May 24-25 mark the feast days and pilgrimage to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in France for Sara la Kali, also known as Saint Sarah, Sara Kali, Kali Sara, and The Black Madonna, the Romani goddess and uncanonized saint. Sara la Kali is the protector of the Romani people, and likely finds her origins with the Hindu goddess Kali, as Roma trace roots back to India as well. There is a story among Catholic Roma that Sarah was one of Mary's attendants on a long boat voyage that ended in this little town in France where the pilgrimage is now held yearly.
The late and great Ronald Lee researched the worship of Sara la Kali, and found that her rituals are not just confined to this charming French seaside town. He writes:
Until recently it was widely believed that this worship of Kali Sara, the Romani Black Madonna or Goddess was unique to Les Saintes Maries de La Mer. My own recent research among Romani refugees from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and in countries of the Balkans has uncovered the little-known fact that other Black Virgins are worshipped by Roma in central/eastern Europe and that Roma from these countries perform similar rituals. These rituals include laying flowers at the feet of the statue, adorning the statue with clothing of the sick hoping for cures, placing requests to the statue, and lighting candles to the female divinity. To the Roma, Kali Sara is the Protectress who will cure sickness, bring good luck and fertility and grant success in business ventures.
Ronald Lee also researched the parallels between Romani ritual honoring Sara la Kali and the Durga Pooja in India (noting that Kali is an aspect of the goddess Durga).
The Romani ceremony at Les Saintes Maries, as elsewhere, consists of carrying the statue on a platform strewn with flowers (4) into the closest body of water such as a sea, lake, flowing river or even a large pond of clear water. The platform is then lowered to touch the water while the crowd throws flowers into the water. Indian scholars such as Dr. Weer Rishi (5) and others who have witnessed this Romani ceremony, as well as Western observers who are familiar with Hindu religious customs have identified this ceremony with the Durga Pooja of India. In Romani, Kali Sara means Black Sara and in India, the Goddess Kali is known as Kali/Durga/Sara. Like the Hindus, the Roma practice shaktism, the worship of Goddesses. In other words, the Roma who attend the pilgrimage to Les Saintes Maries in France and in other related ceremonies elsewhere honouring black female divinities, are in fact continuing to worship Kali/Durga/Sara their original Goddess in India.
We highly recommend reading Ronald Lee's complete article, "The Romani Goddess Kali Sara." It's a very comprehensive look at the goddess and her origins.
French photographer Jeannette Gregori takes beautiful photos of the pilgrimage and procession in Saintes Maries de la Mer, France, full of flowers, white horses, ocean water, dancing, and the statue of Saint Sarah herself. Take the time to view here.
Romani poets have also honored Sara la Kali, and continue. Raine Geoghegan has this series of Sara Kali poems featured in Travellers Times, Frances Roberts Reilly dedicates a poem to Sara Kali in her book Parramisha, and a poem "Transfiguration of the Black Madonna" that Romanistan co-host Jessica Reidy / Jezmina Von Thiele wrote, which at the moment lives in this old blog post (scroll all the way down) and some anthologies.
There is also a delightful account of what it's like to attend this pilgrimage from the talented singer Tatiana Eva Marie in Quail Bell Magazine.
If you are Romani and you're open to the thought, take some comfort in knowing that Sara la Kali is looking out for you, wishing you well. Celebrate or quietly note however you wish. If you're not Romani, you can enjoy the art and culture created in her honor.
Also, anyone can buy the featured print of Sara la Kali from artist Elijah Vardo.
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Thank you! Nais tuke! We appreciate you.