Rom / Ḍom

Rom is the autonym which the majority of Roma use in the world when they want to label themselves in ethnic terms. Etymologically, the ethnonym Rom is closely connected with the name Ḍom. Today, numerous Indian jatis (castes), spread all around northern India, are labelled Ḍom. Earlier, Ḍom might have had the status of an ethnonym.

Rom (Ḍom) is a very old term. The Ḍom already appeared in records of the "Sádhanamálá" (eight century).

At that time, the Ḍom king Heruka ruled one of the small Indian kingdoms. (Earlier, there were a huge number of small Indian kingdoms.) We still find ruins of strongholds with names like "Ḍomdigarh". Historians are convinced that Ḍom had their own small forest kingdom, which the kings of the "Gupta dynasty" (fifth to seventh centuries) destroyed, just as they did all of the other small states. At that time, the Ḍom lost power and their position. We can rightly imagine that they also lost their original ethnic status and became a caste. It is obvious that victors consider those they defeat as "lower".

The ancestors of the Ḍom belonged to the pre-Aryan population of India, which they inhabited before the Aryans invaded India in 1500 BC. At that time, the Ḍom did not yet use the term Ḍom, but the Ḍom physical type, their culture, their religion, etc. indisputably proves that today's Ḍom are descended from the Ḍom who lived there before the invasion of the Indo-European Aryans.

The Indus Valley civilization - or the Mohenjo-Daro or Harappo civilization - flourished in India from 3000 BC to 1500 BC. Its creators built two-storied brick houses. Every (wealthy) house had a bathroom, canalisation and wells. They even had a system of writing which no one has yet been able to decipher. It is almost certain that the ancestors of the Ḍom – even though we do not know what they were called – belonged to a people who lived during the Mohenjo-Daro era and worked with others to build the Mohenjo-Daro civilisation.

After the Aryan Guptas had decimated the Ḍom, the victors wrote about them in quite unflattering terms.

In some regions (Benares), it is the Ḍom whose job is to cremate the dead and, therefore, they are considered unclean. Elsewhere, on the other hand, as in the Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, most Ḍom are traditionally musicians and, as among our Roma, many of them are outstanding. In the eleventh century, the famous Arab historian Al Bírúní mentioned Ḍom musicians.

The first person to point out the possible connection between Roma and Indian Ḍom was the German Indiologist from Leipzig, Hermann Brockhaus. August Friedrich Pott published his letter with this hypothesis in a volume which belongs to the basic Gypsyologic work of the 19th century ( "Die Zigeuner in Europa und Asien", 1845). Hermann Brockhaus found the term Ḍom/Ḍomba in two collections of Sanskrit literature: in the eleventh century collection by Sómadév, Kathasaritsagara ("Ocean of stories"); in the twelfth century collection by Kalhan, Rajatarangini ("Stream of Kings"). Ḍom as members of "lower" castes already appear in both of these collections. This is not surprising: the authors of both collections are Brahmans, representatives of the highest "varna" (class) who considered the original non-Aryan population as "antjadž" (standing outside) of the Hindu system, that was finally victorious over the rest of the original population, the descendents of the Mohenjo-Daro civilisation. Hermann Brockhaus quite correctly concludes:

"Sollte dies Wort ḍom nicht dasselbe als das Zig. Rom sein? Bezeichnet dies vielleicht ursprünglich einen im nordwestlichen Indien lebenden Volksstamm, der unterjocht zu Parias entwürdigt wurde. Denn daß ein Volk sich nicht selbst einen Namen gibt, der etwas Unwürdiges bezeichnet, versteht sich von selbst. Nur durch Unterjochung kann ein Volksname bei den Siegern zum Schimpfnamen werden."
"Would the word Ḍom be the same as the Gyp. Rom? Does it perhaps designate a tribe living in northwestern India which were subjugated and debased as Parias, untouchables? For it is self-evident that a people would not give itself a name that means something demeaning. Only through subjugation can the victors turn the name of a people into a term of abuse." (A.F. Pott, 1844, p. 42)

Some Roma romistics experts do not acknowledge that there might have been some kind of relation between Roma and Indian Ḍom. We understand their feelings. Gadže experts on Gypsies always wanted to convince the world that Roma were and will always be at the bottom, poor and squalid. Therefore, they explained only half-truths about the Ḍom – that even they were only at the bottom. As we see, this is not the complete truth. The truth is that, during a certain era, Ḍom played a distinguished role in Indian history.


Some Ḍom still remember their own kingdom in their legends. One was related in 1969 by Ḍom-Mahasha from the town of Jullundur.

"Once upon a time the Ḍom had their own kingdom. They had a beautiful life. They were never attacked and they never waged war because the woods, waters and God gave them everything they needed. The Ḍom king kept an army only so he could see what handsome young men he had in his kingdom. Only "bamana" (Brahmans, the highest Aryan "varna" – caste) wanted to conquer all of India and therefore they even sent their generals and army of "Kshatrias" (the second highest Aryan "varna") to the jungle to find states that were still free. The soldiers did, indeed, find an independent Ḍom state. They invaded it, slaughtered everyone they could, and plundered all kinds of Ḍom property. Some Ḍom managed to hide in the woods; some ran far away in different directions, where we don't know; some became slaves to the Brahmans.Two brothers, Kalo and Bango, remained alive. They were very courageous. At night they returned to their town where now the foreign victors were ruling, and they stole back what had been stolen from them: precious jewels, gold, beautiful art works, magnificent musical instruments, statues of their Holy Mother, everything they could find. They carried their treasures far into the woods and buried them in hollows. Until today, nobody knows where everything is hidden.But once, at night, misfortune struck: Guards caught the two brothers and took them to their chief. There the brothers were interrogated as to where they had hidden the "stolen" treasures. The captors did not get one word out of the brothers. And so the new ruler had them thrown into boiling wax, and there, these two poor brothers burned and boiled to death. But even in death the brothers didn't leave the victors in peace. They haunted them. They came every night and put terror into the hearts of the new ruler and his court. They choked them and left them with bruises. The ruler no longer knew what to expect. And so the "spirits of the dead" told him to erect a monument to them in the village of Ḍomgau, where Ḍom might come by and remember their distinguished past. And it was done. What else did the brothers Kalo and Bango say? That there will be no peace on earth until the Ḍom-Roma are treated with the same respect as other people."

Ḍom are closely related to other castes which today, however, bear different names. Earlier, they belonged to a great Ḍom community. Their present caste designations refer mostly to their vocations – as is the case with the Roma (Kalderaš: cauldron makers; Lovara: horse traders). In India, related to the Ḍom are: gaḍe lohars (gaḍí: car; lohár: blacksmith), who are traveling blacksmiths; Badis (comp. ancient Roma family name Badi/Bodi), who play music and perform as acrobats, Badjos (comp. Roma family name Badžo), who are musicians; Banjaras, who are outstanding tradesmen. And so we see that the Ḍom-Rom relationship is not only linguistic. In addition, basic professions of both groups are identical. [Index]

Where and when the ancestors of the Roma left India is still an open question. The Roma scholar Ian Hancock le Redžosko, professor at Texas University in Austin, Texas, USA, assumes that the ancestors of the Roma fought against Arab warriers who conquered India from the eighth to the eleventh centuries and actually afterwards also. [Origin of Roma] The worst of these invaders was Muhammad Ghaznavi (11th century), who invaded and plundered India twenty-one times. It was just at that time that the ancestors of the Roma were leaving India. In Hancock's opinion, Roma ancestors were a mixed population composed of "Rajputs" (a high warrior caste) and their armies, among whom were also Ḍom. It is indisputable that the armies needed musicians as well as blacksmiths and tradesmen who could get them beasts of burden - horses and oxen. And those professions were those of the Ḍom. [Roma – Groups]

Until 1971, Roma were called Roma only among themselves. Others – except specialists – did not even know their real name (autonym). They labeled Roma with the greatest variety of appellatives (exonyms): "Cikáni" (Czech); "Tsiganye" (Russian); "Zigeuner" (German); "Zingari" (Italian); "Tsiganes" (French); "Gypsies" (English); "Gitanes" (French); "Tattare" (Swedish); "Bohémiens" (French) etc. All these appellatives show that Gadže did not know who Roma were or where they came from. Secondly, with time, these appellatives took on an ugly and erroneous sound: "Gypsy" – anyone who roams and does not live in one place; "ciganit": to lie, etc.

At the first International Congress of Roma in London, England (April 1971), the Roma announced that they wished their rightful name to be used officially, even among non-Roma. They founded the Roma organization RIJ ( Romano internacionalno jekhipen, today IRU ( Internacionalno romani unia). In 1979, the IRU became a member of ECOSOC, an organ of the UN. With it also grew international esteem for the Roma and their real name: Rom. In many countries, even non-Roma use the official autonym Rom in order to show proper respect to the Roma.

Linguistic relation between Rom and Ḍom

Indian languages contain cerebral consonants ( "dd", "ddh", "tt", "tth", "rr", "rrh", etc.) which do not exist in European languages. As long as Roma lived in India, even old Romani had cerebral consonants. Nowadays, we can only reconstruct the language. Under the influence of European languages, cerebral consonants in Romani changed mostly to "r" and "rr". In the Kalderaš dialect, the Indian "rr" sounds almost like "rr" in Hindi or Marwari. Let us demonstrate that change in a few cases. (We will introduce the roots of words without any endings):

Hindi Romani
ḍoī wooden spoon roj spoon
ḍhíg direction rig side, direction
uḍ-, uṛ- to fly ur- (el) to fly
gaḍḍh-, gaṛh- to bury, hide in the ground gar- (avel/uvel) to hide
kaḍ-(ā) dagger char-(o) sword
aṇḍ-ā egg (j/v)andr-o egg
máṇḍ griddle cake made of bread dough mar-o, mandr-o bread
peṭ abdomen per abdomen
ātṭ-ā flour ar-o flour
kaṇṭ-ā thorn kandr-o thorn

This regular consonant change proves that there is an indisputable linguistic connection between Rom and Ḍom words. (People can be found who amateurishly associate the name Roma with the capital of Italy, Roma [in Italian]. Naturally, this is incorrect. Roma already had their name when they left India.)


Hancock, Ian (1987) The Pariah Syndrome. An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution, Ann Arbor.
Pott, August Friedrich (1845 / 1964) Die Zigeuner in Europa und Asien. Ethnographisch-linguistische Untersuchung, vornehmlich ihrer Herkunft und Sprache nach gedruckten und ungedruckten Quellen. Zweiter Teil: Einleitung über Gaunersprachen, Wörterbuch und Sprachproben, Halle.
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