Prof. (Dr.) Trajko Petrovski has seven years of professional experience at school and eleven years in the non-formal education, comprehensive competence in the field of Roma issues, especially research. He did his PhD in Ethnology from University of Zagreb. He has vast experience in designing and conducting educational activities for beneficiaries from Roma population; indepth understanding and knowledge of Roma culture and customs. He published Calendar Customs of the Roma people in Skopje and surrounding, Macedonian-Romany and Romany-Macedonia Dictionary etc. He is author of several books on Roma Folklore and culture and is associated with a Roma Folklore organisation in Mecadonia.


Indian origin of the Roma people, their language and culture

- Dr. Trajko Petrovski, Institute of folklor, Skopje


The Roma people, migrated from northwest India 1,600 years ago. By now it has been fairly well established that the Roma people originally belonged to India. Firsly A.F. Pott, than H.M.G.Grellman, G.C.Soulis, J.Kochanovski, F. Mikloshic,W.R.Rishi, J.C. Rudiger and many other scholars supported this theory. Among other evidences the linguistic evidence is one  of the  most convincing features in this regard. It is now very clear that  Romani language belongs to the new Indian languages. Many evidences put forth by the scholars like F. Pott, H.M.G. Grellman , John Sampson and J.C. Rudiger have proved that Romani language  is basically an Indian language. In the words of J. Sampson, Romani language is an Indian language spoken outside India, which like its sister vernaculars assumed something resembling to its present form after the break-up of the older synthetic system. Origin of the majority of the Romani words can be traced in Indian language particularly Punjabi, Rajasthani, Sanskrit and Hindi. At the end of the 18th century, it was Rudiger, who first established the theory of origin of Romani language. He declared in no uncertain term that Romani is one of the Indian dialects.This was further strongly supported by F.Pott on the basis of the rich material from different Romani dialects. In this material he found striking similarities with Sanskrit and other Indo-Arian language. F. Mikloshic further supported the findings of Pott on the basis of richer material.

In certain Romani legends what I wrote down from Roma in Skopje, old Roma were telling me that a small group of Roma migrated from India at the time of Alexander the Great (356-323) in the fourth century B.C. After that, the migration of Roma from India have been in the fourth century, during the great migrations and attacks by Huns in India. Then we have migration in VII, IX centuries. Characteristic migration of Roma from India have in XIII century during the attack on the Mongol conquerors Djingis Kana (1162-1227) in India. The most significant and recent migration of Roma from India took place in the fourteenth century during the invasions of Tamerlan (1337-1405.) in India. The main reasons for the migration of Roma were wars, Varfëri Roma and climatic factors in India.

In several stories preserved by the Roma of Macedonia St. Georges fetes have been described quite similar to that of Lord Indra. Even the name of Indra, Ahi and Sushna have been preserved. According of the Rigveda as mentioned earlier Indra slew Ahi the dragon who withheld the rains. Sushna the other demon of draught is mentioned nearly 50 times in the Rigveda.

The Rom a (the so called Gypsies of Europe, Russia, Central and Middle Asia and the Americas) are mainly the descendents of the Rajputs and the Jats of North India, comprising the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and adjacent parts of Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir.The ancestors of the Roma were forced to migrate to foreign lands after the Muslim invasion started during 11th to 13th centuries A.D. The emigrants were not only Rajputs, but also Jats and Khatris (Kshatrias) the rulers of principalities or the heads of republics and the fighter and warrior class. ln order to be self-sufficient and to allow inner mobility they attracted men and women from all the population groups which included Lobanas, Banjaras and Tandas (classed under traders), Saudagars (horse dealers), Lohars (ironsmiths), Munition makers, priests Gujjars (from Sanskrit word ‘gocar”cow grazers) etc.

The Roma people possess distinctive North Indian cultural and physical traits and all speak Romani language which has its base in Sanskrit. Most of their customs, habits and modes of life and living strikingly resemble the people of Punjab and its surrounding areas that they can aptly be called their cousins. Roma are called by different names in different countries: Manush (a Sanskrit word for Man) in France, Sinti in Germany, Tsigani in the former USSR, Bulgaria etc., Multani in Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union, Zotts (Jats) in Middle Asia, Kale (Black) and Gitano in Spain, Kalderash (kaltarash makers of machines) in some of other countries, Roma in Balkan etc.

To denote themselves as a close-knit nationality, they have adopted for themselves the name Roma (singular is Rom) and hate to be referred to as Gypsies. With the passage of time, the names of their gods and goddesses have changed but the ideas and the ideals symbolised by them are the same and so are many of the rituals connected with them. Now, for example, St. Sarah. is the Goddess of Fate and Fortune of the Roma. The idol of St. Sarah is enshrined in the crypt of the church of St. Maries de la Mer, a village on the Mediterranean Sea coast in the south of France. A fair is held from 23rd May to 25th May every year when the Roma from all countries of the world come to pay homage to their Goddess. They burn candles and offer clothes etc. to their Goddess. ln the evening the idol of St.Sarah is taken in a procession to the Sea coast followed by huge crowds of Roma singing and chanting “Vive St. Sarah”. Symbolic immersion, of the idol in the Mediterranean waters is performed, the statue being brought back and placed once again in the crypt of the church. St. Sarah is none else than the Indian Goddess Durga whose idol is taken in a procession during the Durga pooja (worship) in October every year in India and is, thereafter, immersed in the nearby river or pond. perhaps the Roma do not immerse the idol of St. Sarah and are content only with its symbolic immersion because it is not only costly but also difficult to make a new one every year. But they continue to follow the Indian rituals to this day. On further research it was found that St. Sarah is in fact Sati Sara (Sati sar) Indian goddess Uma (consort of Lord Siva) who is also worshipped on various occasions in different forms and names such as Kali, Durga, Katyayani, Gauri, Haimavati, Isvari, Bhavani, Rudrani, Sarvani, Sarvamangala, Aparna, Mrdani, Candika, Ambika, Arya, Daksayani, Girija, Menakatmaja, Camunda, Karnamoti, Carccika, Bhairavi.

At the end of the eighteenth century,  Romani with Indic Indo-European languages proved the Indian origin of the Roma. The following occurrence, which perhaps everyone who is interested in Roma history knows about, supposedly pointed researchers in the direction of India as home of origin. The first person to describe it was the enlightened Slovak intellectual Samuel Augustini ab Hortis in his work “Zigeuner in Ungaren […]” (1775). “On November 6, 1764, I was visited by the erudite printer Štefan Pap Nemethi, who told me in an interview what he had learned from the Calvinist preacher Štefan Váli who, at that time, was working in Almáš in the district of Komárno. When Váli was at the university in Leyden, he became friendly with three Malabar youths […] When Váli noticed that their language bore more than a slight resemblance to the language of our Gypsies, he took advantage of the opportunity and wrote down more than a thousand of the Malabar words they used along with the words’ meanings […] When Váli returned to his country, he wanted to ascertain the meanings of those Malabar words; the Gypsies effortlessly translated them.” (ab Hortis 1994. p. 54). What language were the Malabar students speaking? The land of Malabar lies in what today is the southwest coastal Indian state of Kerala. There they speak Malayalam, a Dravidian language which has nothing in common with Indo-European languages (Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati - Romani! – and others). If the students had been speaking Malabari – or Malayalam, Váli  would not have been able to perceive a resemblance to Romani. The students undoubtedly belonged to the highest social class, which used – mainly in written expression – the language of the intellectuals, the old cultural literary language of India i.e. Sanskrit. Most of the roots of Sanskrit words appear in modern Indic (Indo-European) languages including Romani. There is another possible explanation. The southwest coast of India was a cape where, from time immemorial, there were relations between Indians and the western world. Christianity set down roots there at the time of St. Thomas the apostle, who allegedly died in southern India. It is possible that Indian Christians from all over the extensive region of India came to study right there, the center of Indian Christianity. Their native languages might have been not Romani, but some other Indo-European languages similar to Romani. (Elsewhere in the land, Christianity did not take hold.) From that centre, some left for Europe to finish their Christian education.

Whatever the case may be, Váli’s remarkable discovery came “into circulation” and many linguists, including the German Johannes Rüdiger and the Englishman William Marsden, took notice of it. They and those who followed them in the next century irrefutably ascertained that Romani is a modern Indic language. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ralph Turner ascertained the closest relationship between Romani and Hindi, Rajasthani dialects or Punjabi. Meanwhile, his classification was generally accepted.

It has been judged that approximately 70% of the basic vocabulary of Romani is related to other Indic (Indo-European) languages. Below are examples of two sentences and one proverb. Further examples follow in illustrations.

-mire bala kale hin (R.) / mere bal kale hain (H.) My hair is black
-ajsi bari rakli! (R.) / ajsi bari larki! (H.) Such a big girl!
-Me raňi, tu raňi, ko pherela paňi? (R.) / Me(n) rani, tu rani, kon bharega pani? I(am) a queen/lady, you (are) a queen/lady – who will fetch the water?

The original “Indic” words in Romani, in comparison with borrowed words, have the greatest morphosyntactic potency, which means that it is possible to create a number of other words with specific suffixes.


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© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Spring 2016)