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For the commune and town in Mali, see Domba, Mali. For other uses, see Dom (disambiguation).
Total population
(100,000 - 1,000,000 (est.)[citation needed])
Regions with significant populations
Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bangladesh,
Domari,[dubious ] Marathi, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Hindi, Odia, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Mundari
Hinduism, Islam, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Dom people
Dom man-1860 - Eastern Bengal

The Domba or Dom (Sanskrit ḍoma, dialectally also Domaki, Dombo, Domra, Domaka, Dombar, Dombari and variants) are an ethnic or social group, or groups, scattered across India. In North India, the preferred self-designation is Dom.[1]

The form ḍomba Prakrit, while ḍoma and ḍumba are encountered in Kashmiri Sanskrit texts. Derived from ḍoma is ḍomākī, the name of a language spoken in a small enclave in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. It is also believed that the Dom or Domi people of the Middle East, in addition to the Roma of Europe,[2] are descendants of Domba, who were taken, or traveled, to Sassanid Persia as servants and musicians.

The term ḍoma or ḍomba is extensively used in Indian Hindu and Buddhist literature for a segregated and enslaved population[citation needed].

Origin of the word Dom[edit]

Its presumed root, ḍom, which is connected with drumming, is linked to damara and damaru, Sanskrit terms for "drum" and the Sanskrit verbal root डम् ḍam- 'to sound (as a drum)', perhaps a loan from Dravidian, e.g. Kannada ḍamāra 'a pair of kettle-drums', and Telugu ṭamaṭama 'a drum, tomtom'.[3]

Demographics and distribution[edit]

Currently there remain several thousand people across India known depending on various regional dialects, as Domaki, Dombo, Domra, Domaka, Dombar, Dommara and Domba. In Western India, in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat they are referred to as Domba or Domari which is very similar to the name used in the Middle East (see Dom people). Place name studies indicate that they attested all over India and even in Sri Lanka. In North India, they are generally known as Dom or sometimes Doom.

Currently some are sedentary whereas others exist on a nomadic mode of life along with number of other tribal people such as Banjaras and Lambanis. Some Nomadic Doms in India remain distinct from the local populace in terms of their dress. Nomadic Domba women typically wear bright blues and reds, with numerous thick bangles often covering the entire forearms and arms, a practice that can be seen across other ethnic groups from Rajasthan.


In 1989, 500 people were counted as speaking Domaki in the Shina valley of Gilgit Baltistan region. The people are called 'Bericho', 'Dom', or 'Doma'. They are musicians and blacksmiths. The Dom identity developed out of their work as musicians and blacksmiths. They are a heterogeneous group, descended from a number of families that took up service with the various local rulers. The Dom belong to the Nizari Ismaili sect in Hunza, and the Athna Ashri Shia sect in Nagar. After land reforms carries out by Pakistan government in the 1970s, the Dom were given ownership of land. However, the majority of the Dom are still landless, and are still employed as blacksmiths.[4]

North India[edit]

Dom in Himachal Pradesh exhibit the archetypical characteristics of an indigenous hunter gatherer tribe that has been incorporated as part of the caste system. Doms are agricultural workers, basket weavers and small scale agriculturalists. They are not known for their nomadic existence. They are also recognized by their neighbors as the original inhabitants of the forests lands.

With regard to the Dom community in Odisha, they speak Indo-Aryan Odia language. They live as neighbors to the Dravidian speaking Khonds tribals. Doms speak Dravidian Kondhi as well as Indo-Aryan Odia language.

In Varanasi, the holy Hindu city in Uttar Pradesh, the Dom perform the most important task of cremation of dead bodies. Many are nomadic and peripatetic groups in Uttar Pradesh are said to be of Dom origin such as the Bangali, Bhantu, Bazigar, Habura, Kanjar, and Sansi. It could also be that term Dom is generically used to describe any peripatetic nomad, as all these groups mentioned are distinct and strictly endogamous. Some speak a dialect or argot of their own, while others speak the prevailing dialect or language.[5]

They are also attested in ancient as well as current literature as a scheduled or Dalit caste in Bengal, Bihar and Kashmir also.

South India[edit]

With regard to the Dom community in Andhra Pradesh, they are known as Dommara and are a Telugu speaking caste of people found in the Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh.

Doms in Tamil Nadu are known as Dombar or Thombar and are found in villages around the city of Salem. They are mostly Tamil speakers.

Domba are also found in sizeable numbers in Karnataka. There s a major settlement on the outskirts of Belgaum city in the north of the city. They are known as jugglers and acrobats.


People identified as Doms have long been workers at cremation places, weavers of ropes and baskets. They are also traditionally well known for their musical ability. A medieval history describes the Dom community as a caste that makes its living from music. There are furthermore references to certain ragas entitled Dombakriti, Dombakriya, Dombakrī, Domb and Dombikā, and a deshī or "folk" tāla called Dombuli. Even to this day, the various Dom communities continue to provide India with skilled musicians. It seems that with Islamic invasions, the caste declined in importance and its traditional musical skills were condemned.

Most currently some Dom earn their living by entertaining as street performers and jugglers. In a typical show, known colloquially as Dombaryacha khel (DombaraaTa in the south of India), i.e. a performance by the Domba(ri), the whole family participates. The older males usually demonstrate their expertise with a long whip, including the ability to withstand self-flagellation of a bare torso with the whip in a fairly dramatic manner.

The older womenfolk often don't actively participate in the show but stand by the sidelines as assistants. The younger members of both genders perform acrobatic feats. A typical act in the Dombaryacha khel is balancing an hour-glass shaped object on a string, which in turn is tied to a stick at each end. (See Chinese yo-yo.) The sticks are flicked sharply to catapult the hourglass object 50–60 feet in the air, which then is expertly caught in the string just before it reaches ground. Adopting a mongrel dog as a pet is fairly common as is the use of the trained mongrel in their performances.

Connection with the Romani and Dom peoples[edit]

The Dom people, an ethnic group scattered through many Middle East countries, are widely assumed to be related the Domba of India.

The origin of the word Rom is probably also ultimately derived from the same name, although, in the context of the Romani language, Rom primary means "man" as in "good man\human", "married person", "husband", while Romni means "wife".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tribes and Castes of the North Western Provinces and Oudh Volume II by William Crook
  2. ^ Matras, Yaron (1 June 1995). Romani in Contact. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 21. ISBN 9789027276483. 
  3. ^ T. Burrow and M.B. Emeneau, A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 257, entry #2949.
  4. ^ The Dom of Hunza (northern areas of Pakistan) / Anna Schmid in Disappearing peoples? : indigenous groups and ethnic minorities in South and Central Asia / edited by Barbara A. Brower, Barbara Rose Johnston. ISBN 1598741209
  5. ^ Nomads in India : proceedings of the National Seminar / edited by P.K. Misra, K.C. Malhotra


  1. Mystical Eroticism by Ven Tantra
  2. In Sri Lanka there are place names dombagod and goda typically denoting a settlement of "lower caste" people. See Raveen Satkurunathan, ".dombii as scavenger woman," email, Archives of Indology, (25 Apr 2000).
  3. Online discussion ".dombii," 24 messages, Archives of Indology, (Apr 2000).
  4. Bharat Gupt, ".dombii as scavenger woman," Archives of Indology, (19 Apr 2000).
  5. Stephen Hodge, ".dombii as scavenger woman," email, Archives of Indology, (22 Apr 2000). The author cites F.B.J. Kuiper, Proto-Munda Words in Sanskrit (1948).
  6. Swaminathan Madhuresan, ".dombii as scavenger woman," email, Archives of Indology, (21 Apr 2000). The writer makes mention of the southern Indian Dombar/thombar community, a Dravidian caste found living in Salem and Tiruchy. He further wonders if dombī is not the itumpi in Tamil works. A Tamil Lexicon defines itumpu as "mischief" or "pranks," while the word itumpai means "affliction."
  7. Stephen Hodge, ".dombii as scavenger woman," email, Archives of Indology, (24 Apr 2000). For the full gory details of the Meriah sacrifices, see Barbara Boal, The Kondhs: Human Sacrifice and Religious Change, 2nd ed. (1997).
  8. Michael Witzel, ".dombii as scavenger woman," email, Archives of Indology, (19 Apr 2000). See also ".dombii as scavenger woman (Romani)," 3 messages, Archives of Indology, (25-27Apr 2000).
  9. Elena Bashir, ".dombii as scavenger woman," email, Archives of Indology, (19 Apr 2000).
  10. Raju Balakrishnan, ".dombii as scavenger woman," Archives of Indology, (21 Apr 2000).
  11. Hobson dictionary definition of Dombar

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