Roma, The Lost Children Of Bharat

The International Roma Conference and Cultural Festival organized by ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) and ARSP from 12-14 February, aims at reviving a lost page of Bharat’s history. Through academic discussions and cultural performances, it aims to enhance ties with the Roma people who have their roots in Bharat, and to create awareness and inspire more scholars from Bharat to undertake research along with Roma scholars and artists.

The 20 million strong Roma community is spread across more than 30 countries, mostly in West Asia and Europe. There is compelling evidence that their westward migration from Bharat happened from the 5th century onwards. Some scholars state that the first migration followed the invasion by Alexander who carried iron smiths in a large number as they were skilled in making weapons.

Inauguration Of International Roma Conference

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, while inaugurating the conference, said “Precious heritage of Roma community and its relations with Bharat needs to be carefully preserved and documented. The research needs to be enhanced with renewed vigour.” She remarked that the aim of the conference is in consonance with Bharat’s ethos of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (world is one family), and added, “Bharat is not a mercantile nation, pursuing only material objectives, but it is a civilization of values with a vision of promoting harmony. We have a natural affinity and concern for the people of Bharatiya origin and their well-being.”

Shri Jovan Damjanovic, President, World Roma Organization- Rromanipen made an impassioned plea for the Roma community to be accepted by Bharat as part of its diaspora, which would help them in their fight for  equal status in Europe and other countries of the world.

Prof. Lokesh Chandra, President, ICCR, provided an overview of Roma history in his poignant keynote address. His opening lines set the tone for the rest of the conference.

“Our hearts travel with the roving caravans of Roma brothers and sisters. They have trod a path of romance across Asia and Europe for millenia, which has left its traces in the words they picked up in their wandering. Like the Silk Route they represent the ancient Steel Route. For centuries itinerant smiths had carried the tempered steel of Pushkalavati in the NorthWest of ancient India to Classical Europe. The Roma have been steel-smiths of Europe, besides singers, dancers, and fortune-tellers.”

Roma Roots
Roots of Roma people and their language

He provided insights into the origin of the word ‘Roma’. It is thought to be derived from the word Domba, which  in various Bharatiya languages has an etymological meaning of wandering musician, drum beater, or barber, basket maker. Prof. Chandra elucidated on the cultural similarities between Roma and the Hindus of Bharat –

“The Roma were discovered to be of Bharatiya origin when the Greek scholar Paspati heard them calling the Cross as Trushul, the Trishula of Lord Siva. Divine Siva is the Lord of Dance or Nataraja, and the primary profession of the Domba (Roma) was and is singing and dancing. The Roma congregate at the Church of St. Maries-de-la-mer in the South of France from 23rd to 25th May to pay homage to their patron goddess St. Sarah the Black or Goddess Kali, the consort of Lord Siva. On the final day she is carried by the devotees on their shoulders and immersed in the Mediterranean Sea. While the priests shout Vive St. Maries, the Roma responded Vive St. Sarah, and are not interested in St. Maries. Immersion in flowing water is the sacred rite of visarjana in Bharat.”

Roma worshipping Kali
Roma people worshipping Kali Bibi (Kali Devi)

The similarities between Sanskrit, Hindi and Roma dialects are even more revealing –

“The speech of Roma is scented with the aroma of India: yag is Hindi आग (fire), rashai is the venerable rishi ऋषि (sage). Roma dialects are spread all over Europe. They are an early phase of the Hindi language which has been lovingly preserved by the Roma people. Their basic vocabulary is the same as that of Hindi. The numerals are: yek (1), dui (2), trin (3), panch (5), desh (10).”

Prof. Chandra spoke about the persecution the Roma have suffered over the centuries –

“The Roma have been persecuted across the centuries for their dark colour. In 1701-50 Germany passed 68 edicts to persecute them. In 1715 nine Scottish Roma were transported to America, Five thousand Roma were deported to Nazi death camps. Turkey, home to the world’s largest Roma population, passed a law in 1934 that allows the government to deny them citizenship. To succeed in life the Roma tend to conceal their roots, and so do the many who have made it in cinema and music. They face discrimination to this day, as was evident in the recent incident where Italian national footballer Daniele De Rossi abused a footballer from Roma community, Mario Mandzukic,  as a ‘shitty gypsy’.”

Prof. Shashibala, the Academic Coordinator of the Conference, mentioned members of the Roma community who have excelled in the fields of arts, sciences, sports and even politics such as renowned artist Pablo Picasso, Antonio Solario, comedian Charles Chaplin, Flamenco dancer Micaela Flores Amaya, tennis player Ilie Nastase, violinist Janos Bihari, Greek singer Glykeria Kotsoula, and actors Yul Brynner, Elvis Presley, Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins.

HinduPost also spoke to Dr. Mauna Kaushik, a teacher of Hindi & Sanskrit at Sofia University Bulgaria, who has interacted extensively with Romani students and the community over 16 years. She described the affinity Roma people have for Hindu culture and the ease with which they grasp Hindi language. Their weddings are similar to weddings in the north of Bharat, with music & dance, lengthy festivities and brides wearing henna & dressing in red.

The last Roma Conference in Bharat was held in 2001 when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee interacted with Roma scholars and delegates.