There has been evidence of Marathi settlers in the northern and central parts of present–day Tamil Nadu since ancient times. The Thanjavur Marathi community is an ethno-linguistic community that originated in the 17nth century, after the formation of the Vijaynagar Empire. The earlier ancient Chola kingdom was one of the mightiest kingdoms and ruled from its capital Thanjavur to Bay of Bengal and beyond that to Indonesia too. However, after numerous wars, Thanjavur changed hands in 1674 and was taken over by Chattrapathi Shivaji’s half-brother who established the Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom; thus began the influx of Marathis into the land of the Tamilians. During the reign of Serfoji I, who ruled from 1712-1726, Marathi Brahmins were invited to settle in Thanjavur and were offered large plots of land as incentives.
These immigrant Marathis have contributed in many ways towards the betterment of the indigenous Tamil population by their contributions in the fields of arts, literature and even the cuisine! The last ruler of the dynasty, Serfoji II was very fond of the arts and literature, and many prominent poets and saints were in residence in Thanjavur and nearby places in those days. The current Thanjavur Marathis are descendents of Marathi administrators, soldiers and noblemen who migrated during the Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom’s reign. Of recent, the last few remaining Thanjavur Marathis have started making podcasts to save their language which has mutated into a unique mixture of medieval Marathi and Tamil.
One of the controversies that have arisen in relation to the Thanjavur Marathis is with regards to the ubiquitous ‘Sambhar’ dish. This dish forms an integral part of south Indian cuisine, and no breakfast or traditional lunch is complete without it, yet historians have claimed that this dish is of Marathi origin! No, this is not a way of trying to grab your attention, but documentations exist to support this theory; though there are many versions of it, one story goes like this: during the reign of Serfoji I, his cook is supposed to have tweaked the ‘Amti’ recipe and used ‘tur daal’ and tamarind instead. The guest on that day was Sambhaji, the 2nd emperor of the Maratha emperor, and the successful dish thus came to be named ‘Sambhar’! Since then the Sambhar has been further refined by various communities to the point that over 50 versions of it exist across south India today!
Of course, no south Indian worth his salt would like to believe that their favorite Sambhar could have Maharashtrian origins, yet stories and legends exist to support this theory. Another contribution to Tamil cuisine by the Maharashtrians was the ‘poli’ (sweet roti) that is still being enjoyed today by the people of Tamil Nadu.