It is believed that they can’t stay in one place for more than seven days that’s why they are known as the “Ahikuntikas” in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Gypsy people are an ethnic group from Sri Lanka who trace their origins in India (Telugu areas of present Telugu land) centuries ago. They are the only nomadic group of people living in Ceylon and are known as the Ahikuntakas otherwise called Kuravans.
They live in small palmyra huts for two, three, or one week in one place. They mostly speak Telugu, also known as Sri Lankan Gypsy Telugu, a Dravidian language natively spoken in India.
Essentially a gypsy-like community, the Ahikuntaka refuses to dwell in established settlements with others. They are involved in the amusement industry, engaging in activities such as monkey dancing, snake charming, handcraftsmanship, preparing ancient herbal medicines, and fortune telling.
Unfortunately, with rapid social and environmental changes taking place in the country today, the gypsy community has as a result been detrimentally affected.
Due to extensive colonization, they are faced with the unavailability of bare lands to put up tents to stay in or carry out their profession at a particular location. This poses a severe threat to their nomadic lifestyle, which involves shifting to a new camping ground every seven days and engaging in vocations such as snake charming and taming monkeys for performing and fortunetelling.
In addition to this, due to current economic pressures, the Ahikuntaka community has been forced to engage in daily labour to sustain themselves.
Sri Lankan Gypsy Snake Charmer
Languages : Telugu , Sinhala, Tamil
Religion : Animism, Buddhism, Hindu, Christianity
Related ethnic groups : Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils
Gypsy women can be mistaken for Tamils. They wear saris, chew betel and travel to neighboring villages. They tell fortune by reading your palm and do so for clothes, provisions, and money.
Gypsy males wear a sarong. They entertain people with monkeys and snakes in crowded places. But with their lively music and dancing, gypsies have contributed to and influenced Sri Lankan literature, music and cinema.
Snake shows are characteristic of the gypsies and the snake is a symbol of their community. The connection between snakes and the “Ahikuntika”(Gypsy) people, is that sometimes it assumes a spiritual form of worship.
Ahikuntika people have been traditionally known to earn day-to-day existence and had no practice of saving for the future. But their economy has changed as they have now largely adapted to the culture of other communities. It is evident that they save money for their needs now.
Komarika-galayaya in Kala Wewa with a population of 300, is the only ‘Ahikuntika” village in Sri Lanka.
The residents of this village have given up the wandering lifestyle, but they still practice the old crafts like their wandering comrades. They still have a leader in the coven and traditions are still followed.