France sees annual celebration of Sara e Kali, the patron saint of Roma
On Sunday, 24 May, the traditional pilgrimage of Sara e Kali, a celebration of the patron saint of Romani people, Saint Sarah, took place in the south of France. The festival takes place in the village of Saintes Marie de la Mer and tens of thousands of Romani people from all over Europe visit it annually.
A statue of Saint Sarah, which is usually kept in the cellar space of the Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer, is placed on a pedestal covered with flowers during the course of the ceremony and then carried on the shoulders of several Romani men in the presence of Romani guards on white horses to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The statute is submerged in the water and then carried back to the church.
The whole ceremony is accompanied by Romani music and song. There are various versions of the story explaining the origins of Saint Sarah.
A Romani story says that Sarah was a woman of noble blood who lived in southern France on the coast of the Mediterranean. One day God appeared to her and told her that the three most faithful followers of Jesus would be arriving by boat.
When Sarah went to the coast to welcome them, she saw that their boat had capsized. Sarah did not hesitate: She spread her cloak on the water and used it as a vessel to sail to their rescue.
After Mary baptized her, Sarah spread Christianity and goodness among her people. Saint Sarah is not only celebrated in Saintes Marie de la Mer, however.
Romani author and researcher Ronald Lee claims that similar ceremonies, although on a smaller scale, exist in many other states of Europe, for example in the Balkans, in Poland and in Slovakia. On the basis of determinations by Indian historians, he says these celebrations are almost identical with the ceremonies around the Hindu goddess Durga, who is also known as Kali.
Mentions of her in Hindu religious texts are said to confirm that the Saint Sarah celebrated during this Romani ceremony is considered the same as the Indian goddess Kali. This tradition, therefore, has evidently spread from India to Christian Europe thanks to oral transmission.
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