Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are portraying an Indian gypsy woman in Pushkar in Rajasthan, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
In this photo a gypsy woman has been portrayed by the photographer in Pushkar, India. The name 'Gypsy' often conjures up images of wandering bands of peddlers and fortune tellers traveling from place to place in colorful caravans. But this is not always an accurate picture, as many of the world's gypsies can be found settled in India and the Middle East.
In this photo a gypsy woman has been portrayed by the photographer in Pushkar, India. The name 'Gypsy' often conjures up images of wandering bands of peddlers and fortune tellers traveling from place to place in colorful caravans. But this is not always an accurate picture, as many of the world's gypsies can be found settled in India and the Middle East.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on June 27, 2024

Gypsy tribes in India

Although these gypsy groups are spread throughout India, most of them are concentrated in such areas as Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madras, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The Arhagar gypsies also live in neighboring Pakistan. These groups, as well as other gypsies around the world, are linked linguistically. All of the gypsy languages belong to the North Indo-Aryan language family. When gypsies began traveling from India to different regions of Europe hundreds of years ago, different dialects of their language, Romany, emerged. Each dialect became classified by the region in which a particular group settled.

What is the largest group of gypsies in India?

The largest group of gypsies in India are the Lambadi or Gormati gypsies. Other groups living there include the Tamil nomads, the Indian gypsies, the Kanjari and the Baiga.

Story of the gypsies in India
Most Indian gypsies have olive skin, dark hair, and brown eyes. Many believe they are descendants of the 'Rajputs' of medieval India. These were a people who had been expelled from their homeland and they were used as grain-carriers and weapon-makers for troops. The 'Rajputs' wandered throughout India and beyond, as a destitute, ignored and misunderstood people. Their only valuables were the tools used in their specialized professions. Today, their descendants, the gypsies, are widespread throughout India and they have maintained a mystical lifestyle that keeps them somewhat socially separate from their surrounding communities.

More than one occupation
Not only do the Indian gypsies usually have more than one occupation, but they also use additional skills to supplement their incomes. Some specialize in making such items as broomsticks, iron tools and needles. They may also repair tool or work with stone. Other gypsies are Hindus who believe that one does not have to work for a living, but may gain income by 'Religious begging'. They sing songs and wear special make-up while begging in the name of a specific deity. Acrobats, magicians, tricksters, storytellers, fortune-tellers and the like may also polish cattle horns or work as blacksmiths.

Some groups have even developed the art of tattooing. Nevertheless, these various occupations are used only when the region's people have a need for them. A gypsy will change occupations and activities, adapting to a changing society's needs, because they depend on the people in that society for their livelihood. A gypsy will only settle down when he cannot adapt to the needs of the region. Some of these 'Settled' gypsies now live as farmers.

"While some gypsies travel throughout the year, others travel only part of the year, returning to their home camps periodically. Some live in houses similar to those of the region, but many use their wagons or bull carts as dwelling places and some live in mobile homes. Few travel by foot or on horseback, since they cannot afford such luxuries"

Very unclean living habits
As an India photographer and traveler he learned that gypsies typically have very unclean living habits. Sanitation and good hygiene are rarely practiced. Indian gypsies believe that babies are to be born 'Into the lap of mother Earth'. For this reason, a woman will have her baby while lying on a rug on the ground. Children are often poorly cared for, their hair hangs loosely and shoes are seldom worn. Most Indian gypsies are Hindu. Others have combined many Hindu practices with their own beliefs. Gypsies are a very superstitious people and mixed with their religious beliefs are many taboos. One taboo among the Hindu gypsies is that a woman's hair must not be combed or let down long in the presence of men. Another is that a woman should not pass in front of a man who is sitting, but rather behind him.

Even though gypsies are unreserved in speech, many have high moral standards. For instance, chastity is very important. In the past, some girls who were involved in prostitution were buried alive. Unmarried girls are still discouraged from going into the cities and they usually wear veils over their hands and feet while sitting with strangers. Many gypsies live in Poverty. Usually the only clothes a gypsy owns are the ones on his back. An unsanitary lifestyle has created many physical needs among them and the quality of health care, nutrition and education is poor. Most children do not attend schools because their families are always on the move. Adequate educational opportunities must be provided to raise their standard of living.

Picture from Pushkar, India
With more than 500 temples, Pushkar is one of Hinduism's holiest sites and an interesting place to visit even when the famous camel fair in October or November is not being held. The focus of the town is its placid lake and the ghats, 'Havelis', crumbling buildings and temples, all whitewashed a splendid white, that edge the lake. Parts of the town have the vibe of a 'Rajasthani Varanasi' and indeed this place is almost as sacred. But like many Indian towns Pushkar has several flavors. In its narrow car-free main bazaar, 'Sadhus', tribals, hippies, the dreadlocked, backpackers, pilgrims, monkeys, beggars and 5-legged cattle, such birth deformities are considered lucky, vie for space with shops selling everything from religious 'Paraphernalia' to water bongs and 'Chillams'.

Pushkar's religious significance derives from the Vedic text, 'Padma Purana', which describes how the town was created. 'Brahma', creator of the universe, was looking for a place to perform the 'Yajna', a holy ritual that involves placing offerings into a sacrificial fire for 'Agni', the fire god-that would signify the beginning of the human age. He dropped a lotus from his hand and Pushkar was where it struck the ground.

See this video about gypsies in Rajasthan made by Indjan Traveler.

"- As I made my way to the this part of India, I was fascinated by the rich history and diverse cultures of Rajasthan. From the colorful turbans of the Rajasthani men to the delicate jewelry adorning the women, every aspect of their attire had a story to tell. I was amazed by how the people effortlessly blended their traditional way of life with the modern world", the Photographer says.

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India travel portraits

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a Gypsy woman in Pushkar. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.