Etymology: sambar, the dish?

Geeta Bharathan geeta at LIFE.BIO.SUNYSB.EDU
Sat Jan 15 12:23:14 EST 2000


On Thu, 13 Jan 2000, Ashok Aklujkar wrote:

> A few hours ago at dinner I expressed the guess that the word
> sambar/saambaar is probably related to the Sanskrit word sa.mbhaara
> 'provisions, requisites, things required for any action or project,
> assemblage' (Apte's dictionary, expanded by Gode etc.,  p. 1650; I would
> expect other dictionaries too to contain the word). I just happened to read
> that Professor Georg v. Simson has already pointed out attestations that
> provide semantic support to my guess. His sa.mvara, as well as sa.mbala
> 'provision for a journey, viaticum,' in Apte p. 1648, could be later or
> dialectal variations of sa.mbhara/sa.mbhaara.

This sounds reasonable, and could explain why it is usually written
"saambhaar". In my Tamil-centred way, I have thought of the use of "bh" as
a northern Indian mis-transliteration of a Tamil word (a sort of reverse
of the southern transliteration, "dhal")

I thought it was a Tamil word because the same preparation (containing
tamarind, tuvar/arhar dal, vegetables, spices) is "huli" in Kannada, and
"pulusu" in Telugu.  Both seem to be general terms (cf. Tamil
kuLampu/kuzhampu), not specific to the dish--or am I wrong here?

In any case, if the name "saambhaar" is derived from Sanskrit, then the
hypothesis that both name and dish were introduced via Mahratha or other
influence (as mentioned by other posters) seems reasonable.

The facts that "saambhaar" does not feature in many Tamil dictionaries (I
did find it in the Kriya publication on modern Tamil), and that the
default dish at the main meal in Tamilnadu tends to be "puLi" (tamarind)
kuLampu without the dal, might be further support of this hypothesis.

It would be very interesting to know of the usage of this word in the
various southern areas and languages and their dialects--what is it called
in Udipi, for instance?

--Geeta



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