India is a country of ancient civilization. Its first inhabitants were Dravidians, whose culture we know mostly owing to excavated objects (Mohendjo Daro). Those objects show that Dravidians were the first peasants in India, and that between BC 6000 and 4000 they had a known culture (towns, trades, literacy). Around BC 2000 conquerors who called themselves Aryans (noble, dominant) started their invasion from the north. Struggle between Aryans and Dravidians lasted more than thousand years and it was over around BC 900. The Dravidians were defeated and they migrated to the outmost south of India and to Ceylon. There are no reliable historical documents about this struggle. There are just legends in Aryan sacred books, Vedas, and later in epics Mahabharata and Ramajana, written in Sanskrit.
In that period people were organized in tribal alliances. Economic strengthening and stronger power of the King caused division of the society into four castes, among which the common people, i.e. the lowest caste, must serve all the others. Wealth of India (spices, gold, ivory, precious stones) attracted the conquerors even in the ancient world. Persian emperor Daruis I conquered Panjab, riverfront of the Indus, in BC 516. Alexander the Great penetrated into the riverfront of the Ganges (BC 327-325). Penetration of invaders resulted in a rising against foreigners and to eventual uniting of northern India into a powerful kingdom Magadha (the fourth century BC). The most important persons in the first Indian state were emperors Chandragupta (BC 321-296) and Asoka (BC 273- 232), whose luxurious palace in the capital Pataliputri had astonished his contemporaries. Lower castes had been cruelly exploited, and therefore risings of people were not rare. People’s resistance was followed by a new religion, Buddhism. Buddhism denied the system of castes, although it was not, as well as Christianity, invite the oppressed to revolutionary fight, but it preached passiveness and bearing suffer, promising the oppressed people liberation from pain, transcendence of agony after their death and sinkage into nothingness or NIRVANA “.
Indian emperors soon realized that Buddhism was not a threat to the system. Thus some of them accepted and supported it, like Asoka did. After Asoka had died (BC 232) the kingdom Magadha fell apart, and there was not a bigger united state in India until the fourth century. After the kingdom of Gupta disunited, people who were used to passiveness for centuries could not strive against conquerors. So in the tenth century, the Afghanistan sultan of Gaznia (AD 998-1030) conquered a large part of India. Islam penetrates into the country, and feudalistic relations replaced the slave-holding ones. In the begining of the thirteenth century, Mongols devastated the contry. It was particularly destroyed during the Mongol khan Tamerlane at the end of the fourteenth century, when many irrigation systems were destroyed. Baber, one of the Tamerlane’s successors, conquered the whole northern India at the beginning of the fifteenth century, and from that moment started the reign of Mongols in India, which lasted till the nineteenth century.
Those events enable us at least to guess motives and reasons for leaving India. Namely, on the grounds of our knowledge so far, it could be said that Roma community was formed by uniting of several tribes, with various dialects, even of various races. The community most probably got its name after Rama, the legendary hero from the epic, and its members that were of different caste origin, became “Rama’s children.” As Rama’s children, or “Rromane }have” – Roma arrived to European countries. The evidence of this is given in chronicles, scientific researches, works of art, etc.
When Mahmud Gazni became ruler of the areas Panjab and Sind, Roma community actually disintegrated, and many tribes were outside India, the country that, as travel writers testified, had various names. Roma called it most probably ”Baro than”, “Large country”, or “Romani phuv”, “Country of Roma”, which is expression found in some legends and stories. Roma were also leaving India because of invasions of other conquerors, especially those by Mahmuda from Gor and Genghis Khan. The tribes that remained in India went to the north and to the south, and they can still be seen in many parts of India.
At last, it is necessary to emphasise some more reasons for migrations of Roma from their native country.
Roma was the first on the way of Hun hordes that were, in their invasion from the north and northeast, destroying everything on their way. Since Roma were nomadic, without a permanent place of residence, they started moving toward different parts of India, looking for a way to rescue themselves from a total destruction. They moved toward west. The fierce Hun hordes were after them. And when the first groups moved in that direction, there was no coming back. Other miserable Hindu joined them, too.
Some other reasons for migrations should be added to these historical ones, which altogether were sufficient for unbalance and shaping the psychology of escape. We should also not neglect climate elements: disastrous droughts and floods; periods of wet, summer monsoon and period of dry, winter monsoon (the season of summer monsoon is from May till October, and it blows from south-west toward north-east; this wind comes from the Indian ocean and it brings heavy rainfall; winter monsoon blows from north-east to south-west, from land toward the sea, and it is dry). If summer monsoon is only fifteen days late, a drought starts. The drought destroys crops and the consequence is hunger. In 1943, the summer monsoon was late, and 3.500.000 died of hunger. The second natural disaster is flood in the valley of Indian rivers, after heavy monsoon rains. Floods destroy crops in the large valleys near the rivers. Both of these disasters result in death of population and force them to move away. It is known that even today this social evil is present in India. Plague, yellow fever, bilharzia, dysentery epidemics, virus hepatitis, cholera and other epidemics of dangerous diseases in this area of high temperatures, destroyed millions of people in some parts of India. The most exposed to diseases were surely people who lived in miserable unhygienic life conditions and bad nutrition, which means that Roma were the most affected. These diseases caused, and cause today, much panic among Hindu, so the diseases were one of important reasons for migrations in the past, i.e. for leaving their native county.
Besides, in this county with millions of people belonging to different nations, they were, as it was already mentioned, divided in castes in the Middle Ages. The castes are characterised by big differences in way of life, language, belonging to religious sects, etc. Because of this there were conflicts and strife among castes, which led to extermination of certain groups of nations. In those conflicts Roma paid the highest price. The aim of religion and religious sects was assimilation, and this led to constants small wars of believers against each other. Modern India still carries that burden. Siki still confront other nations and state authorities. It is clear that these events caused migrations of Roma.
All those reasons forced Roma to leave their native country and to start the life of constant migrations and suffering. Such hard way is still present in their travels. Eventually, nomadic way of life caused that Roma were not nostalgically bound to some territory, as it was the case with the caste of soldiers and the caste of peasants in India.
Wars, persecutions, nomadic way of life, which was the cause of specific professions among Roma, and economic reasons led to migrations of Roma to some parts of the world, and they have lasted till the present time.
Nothing had been reliably known about the origin of Roma until the middle of the eighteenth century. Then, not having enough historical documents as a base for explaining this issue, scientists started research physical characteristics, customs and language of Roma, which enable them to affirm their origin.
German scientist Grelman was the first who arrived to a conclusion that Roma come from India, having researched physical similarities, analogies in customs and identities in roots of some words and grammar structures. His assumptions were correct, and they were later quite affirmed in the studies of Pott, Paspati and Mikloshic, so that we can now quite surely claim that Roma are of Indian origin.
Romi are similar to Dravidians. It is known that this ethnic group lives in the plateau Deccan, in the south part of peninsula in India. According to some ancient Indian sources, Dravidians were in captivity in the Indian peninsula during the invasion of the Aryans. At that time assimilation of dark-skinned Dravidians began. Thus is how, allegedly, Hindu-Aryan society was formed, and later Hindu traditional caste society. However those Dravidians who were not assimilated, remained out of the caste zone. They were slaves, doing hard physical jobs, and they were in bad social position. Their destiny has not changed almost a bit during centuries and it is alike even nowadays. Their status of “untouchables” usually brings to mind a clear association to Roma’s destiny all over the world. Their inferiority, fear and resourcefulness speak in the behalf of conclusion that Roma are direct descendants of the Dravidians. Ancient Indian sources contain information about which show us that many conquerors of the Indian peninsula used Dravidians as labour even outside this area. They were taken to the Persian Gulf in galleys. Then they were sent all over Persia, and later to the coasts of Africa and Europe or to Afghanistan and what is now Tashkent, and across Bosphorus to the Balkans. According to Naik Ransit, out of all groups of Roma that today live in India as aborigines, Banjarasi are the most related to Roma all over the world. It is confirmed that Ban|ara is one of the largest groups of Roma in India. They live in 21 states of India and their number is estimated to be about 60 million.
Ethnologists and linguists continue to study Roma who live in India nowadays. Thus under the name “Gypsy” they comprise the following tribes: Bamti, Beldari, Dom, Garodi, Gasai, Gulgulia, Kandzari, Kolhati, Ladi, Malari, Mianuali (or Lahari), Nati, Odki, Phendari, Sasi, Sikalgari, Banjara, Lamani, Shara i Luri.
The characteristic of Roma in Europe-that they have various names-can also be seen in Ban|arasa. They also have a large number of names. They are in fact famous for numerous synonyms in different parts of India: Lambani, Lobani, Lobano, Brinjari, Sugali, Brujavasi, Kvangli, Shirkiban, etc. Their inconstancy and moving from one territory to another explain such variety of names-each environment gave them a new name. According to scientific resources, these people have very dynamic and interesting life and an impressive culture. They have been nomadic travellers for centuries, and they have, using bulls, camels, horses, mules and elephants, been carrying various goods across the whole country, searching for a market and thus arriving to the remote parts of India.
Naik Ranjit states: ,,After I studied literature and documents, I came to a conclusion that Banjarasi and Roma have many common traits.” These are his findings:
- Roma dialects have many words similar to Banjara dialect
- Both Roma and Ban|arasi live as nomads and travel in caravans;
- Roma do not assimilate in the environment in which they settle for a while, i.e. they remain separate and independent; Ban|arasi also live separately and build settlements called tanda. The word “tanda” is also used by Roma in the town Gnjilane (Kosovo), which is interesting and indicative;
- Songs and dances of Roma and Ban|arasi are similar;
- Ban|arasi do not follow any existing religion, but worship their own gods;
- Roma have many customs and habits that are similar to those of Ban|arasi,
- Basing his opinion on Rishi’s research, Ran|it claims that Roma and Banjarasi descend from the same group and that the ancestor of both preserved their traditions. He also thinks that Banjarasi originated from Radgahstan and Radzput or Jatklan, as well as anthropological characteristics, way of living and folk culture are similar to those of Roma in Panjab and Radgahstan. Naik Ransit concludes: ,,Roma and Banjarasi are members of the same group; one part of that group, Banjarasi, stayed in India, and their relatives, known as Roma, passed through Kiber and Bolan in the north-west part of India in order to avoid invasion of Muslim states and therefrom began to move al over the world”.
Together with the inhabitants of Panjab, Banjarasi joined the action of European Roma and declared themselves as belonging to this nation. So far it has been the only Indian ,,Gypsy” tribe that raised a question of its ethnic origin and which, together with Roma outside India, fight for emancipation and national affirmation.
In this short review of historical development of European studying of Roma origin, we can see that it had to pass over a long way top reach some scientific truths about his issue. Unlike in Europe, several centuries ago Arabians knew that India had been mother country of Roma. Thus the outstanding Arabic lexicographer Ebu El-Fadil D`emaludin Muhamed, known as Ibn Menzur El-Ifriki El-Misri (died in 1311/12, or in 711 AD) without any doubt confirmed that Roma originated from India. In his great work “Lisan el-areb”, examining the word Zutt that is today in Arabic a literary expression for Roma, he stated that it denoted a group of black people from India. Clothes called Zuttije were named after them, and there is also an opinion that this term comes from the Indian word Gette.
The most reliable source of reaching the truth about Roma is based on researching characteristics of the language, since particularity of a nation is best preserved in it. It would be wrong to consider language only as a set of lexical and grammatical particularities. On the contrary, language is born, it develops and disappears in common evolutional process with the nation itself.
It is important to emphasise that research of Romany language and confirming Roma origin has been affirmed, and they engaged some outstanding linguists like August Fridrih Pott and Franc Miklosi’. In the 1890s these scientists has exactly confirmed that Romany language is related to seven Indian dialects: Hindi, Marati, Panjabi, Sindi, Bengali and Urdu.
These scientists claim that these seven dialects developed in the same area and under sane circumstances. According to Miklosic, it could have happened before the tenth century. It would mean that Roma left India after this period.
Clebert thinks that in studying Roma origin we should not only rely on analyses of dialects, but also on analyses of particularities that correspond to Roma professions. “If we take a look in catalogues of Indian castes, we will see that most of them were blacksmiths or musicians”. And as we know, traditional professions of Roma in Yugoslavia are blacksmith and musician.
Even today Roma’s prominent tendency towards trades and music refers to their belonging to higher castes in their mother country – India, which is confirmed by contemporary Indian scientists V. R. Rishi and Naik Ransit. At last, we can surely state that Roma’s talent for music is an important ethnic mark, so scientific circles claimed that this mark proved that India was their native country. It was thought that they were in fact Lurs, who were, according to traditional sources, invited by Persian shah to move from India to Persia (AD 420-440). This attitude is supported by A. F. Pott. We can also consider their talent for trades as an ethnic mark, since ethnic groups in modern India who belong to Roma also have professions such as blacksmiths or musicians. India is known (in old written documents) as a country rich in minerals. It is a fact that iron and other metals are forged in this country for centuries, which was recorded in history even in BC 1000. Handicraft trades were also developed in India, especially metalworking, so that forging was ancient profession of Roma. They brought the tendency towards these professions from India and took it with them all over the world.
Everything that was said about origin of Roma, based on written documents, can serve as a reliable proof that Roma – in respect to their appearance, temperament, language, folklore, traits of character and other sacred values-are part, i.e. members of the big Indian nation of Roma and they are most related to Ban|arasi, a big tribe of that nation. Their native county is India, their real home is Panjab in the middle part of the area along the Indus and further all the way to the desert Tar. Roma call India Baro Than, which means the big land of ancestors. In spite of time, place and extensive metamorphosis in many European countries, where they have often been like a grain of salt in an ocean, they remain independent in many aspects. On this basis, it is possible nowadays to accept their relations to other Roma groups in India as scientific fact.
Some time between the tenth and eleventh centuries, the largest groups of Roma left India and the main cause was invasion of the great emperor Mahmud Gazni, who led 17 raids in western India. Running away from terror, Roma first stopped in Iran, and then separated in two groups, the first moving toward Spain, and the second toward Byzantium and Greece.
Prof. dr Bajram Haliti