Among Mumbai’s many multi-cultural communities is a small group that follows Marathi culture, but with a distinct stamp of Tamil Nadu. One of the many Marathi communities in the city, this one boasts of a historic past and takes pride in calling itself the south Indian-Maharashtrians.
Tanjore Marathis migrated along with Shivaji Maharaj’s half- brother Venkoji to the areas surrounding the district of Thanjavur back in the 1600s. The community speaks a dialect that is a mix of both Marathi and Tamil, commonly known as Thanjavur Marathi, sans a script.
Explaining how difficult it becomes for him to converse in Marathi, Chandrashekhar Rao, a Tanjore Marathi based in Mumbai, says, “As I was born and brought up in Tamil Nadu and later migrated to Mumbai, I am well-versed with Tamil. I can understand Marathi and manage speaking it, but don’t ask me to write it!”
Tanjore Marathis also migrated to other parts of the country in search of education and employment. However, the presence of their forefathers in the south for so long brought a blend of the west and south to their food, traditional rituals and cultural background.
“Marathis call it ‘dal’, we call it ‘sambhar’; for them it is ‘aamti’ (curry), for us it is ‘rasam’,” says Bhaskar Yogendra, secretary of South Indian Maharashtrian Association (SIMA), an organisation that promotes Marathi culture among the Maharashtrians settled in south India. “We celebrate Ugadi on the day of Gudi Padwa (new year for the Maharashtrians) and eat ‘tilgul’ to mark the occasion,” he says.
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“Their history, though dating back centuries, is one of the well-documented ones,” says Usha Vijay Lakshmi, a scholar on the subject of Tanjore Maharashtrians. In the past 50 years, she says, most members of the community who were predominantly based in parts of Thanjavur migrated for better lifestyle. “However, you will still find many communities in the south who are trying to guard the essence of their culture,” says Lakshmi.
What then keeps the present generation closer to its roots? Ramnath S, president of SIMA, says during Diwali or similar festivities, there is a considerable crowd of Tanjore Maharashtrians travelling to the south with their families.
“By visiting Balaji temple at Tirupati at least once a year, some of them try to maintain the strong link to their primary deity,” he says.
Another feature is members carrying the surname ‘Rao’, preceded by the first name of south Indian origin, depending on the place where they originally belonged.
According to community members, what remains the objective of the Tanjore Maharashtrians is to keep their culture alive. All they wish is for their coming generation to understand the roots of where they belong and the necessity to feel proud of it.