Romas or Gypsies

 Romas are Indians, who under some unfortunate circumstances had to migrate out of their motherland sometime in the past. Scholars, who conducted research on gypsies, have found several links that connect these people to India. Studies have been conducted on their life style, language, beliefs, songs and customs, and the result of them all unmistakably point to India as their original homeland. Irving Brown, an ardant admirer of gypsies, points out that in ‘Ocean of the Rivers of Stories’, which was composed by a Kashmir poet about a thousand years ago by tapping in ancient sources, there is an amusing picture of a certain Dom (a caste in India), who is a rouge, an executioner, and a musician. He says that Dom is a general term for the main stock out of which western Romanies (or gypsies) and Banjaras (or Indian gypsies) both originally issued. He asserts that a close observer of the present-day Dom relates that his amusements are sleeping, dreaming, sitting, talking, gambling, smoking, drinking, fighting and, above all, singing. Domms of India improvise songs, play various instruments and dance immodestly. This description might fit various primitive races surviving today, but not to the extent it fits the gypsy. The word ‘Dom’ is taken synonymous with bard or minstrel in many parts of India.

  Dr. Keshav Falke, who has conducted an extensive survey on the folk literature of Indian gypsies – or, as they are known in India, Banjaras –  and compiled their songs connected with different aspects of their life, points out that the migration of Romanies is connected to the year 1192 AD. He refers to the opinion of Padamshri Veer Rajendra Rishi, who says that in 1191 AD there was an invasion of India by Mohamad Ghauri and the famous Rajput king, Prithviraj Chauhan, had fought the invader in the war known as the First War of Tarai. In this war Chauhan had defeated Mohammad Ghauri though he did not kill him. Mohammad Ghauri went back only to come back again in 1192 AD in his succeeding expedition. He, this time, used the element of deceit and threw all his forces against the Indian King in the dead of night against an unsuspecting Chauhan (Note: It was a universal warfare rule of Hindu India since very ancient times that no war will be fought in the night; this military information was supplied to Ghauri by an Indian to take revenge against Chauhan; and Ghauri attacked Chauhan in the night).

In this war – known as the Second Tarai War – the Rajput army of Prithviraj Chauhan was badly routed. The defeated army retreated back and divided it into three separate contingents. The first part retreated back to the safety of hills and took shelter there. There they continued their resistance against the foreign invader. However, this resistance could not fructify into victory by regaining their lost power. Ultimately this part of the disbanded force settled in the hills by marrying with local tribes. Banjaras are the offspring of these Rajputs and hill tribes. .

  The second contingent of the dispersed Rajput army preserved its fighting character and continued their struggle first against the Mughals and later on against the British occupation of India.

  The third remaining part of this dispersing army retreated from the ‘Tarai spot of war’ back to Afghanistan and thence to Europe following a route known to them only. These are the people who are now found in central and western Europe, and are known as gypsies.

Padamshri Veer Rajendra Rishi asserts that according to Yan Kokhanovaski, a Latvian who acquired French citizenship and who is author of several books on gypsies, the original place of gypsies is North India, that is, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and adjacent Rajasthan. And that they are the progeny of those Rajputs who had migrated out of India after the Tarai War of 1192 AD.

  One Ibn Asir has written a book called ‘Kamilu-t Tawarikh’ – also called by its author ‘Kamil fi-t Tarikh’. Ibn Asir was born in the year 1160 AD (555 H.) in an island called ‘the Jazirat ibn Umar’ situated in an island of the Tigris above Mosul in modern Iraq. In this book we find recorded an incident that also provides a strong probability of these people having Indian roots.

Ibn Asir writes: “Hijra 220. AD 835 – Defeat of the Jats by Ajif – In this year Ajif came to Baghdad from his expedition against the jats, after having defeated and killed many of them. The remnant was compelled to ask quarter, which was conceded to them. They then marched away with him in Zil hilia, 219 (834 AD) and their number, including women and children, was twenty-seven thousand. The fighting men among them were twelve thousand. Ajif placed his conquered foes in boats, and sent them dressed as they had appeared in battle, with their trumpets, to Baghdad. They reached that city on the tenth Muharram, 220. They proceeded in boats to the Shammasiya (suburb of Baghdad). The Jats were accoutered as for battle, and were blowing their horns. And Azif gave to each of his men two dinars (as a present). The Jats stayed on board their ships three days, and were then handed over to Bishr ibnu-s Samaida, who conveyed them to Khanikin. Thence they were removed to the (northern) frontier to Ain-zarba, and the Byzantines made a raid upon them and not one of them escaped.”

  A note to this last line of the sentence is added by the translator of the book to this effect:  “There are some doubtful words in this extract (extracted portion), but the sense appears to be as translated.” (Note: The translation is given by Sir H. M. Elliot and John Dowson in their eight volume series of book titled,’History of India as Told by its Own Historians).

  In view of this translation of some doubtful words, is it possible to read the same to the effect that ‘all of them / some of them escaped’? Perhaps it may be read so and it should be read so. Also, even if what the author said has been correctly translated, it seems more probable that, in view of the large number of these people, some of them might have escaped the Byzantines raid.

  Moreover, it also seems more reasonable to suppose that these Jats, being enemy of the Baghdad government and dispatched to the northern frontier of this government, would not fight against the raiding Byzantines. They would more probably have made a common cause with the raiding Byzantines and escaped from the clutches of their enemy with their assistance, and then would have spread a word to be-fool their enemy that they all had been killed in the raid.

   Chamanlal, who had an interest in gypsies and wrote a book on them, refers to the opinion held by Grierson etc. on the subject thus: “Grierson and other British scholars are of the view that Mahmud of Ghazni, during his seventeen invasions of India, took several hundred thousand slaves from among the Jats and Rajput soldiers and civilians from the Punjab, Gujrat, Sind and Rajputana, and since he also took many hundered thousand slaves from the fairer people of Iran of  Central Asia, the less fair Indian slaves were freed and they migrated all the way to Europe by a northern and southern routes, the first via Iraq and Syria, and the other via Egypt and Greece or via North Africa and Spain.”

  Quoting another authority, he says:  “Another authority, Charles Leland, is of the opinion that Jats of north India were taken as slaves in large numbers by Mahmud and many thousands of them wandered west.

  “According to him, Hindi was the original language of the gypsies. He adds: With regard to the origin of Romany, my brother professor E. H. Palmer of Cambridge has decided, on examining a vocabulary of more than 4,000 English-gypsy words collected by me, that nearly all of them, not of Greek or European origin, are Hindi or Persian, Hindi generally predominating. He gives a few typical words of Romany: tatta pani (brandy) which in Hindi (Malvi dialect) means hot-water; baro pani, literally ‘great water’, Hindi word for the sea; mul for worth, the same as in Hindi; sari rati for the ‘whole night’ and sacho for true.”

  Chaman Lal referring to the famous ‘Shaha-nama’ of Firdausi says,: “A very old legend quoted by Firdausi in his Shaha-nama (the story of the Kings) says that an Iranian king, Behram Gur, had requested King Shankhala of North India to send him twenty thousand musicians for a national celebration. On witnessing their performance the Iranian king was so pleased that he requested the musicians to settle down in his country. He made them free grants of land, oxen and grain. The musicians, however, not being farmers, were unable to cultivate the land and instead consumed all the grain and the animals as well. This infuriated the Iranian king who drove them out of his country and the musicians migrated to Europe via Egypt or Iraq.”

  He continues:  “In the case of a people like the gypsies, whose early traditions have practically disappeared, the only means of establishing their origin is the study of their language… Investigation in this direction was continued by August Friedr Pott in 1844, and the fact was scientifically proved that the original home of the gypsies was in the northwest (Nearer?) of India. Notwithstanding its unusually debased and corrupted character, their language in some degree may still pride itself on its relationship to the most perfectly construed of all languages, the proud Sanskrit. Further investigations have definitely settled the fact that the gypsy language belongs to the same group as the Dardu language spoken in Kafiristan, Dardistan, Kashmir and Little Tibet. The science of comparative philology has clearly proved the gypsies to be a branch of the Hindu nationality; it has also shown us by what route the gypsies left India, and in what countries their migrations have been interrupted for a longer or shorter period. This demonstration was the work of the Viennese philologist Franz Miklosich, who collected the words of foreign origin in the gypsy language and examined their relative numerical proportion.

  “The causes, which drove the gypsies to migration and the date at which their wanderings began are shrouded forever in obscurity. It is, however, tolerably certain that more than one migration took place. Possibly we have here the explanation of the fact that in many countries, where they are now naturalized, they are divided into two or more castes. Individual advances or disruptions may have taken place at an early date, though hardly in the age of Herodotus, while the first great movement or movements did not begin before the Christian era. The round number AD 1000 was given by Miklosich  as the result of his philological investigations, but he has now (February 9, 1876) withdrawn it. The Persian and Armenian elements in the European dialects (of gypsy language) clearly show that the gypsies must have made their way first through Armenia and Persia, and remained a considerable time in those countries. They entered Persia under the Sassanid dynasty, and were given the marshy districts on the Lower Euphrates as a settlement. They readily made common cause with the Arab conquerors; but after the death of the Caliph Mamun (833 AD) they left their settlements, and disturbed the country by their plundering raids, until Ojeif ibn Ambassa was obliged to bring them to reason by force of arms…”

  Chaman Lal  on the further spread of these people say thus:  “In the year 1417 the first gypsies appeared in the Hanse towns on the North Sea and Baltic. They produced commendatory letters from the Emperor Sigismund, and repeated (their make-believe) story of their Egyptian origin and their seven years’ penitential pilgrimage, and thus gained the support of both Church and State as well as that of private individuals. In 1418 we find them also in Switzerland. However, this friendly reception was soon followed by persecution, in accordance with the somewhat barbarous spirit of the age. By degrees the gypsies advanced from Germany over the neighboring parts of east and northern Europe…. In most of the European countries the gypsies met with an unfriendly reception as soon as they arrived.”

Indian legacy: Gypsy songs:

  Irving Brown says:  “Romany is ultra-conservative, with a passion for everything Romany. After a separation of some thousand years from their fellows in India, there are tribes of gypsies in various parts of the world – Wales, Turkey, America – whose vocabulary is largely East Indian; and the form of these words is, on the whole, more archaic and closer to Sanskrit than the corresponding forms used today in India.

  “It has sometimes been stated that they brought with them from the land of their origin neither songs nor dances. All the evidence is to the contrary. An early mention of the gypsies is the legend that they were the descendants of twelve thousand male and female Indian minstrels, imported for the entertainment of the people by Bahram Gaur, the great Hunter of Omar’s Rubiyat. It is related by an Arab historian in Persian about AD 950 and later by the post Firdausi, in the Shaha-nama. It is merely a legend, but it shows at least that singing and dancing were among the chief professions of the Romanies in Persia at that time as they are today in the East….The outstanding feature of gypsy life is nomadic. The typical Romany means of gaining a living are nomadic, and one of the chief nomadic pursuits is that of the artist.”

  Irving Brown says of a Gypsy thus: “He does not love money for its own sake, but as a testimony of his skill or cunning; and he hastens to spend it on some pleasurable object. I once heard a Gitano song:

Bente con mangue y beras

La grasia que hay que tener

Pa bibir sin curreler!

(If you do not want to work,

Come with me and you shall see

How amusing we can be!)

  The gypsy and the artist are never poor however; there is a malaguena that goes as follows:

Me has despreciado por pobre

Y cuatro palcio tengo:

E! Asilio, el Hospital,

La Carcel y cementerio.

(I have four great palaces,

Though you call me, ‘Beggar, knave’

I’ve the hospital, the prison,

the cathedral and the grave!)

  “I thought of this song one day as I watched some Gitano, laughing, singing, and begging in front of the great cathedral in Seville. I thought also of the poet Paul Verlaine, author of ‘My Prison, My Hospitals’ and some of the most exquisite of modern lyrics.

   “In the matter of pure rhythm, I believe the Spanish gypsies have few equals. In as simple a thing as the hand clapping which accompanies a song or dance; there are individuals who attain a complexity and variety of rhythms that are astonishing.

  “It is my firm conviction that Beethoven learnt something from the complex and swiftly changing rhythms of the Hungarian gypsies in Vienna; and Liszt has admitted his indebtedness in no uncertain terms. Recently I was told that Dalcroze invited a Hungarian gypsy Cembalom player to play for his pupils, and expressed his deep admiration of the rhythmic beauty of the music. Dalcroze is admittedly an authority in the matter….

  “The explanation is simple. It is difficult to make progress along many lines at the same time. Concentration on certain phases of development is apt to involve neglect or retrogression in others. The amazing beauty of harmony and tine color in the modern symphony has not been attained without a long evolution involving certain sacrifices.”

  Chaman Lal records his encounter with an Indian who lived in the United States and was convinced of the Indian roots of Gypsies. He states: “Mr. Dave who comes from Gujrat and has lived in the United States for over two decades, told me that American gypsies were still singing songs of Gujrat which he could easily understand. The Director of the New York Public Library deputed a few research assistants to write down some particular gypsy songs (which Mr. Dave had mentioned) and here I reproduce them from ‘Deep Song’ by Irving Brown:

Mar Man Devla, Mar Man,

Samo Na men Mudara man

Devla Tu men Mudarya,

Misto nai Keresa.

(Strike me, Devla (Deva or God), strike me,

Only don’t strike me dead,

Devla, if you kill me Devla,

Then my blood is on your head).

Te merava te merava,

Nai so te Kerava,

Kana me merava, Devala,

Kon man rovlariela?

(I could wish that I were dying,

What will ever become of me?

When I lie a- dying, Devala,

Who will mourn me bitterly?)

Nai tu dad, nai tu dei

Nai tu pral, Nai tu Pei,

Nai tu konik kalar lender.

(You have no father, you have no mother,

You have no brother, you have no sister,

You have no one of your own,

I must leave you all alone).

Na Janav Ke dad miro as,

Niko Mal/en Mange as,

Miro Gule dai Merdyas

Pirani ne pregelyas

Uva tu 0 hegediva

In sal mindlik pash mange.

(I have known no father since my birth,

I have no friend above on earth,

My mother is dead these many days,

The girl I loved has gone her way,

Thou, violin, with music free,

Alone art ever true to me).”

Gypsy life and thoughts:

  Chaman Lal says: “There is no doubt that the gypsies had leaders, and that those who live in tents have  leaders at the present day; these leaders have a different sign, such as an embroidered cloak, cloth, or goblet. The several tribes of the nomadic gypsies are also social units in so far as they are under the government of one Voivod. In practice they are nowhere tolerated in large hordes, and have consequently broken up into smaller independent communities or societies (mahJila, from mahlo-friend, or majalisa – get-together?), under individual chieftains, the schaibidso. In important cases these leaders appeal to the decision of the Voivod, who may be spending his time with one or another tribe. The schaibidso is elected by the tribe, and the Volvod confirms his appointment by eating bread and salt (eating salt cements fidelity of the eater till the last moment to the provider in India even today) with him in public; he then commands the mahlija in question to regard the schaibdso as his plenipotentiary. Among the nomadic gypsies the position of Voivod is hereditary at the present day; if a minor should inherit, the position is occupied until his majority by one of his nearest relations. The installation of a Voivod is a very simple ceremony. The Voivod recites a form of oath, is lifted up by his tribesmen while the women throw crab-apple seeds upon him to keep away evil spirits. The Voivod, among the nomadic gypsies at the present day, occupies a position, which is merely honorable; formerly every mahlija paid him a yearly tribute proportioned to the position and the number of its members.”

  He further observes: “Archduke Joseph of Austria-Hungary, who was a great friend of the gypsies and wrote a grammar on their language, wrote in his preface to the book (of grammar): The gypsies do have the ability to look backward. They have second sight, because the sense of time limitation has gone the way of all limitations. Past and future are poor inventions of childish minds, inventions as crude as the taboos of savages and the superstition of fools.”

  Banjaras or Indian branch of gypsies call their leader Nayak and their place of temporary stay a Tanda.

  The author of the ‘Forgotten Children of India’ quotes Samuel Roberts, an enthusiastic writer on Gypsies, saying of them thus: “They seem to me like house-less whom God feedeth and for whom He cares. They appear more than any other human beings to depend on Him alone for daily bread. That know not, it is true, much of Him: the wisest of us know but little more. They, however, may view Him in His wonders and love to live amidst His works, and if they less adore (Him), they (also) probably less offend (Him).

  ‘’They live by rule and by faith and by tradition, which is part of their blood. They go about in our midst, untouched by us, but reading our secrets. They are our link with the East. They do few things, but they do things better than the others. They create nothing; they (only) perpetuate. They take whatever is of use to them; they reject whatever their instinct forbids them to take. Can the world repress this race which is so elusive and slips through its gross fingers like wind? They are a symbol of our aspiration, and we do not know it; they stand for the will for freedom, for friendship with nature, for the open air, for change and the sight of many lands. The gypsy represents nature before civilization. He is the wanderer whom all of us who are poets, or love the wind, are summed up in. he does what we dream. He is the last romance left in the world. His is the only free face, and the tyranny of law and progress would suppress his liberty. That is the curse of civilization, it is tyranny, it is the force of repression. To try to repress the gypsies is to fight against instinct, to try to cut out of humanity its rarest impulse…

  “They are ignorant of the ugly modern words, the words, which we have brought into sophisticated language: “Give me half and you take half’; divide, that is, in our shorthand. Then, they are part of the spectacle of the world, which they pass through like a great procession, to the sound of a passionate and mysterious music. They are here today and there tomorrow; you cannot follow them, for all the leafy tracks that they leave for each other on the ground. They are distinguishable from the people of every land which they inhabit; there is something in them finer, stranger, more primitive, and something baffling to all who do not understand them through a natural sympathy….The gypsy turns his back on great cities, once beautiful and human, now filled with smoke, noise, unnatural speed, degraded into the likeness of a vast machine, creating and devastating soulless bodies of useless tasks. There has been great talk of late of degeneracy, decadence, and what are supposed to be perversities in such things as religion, art, genius, individuality. But it is the millionaire, the merchant, the money-maker, the sweater, who are the degenerates of civilization, and as the power comes into their hands all noble and beautiful things are being crushed out one after another, by some mechanical device for multiplying inferiority. Civilization as it was thousands of years ago in China, in India, was an art of living, besides whose lofty beauty we are like street urchins scrambling in a gutter. “We live to pick up scraps; they lived a tranquil and rational existence. This unconquerable love of freedom and of the country is not felt in the same degree by any other people on the face of the globe as it is by the gypsies, universally. It has been so through all the ages since they were first known. It seems inseparable from their nature, and must have been impressed upon it, for some good purpose, by the Almighty Power.”

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