death rites.The Hindus don’t bury their dead but cremate their dead. They set the dead body on a heap of woods and add bits and splinter pieces of wood to it, thereafter, they alight the pyre to finally cremate the deceased. All this is done so as per the old Hindu-custom.
7. The Roma of Romania also put wooden-bits on the dead body like the Hindus of India, then they burry their dead for now they have converted to Islam and Christianity and they follow the customs of these religions but have stuck on to their old and original rite of putting wooden -bits on the deceased person. However, the Hindus in India still continue with this age old practice of putting wooden splinters on the dead body and then setting it alight.
8. After the burial of the dead, the Roma people light a match stick over their head and then don’t look back to the grave the Hindus also do the same way but instead of burning match-stick, they throw a wooden -splinter over their head and don’t look back.
9. Then the Roma people before going back to their home, they do dusting of their clothes by slaping their own hands on their dress. The Hindus of India also do the same, but instead of dusting of their clothes, they take a bath or wash their hands and faces and sprinkle water on their heads and then go back to their home.  
10. In the end I would say that Roma/Gypsies in the alien western lands converted to the local religions, which, were alien to their original-religion, whence they departed from India. Even now centuries later, away from their original homeland the Gypsies knowingly or unknowingly have retained their cultural-ties with centuries old Hindu customs and traditions.
11. Roma people give annually a big-feast in honour of their dead called “Pomana” and the Indian-Hindus also do the same way and call this annual feast as “Sharadh”.
12. There is no doubt that Roma still have their very old Indian Hindu-customs and traditions and this is a big proof with us that the fore-fathers of Roma were Hindus and their mother country was INDIA.
13. The mother-tongue of Roma is called Romani - Jib which is an oral-language for the communication purposes and it is from the old Indian “Prakrit-Group of languages”. Now in India all the Prakrits have died and there is only one living Prakrit in the whole world and that is “Romani-Jib” which is now spoken in far off alien -lands and where it is gasping for its survival.
The actual-name of the Romani language was “Ramni-Bhasha”, which later changed in alien-lands from “Ramni-Bhasha” to “Romani-jib” and then the word “Jibh” / language took many forms in many countries such as :
Jivah, Jibh, Jib, Chib, Chhib, Chip, Shib, Ship, Kip…etc.
(Note: Tongue=Jivah [skt] <(Jibh <Jib <Chib <Chhib <Chip <Shib <Ship <Kip” [rom]).  

I personally feel it is the duty of all the Romani-Linguists of INDIA and alien -lands to voluntarily come forward without looking for any Award & Reward, Name & Fame, and save this an old India’s only living Prakrit language called “Romani-Jib” from its extinction, with which all the Indo-Aryan group of languages and Dialects of Indian-Sub-Continent are directly or indirectly connected.

© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Spring 2016)