Sangam Age In South India (the area south of the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers), the period between about three hundred BCE to 300 AD is known as Sangam period.
- Sangam was a confluence or conference of Tamil poets, which was probably held under the patronage of some chiefs or kings.
- The description of three confluences is found in the eighth century AD. These confluences were granted royal patronage by the Pandya kings.
- These literary works were the earliest examples of Dravidian literature.
- According to Tamil legends, three sangams (congregations of Tamil poets) were organized in ancient South India, called Muchchangam .
- The first Sangam is believed to have been held in Madurai. This confluence consisted of deities and great saints. There are no literary texts available at this confluence.
- The second Sangam was held at Kapatapuram, the only Tamil grammar text of this Sangam, the Tolkappiyam is available.
- The third Sangam was also held in Madurai. Most of the texts of this confluence were destroyed. Some of these material is available as group texts or epics.
Sangam Literature : Major source giving details of Sangam era
Sangam literature is written mainly in Tamil language, the major works of the Sangam era include the texts like Tolkappiyam, Etuttauke, Pattappattu, Padinekillakanakku etc. and Shilappadikaram, Manimekhalai and Jeevak Chintamani epics.
- The author of Tolkappiyam is Tolkappiyar. It is the only oldest available text of the Second Sangam. It is a treatise related to grammar, as well as provides information on the political and socio-economic conditions of the time.
- Ettuttouke (Ashta Collection) is a collection of eight texts of the third Sangam. These eight texts are the following – Nanninai, Kurunthokai, Enkurunur, Paditrappattu, Paripadal, Kalithouke, Ahananaru, Purunanaru.
- Pattupattu (Dashagit) is a collection of ten poems and is the second collection of the third Sangam. These ten poems are the following – Tirumurukatruppadai, Nedanalavadai, Perumpanatruppadai, Pattinappalai, Porunaratruppadai, Maduraikanchi, Sirupanatruppadai, Mullappattu, Kurunjippatu, Malappadukadam.
- Padinekillakanakku is an eclectic treatise with 18 poems and is related to the third Sangam literature. The most important of these 18 poems is Tirukkural written by the great Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar. It is also considered to be the biblical or fifth Veda of Tamil literature.
- Shilappadikaram is an epic written by ‘Elangoadigal’ and Manimekhalai by ‘Sitalasattanar’. These epics provide good information about the then Sangam society and politics.
Other sources giving details about the Sangam period are –
- Greek writers such as Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy have noted commercial trade contacts between West and South India.
- The records of Ashoka mention Chola, Pandya and Chera.
- The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvel of Kalinga mentions the Tamil states.
- In the eighth century AD, the three Sangamos are described as Iainayar Agapporul’s commentary.
Political history of Sangam period
During the Sangam era, South India was ruled by three dynasties – the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas. Information about these states can be obtained from literary references of the Sangam period.
- The Cheras controlled the central and northern parts of the modern state of Kerala and the Kongu region of Tamil Nadu.
- Their capital was Wanji and the ports of the west coast, Musiri and Tondi were under their control.
- The emblem of the Cheras was the “bow-arrow”.
- The Pugalur inscription of the first century BC gives information about three generations of Chera rulers.
- The Cher kings benefited from trade with the Roman Empire. It is said that he also built a temple of Augustus.
- The greatest king of the Cheras was Shenguttatavan / Senguttuvan who was also known as Lal or good Chera.
- Shenguttatavan / Senguttuvan started pattini (wife) worship in the Chera state. It was also called Kannagi Puja.
- He was the first to send messengers from South India to China.
- The Cholas controlled the central and northern parts of Tamil Nadu.
- The main area of his rule was the Cauvery Delta, later known as Cholamandalam.
- Their capital was Uraiyur (near Tiruchirapalli town). Later Karikal established Kaveripatnam or Puhar Nagar and made it his capital.
- His emblem was tiger.
- The Cholas also had a skilled navy.
- King Karikal was the most important ruler among the Chola kings.
- His life and military takeover are depicted in Pattinappalai.
- In the poems of various Sangam literature, the battle of Venni is mentioned, in this war, Karikal defeated eleven kings including Pandya and Chera.
- Karikal’s military achievements made him the suzerain of the entire Tamil region.
- Karikal thriving the trade and commerce sector during his reign.
- Karikal founded the city of Puhar or Kaveripatnam and shifted his capital from Uraipur to Kaveripatnam. Apart from this, 160 km along the banks of the river Kaveri. Constructed a long dam.
- The Pandyas ruled from Madurai.
- The Pandya kingdom was in the far south and southeastern part of the Indian peninsula.
- Korkai was their initial capital, which was located near the confluence of Thampararani with the Bay of Bengal.
- The symbol of the Pandya dynasty was ‘fish’.
- He patronized the Tamil Sangams and facilitated the compilation of Sangam poems.
- The rulers maintained a regular army.
- According to Sangam literature, the Pandya kingdom was rich and prosperous.
- The Pandyas are first mentioned by Megasthenes, who described this state as famous for pearls.
- Widows were treated badly in society.
- The Brahmins had considerable influence in this state and in the early centuries of Christ, Pandya Raza performed Vedic Yajna.
- His power decayed with the invasion of a tribe called Kalabhras.
- Nallivakodan was the last known Pandya ruler of the Sangam era.
Sangam Age polity and administration
- Hereditary monarchy was in vogue during the Sangam period.
- Each dynasty of the Sangam era had a royal emblem. For example, tigers for Cholas, fish for Pandyas and bows for Cheras.
- The power of the king was controlled by five councils, known as the five Mahasabhas.
- The ministers were (Amachachar), Purohit (Purohitar), Doot (messenger), Senapati (Senapatiyar) and Gupta (Orrar).
- Military administration was conducted efficiently and a regular army was attached to each ruler.
- The main source of state income was land revenue, while foreign trade was also levied by customs.
- Property looted in war was also considered as fiscal income.
- Proper arrangements of roads and highways were maintained to prevent robbery and smuggling.
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- In the book called Purunanaru, four sections Tudian, Padan, Padaiyan and Kamban are mentioned.
- Four texts are mentioned in the book called Purunanru – such as – Shudum class (Brahmin and intellectual class), Arsar class (ruling and warrior class), Benigar class (merchant class) and Vellal class (peasant class).
- There are five main types of land found in Sangam poems – Mullai (rustic), Marudam (agriculture), Palai (desert), Nethal (sea) and Kurinchi (hill).
- Ancient primitive tribes such as Thoda, Irula, Naga and Vader were found in this period.
- Another important feature was the lack of slavery in this era.
Status of women during Sangam era
- There is a lot of information available in the Sangam literature to understand the situation of women during the Sangam era.
- Women were respected and allowed to conduct intellectual activities. There were women poets like Avvaiyar , Nachchellaiyar and Kakkaipadiniyar who made outstanding contributions to Tamil literature.
- Women were allowed to choose their spouses but the lives of widows were pathetic.
- There is a mention of the practice of Sati at a higher level in the society.
- The principal deity of the Sangam period was Murugan, known as the Tamil god.
- The worship of Murugan is considered to be the oldest in South India and the festivals related to Lord Murugan were mentioned in Sangam literature.
- Other deities worshiped during the Sangam period were Mayon (Vishnu), Vandana (Indra), Krishna, Varuna and Korravai.
- The worship of the Nayaka Stone Age in the Sangam period was important, which was marked as a commemoration of the valor shown by the warriors in battle.
- The spread of Buddhism and Jainism also appears in the Sangam era.
Sangam era economy
- Agriculture was the main occupation and rice was the most common crop.
- Handicraft included weaving, metalwork and carpentry, shipbuilding and making jewelry using beads, stones and elephant teeth.
- An important feature of the Sangam era was its internal and external trade.
- Highly specialized in spinning and weaving of cotton and silk fabrics. Woven cotton clothing was in great demand in Western countries, especially in Uriyur.
- The city of Puhar became an important place of foreign trade, as large ships with valuable goods entered this port.
- Other important ports for commercial activity were Tondi, Mushiri, Korakai, Arikamedu and Marakkanam.
- Numerous gold and silver coins issued by Roman emperors such as Augustus, Tiberius and Nero have been found in all parts of Tamil Nadu indicating rich trade.
- The major exports of the Sangam era were cotton clothes and spices such as black pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric as well as elephant tooth products, pearls and precious gems.
- Horse, gold, silver and sweet liquor etc. were the main items imported by the traders.
End of sangam era
- By the end of the third century, the Sangam period gradually began to decline.
- The Kalabhras (Kalabhras) took over the Tamil country from three hundred BC to six hundred BC, a period known by earlier historians as an interim or ‘dark age’.