Indian origin of the Roma people,
their language and culture
- Dr. Trajko Petrovski, Institute of
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 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
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 raòi, tu raòi, ko pherela paòi? (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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(Published in Kafla
Intercontinental - Spring 2016)