Mr. Surinder Narain Mathur is a retired Major from the Indian Army and an engineer by profession. He served Indian Army for over twenty years and had the opportunity to participate in Indo-Pak war of 1971 at “Chicken Neck” sector in J&K. He had been a good sportman and created a maritime hostory for India by circumnavigatiing Earth as member of, “The First Indian Sailing Expedition around the World on 37 footer yacht Trishna in 470 days, in 1985-87. He held the post of Chariman, Rajthan State Sports Council. He was also honoured with Gallantry Award, “Sena Medal”. He is presently involved in cultural and social upliftment of weaker sention of the society in India and abroad. <snmathur15@yahoo.co.uk>


 
 

Tracing Roma Roots

- Major S. N. Mathur, S.M.(Retd)
 

Roma sounds like people from Rome. This word has no familiarity in India, the country of their origin. The word is common in Europe or other parts of the world. In India they are called Gadulia Lohar or Labadi etc. depending upon their original group. They are the nomadic people, well known for travelling on their bullock carts with their bag and baggage. One can find them in any part of India migrating from one place to other for their living. They are mostly seen with blacksmith work, making and sharpening knifes or other metal artefacts. Of late, with less demand of their local products due to modernisation, they are also seen with scraped or discarded metal parts of automobiles. Most of them have no land of their own and would prefer to lead nomadic life. They go through great hardships due to uncongenial climates.


In India most people connect Roma history with the state of Rajasthan and especially with the Kingdom of “Maharana Pratap”, of “Sisodiya” dynasty, who ruled “Chittor”. He fought against the Muslim rulers to protect his kingdom. He is acknowledged as one of the bravest of all Hindu Kings of India who not only defended his kingdom but also fought bravely the foreign invaders. He is the only king titled “Maharana” in India, which means the greatest of all Kings. The Roma’s in India were amongst the bravest fighting clans called “Rajput” and were the most loyal for the “Sisodia” dynasty. Chittor is even today the place of inspiration for all Indians. The fort of Chittor has been acknowledged as the largest fort of the world and a world heritage site by UNESCO. Legendary stories of King “Maharana Pratap”, fighting Mughals, can even be heard in folk lore’s and songs. The kingdom that was established by king “Bappa Rawal” was most democratically ruled and lasted longest in the Indian history. The statue of king “Maharana Pratap” can be seen in almost every town in India. The legendry history of Rani (Queen) Padmani, the noble women and thousands of loyal mates, immolated for dignity and honour is unparalleled in the world history.


The Roma’s in “Sisodia” dynasty were not only fighting solders but were equally skilled in making armoury for the army. They were the best metal workers to make swords, lances and all kinds of weapons and artefacts used by the army. The Indian swords made by them were amongst the best in the world and were much in demand from other rulers. Their skill in metallurgy attracted many and may have been the reasons of migrations to the other parts of the world. But the most prevalent historical evidences of their migration were after the defeat of their King at Chittor. Being loyal to their King and the Kingdom they took vows for dignity and decided to return only after the fort of Chittor was taken back from the enemy. Those who had faster means to travel travelled fastest and farthest and others perhaps made homes on bullock carts and looked for safe shelters. The vows were the main reason that they travelled like nomads and were then called Gypsy. The territorial boundaries were no bindings then, to travel far. Even today we can see them in India along the road sides in villages, doing metal work for their earning. Knowing the historical background, they are not looked down upon by the Indian society but at the same time they also avoid mixing around locally. They still celebrate festivals and perform marriages as per their traditions.


My parental organisation works for the tribes in India and we are aware of the fact that the Roma’s have the ST “Scheduled Tribes” status in many states in India and therefore we run many welfare schemes for them. The government has tried to settle them down, to prosper and lead a happy and dignified life. They are spread all over India. We run schools and hostels for their children. At Sitargang in Uttrakhand they are called Tharu, settled along the Indo Nepal boarder and the place is called “Bara Rana” and it means a place of twelve knights. They must have come and settled here. Their living style and traditions are that of royal clans. On 15 Feb 2015, our organisation gathered Eighty thousand (80,000) Tharu tribes at Sitargang. This was a great event. We run many projects for their welfare in Andhra Pradesh too. There they are called Labari or Banjara etc.


My first interaction with European Roma came when I met a British couple and the lady was Roma. We invited them to India and took them to a village near Chittor, where around hundred families of Roma are settled. The villagers made very special traditional dresses for them. People welcomed them and dressed them up like a bride and a bridegroom and took them to the village temple of God “Baba Ramdev” and ceremonies were performed. There was a big gathering in the village. There were served traditional food. The lady then confirmed with proud that her ancestors left India five generations before. She was most excited and happy to be amongst us.


Couple of years later a Spanish Roma visited and was keen to know their roots. I offered them to travel to Chittor with me and he happily accepted. At Chittor while moving up to the main fort we could show him a board at the foothills on which the ten vows taken by the Roma’s are written. We showed him the temples of deities worshiped by Roma’s and offerings are made to them. The palaces, historical monuments, the place where the noble women immolated themselves for dignity attracted him the most. We also narrated him the stories of bravery of their King “Maharana Pratap”. In the evening we were welcomed by the Roma villagers. He spoke to them in the local dialect which is still prevalent in Spain. He spoke words like Aak (Eyes), Kaan (Ears) , Naak (Nose), Chora (Boy), Chori (Girl), Tato Hai (it is hot) etc. and were understood by us all. We, at home use the same words like, “Pani Tato Hai”, which means “water is hot”. The most important of all was when Vicente mentioned that they always prayed to the goddess “Aae Lacha Matta” in Spain. This came as a surprise to most of us. The village elder confirmed that their Kul Devi (Goddess of Roma) is “Aae Lacha Matta”. The village elder was also surprised to know that a person from Spain was asking about their goddess, whereas Roma’s in India have almost forgotten this goddess. The elder said that this goddess is our “Kul Devi” and there is a very ancient temple of this goddess on top of the Chittor fort. The elder also mentioned that this temple existed even before the Fort was constructed and we had always been worshipping this goddess. Roma’s in India come from far flung places to worship this goddess but they have forgotten the ancient temple location. This created lots of curiosity in me to know more on goddess “Aae Lacha Matta”, the goddess of Roma.


Having known the Elders in the Roma village, they invited me as chief guest during their annual gathering of Indian Roma’s on 6th Apr 2015. After the colourful social evening, big rally was organised next day on vehicles. First of all, they took us to the statue of Maharana Pratap located at a main city circle in the town and the leaders garlanded the statue and then proceeded to the Chittor fort and offering were made to all deities. At the foot hill was the board which mentions the ten vows taken by the Roma’s. At Rana Kumbah Mahal (Palace), there is a big court yard. This was the main historic place for them. Firstly they showed us an Iron piece which was more like an anvil. They offered prayers here. The leader narrated the stories of these places. He said that this Iron peace is also our goddess. We call it goddess “Aaeran Matta”. The word Iron


has been derived from the name of this goddess. He further explained that this is like an anvil and used to shape the metal pieces like swords etc. and this Iron piece does not rust. They worship everything that was used by their ancestors. Next was a small stone embedded on a small platform and is also worshipped. It was used for sharpening the weapons. In the same location was a big platform and they performed ceremonies and was the place to hold “Panchayat”. We then moved to the famous temple of “Aae Lacha Matta”. Most of the Roma youth had not seen it before. There is a dry pond in front of the famous goddess Kali temple and there lies the temple of “Aae Lacha Matta”, but in ruins. The temple stands and speaks of the glories past of the Roma’s. This was a new discovery for us all.


The abstract from the comments by Spanish Roma Vicente are encouraging: (We use the term "Lache" for it in Spain, we divide between people with "Lache" and people without it, is one of the strongest parts of our identity, one cannot be part of our people without "Lache", if you don´t follow the rules of "Lache" you can´t be considered part of our people anymore, this rules are based on purity, honor and kindness, but the strongest rule of "Lache" is respect for our ancestors and our elders. For Spanish Roma, the word Roma itself is not in a great use, we mainly use the word Kalo for man and Kali for woman, when we ask each other we usually ask: sinelas Kalo? if the answer is yes, or ha, we understand that the other is one of us. There is many Roma tribes, so the Spanish one is the Kale tribe, we called ourselves the black tribe of the Roma, and in the past we worshiped very strongly the Goddess Kali too, we mixed with the Christianity and called Sara Kali http://kopachi.com/articles/the-romani-goddess-kali-sara-ronald-lee/ .Today many of these traditions are unfortunately lost, few of my people in Spain remember about Kali, but they still remember of "Aae Lacha Matta" as "Lache". The Anvil is still sacred for us, we remember it through our traditional music, our ancestors were singing I came from the anvil I´m a blacksmith, and that is still one of the strongest traditional Roma occupations, and is not just a job, but is very deep and spiritual for us.)


I understood the discrimination and atrocities faced by the Roma’s in Europe. I was made to understand that they were forcibly grounded in Europe after a ban on use of bullocks by them. They were also barred from metal work and therefore crisis were created. They were landless and were left with no means to earn for living. The people, who loved to live with dignity, were forced to adopt unfair means for survival. They were in a drone trap. They live in groups in isolated areas and fighting for survival. A message of hatred for them is in rise due to bad publicity. People do not want to socialise with them and always look down upon them. Many European countries do not allow them to even enter, where as they are the legal residents and citizens of European Union. While travelling through Transylvania we saw many Roma women begging. They live in pathetic state. We also met Roma youth in Budapest and also attended a meeting organised by the H.E. the Indian Ambassador at Budapest, to understand the situation of Roma’s in Europe. There are political parties in European Union whose political stand on Roma’s deciding their fate.


It is evident from the above facts that their roots lies mainly in Rajasthan. Their spoken dialect is similar to Rajasthan and the temple of their goddess “Aae Lacha Matta”, still stands high at top of the famous fort of Chittorgarh and the goddess is worshipped by the Roma’s of Spain too. The word Iran has been derived from the name of Roma goddess “Aaeran Matta”.


Roma’s have made great sacrifice for their King and Kingdom and were the most loyal soldiers. All Indians are very proud of them and are concerned of their state in other countries, especially in European Union. It is time that we restore back their pride and honour, for the sacrifices they made for India. Let us all extend a helping hand to them to lead a dignified life and for the brighter future of their children.

 

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© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Spring 2016)