TN History Textbook: Sangam Age Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC

UPSC: TN History Textbook: Sangam Age Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC

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 Page 1


85
The Sangam Age constitutes an important chapter in the history
of South India. According to Tamil legends, there existed three
Sangams (Academy of Tamil poets) in ancient Tamil Nadu popularly
called Muchchangam. These Sangams flourished under the royal
patronage of the Pandyas. The first Sangam, held at Then Madurai,
was attended by gods and legendary sages but no literary work of
this Sangam was available. The second Sangam was held at
Kapadapuram but the all the literary works had perished except
Tolkappiyam. The third Sangam at Madurai was founded by
Mudathirumaran. It was attended by a large number of poets who
produced voluminous literature but only a few had survived. These
Tamil literary works remain useful sources to reconstruct the history
of the Sangam Age.
Sangam Literature
The corpus of Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam,
Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and the two epics
LESSON 8
SANGAM AGE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The Sangam literature and other sources for the Sangam
period.
2. The political history of the Sangam period.
3. The Sangam polity and society.
4. Religion and the position of women in the Sangam period.
5. The economic condition of the Sangam age.
Page 2


85
The Sangam Age constitutes an important chapter in the history
of South India. According to Tamil legends, there existed three
Sangams (Academy of Tamil poets) in ancient Tamil Nadu popularly
called Muchchangam. These Sangams flourished under the royal
patronage of the Pandyas. The first Sangam, held at Then Madurai,
was attended by gods and legendary sages but no literary work of
this Sangam was available. The second Sangam was held at
Kapadapuram but the all the literary works had perished except
Tolkappiyam. The third Sangam at Madurai was founded by
Mudathirumaran. It was attended by a large number of poets who
produced voluminous literature but only a few had survived. These
Tamil literary works remain useful sources to reconstruct the history
of the Sangam Age.
Sangam Literature
The corpus of Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam,
Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and the two epics
LESSON 8
SANGAM AGE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The Sangam literature and other sources for the Sangam
period.
2. The political history of the Sangam period.
3. The Sangam polity and society.
4. Religion and the position of women in the Sangam period.
5. The economic condition of the Sangam age.
87 86
Senguttuvan of the Chera dynasty were contemporaries. This is
confirmed by Silappathigaram as well as the Dipavamsa and
Mahavamsa. Also the Roman coins issued by Roman emperors of
the first century A.D were found in plenty in various places of Tamil
Nadu. Therefore, the most probable date of the Sangam literature
has been fixed between the third century B.C. to third century A.D.
on the basis of literary, archaeological and numismatic evidences.
Political History
The Tamil country was ruled by three dynasties namely the
Chera, Chola and Pandyas during the Sangam Age. The political
history of these dynasties can be traced from the literary references.
Cheras
The Cheras ruled over parts of modern Kerala. Their capital
was V anji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri. They
had the palmyra flowers as their garland. The Pugalur inscription of
the first century A.D refers to three generations of Chera rulers.
Padirruppattu also provides information on Chera kings. Perum
Sorru Udhiyan Cheralathan, Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralathan
and Cheran Senguttuvan were the famous rulers of this dynasty.
Cheran Senguttuvan belonged to 2
nd
 century A.D. His younger
brother was Elango Adigal, the author of Silappathigaram. Among
his military achievements, his expedition to the Himalayas was
remarkable. He defeated many north Indian monarchs. Senguttuvan
introduced the Pattini cult or the worship of Kannagi as the ideal
wife in Tamil Nadu. The stone for making the idol of Kannagi was
brought by him after his Himalayan expedition. The consecration
ceremony was attended by many princes including Gajabhagu II
from Sri Lanka.
– Silappathigaram and Manimegalai. Tolkappiyam authored by
Tolkappiyar is the earliest of the Tamil literature. It is a work on
Tamil grammar but it provides information on the political and socio-
economic conditions of the Sangam period. The Ettutogai or Eight
Anthologies consist of eight works – Aingurunooru, Narrinai,
Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal
and Padirruppattu. The Pattuppattu or Ten Idylls consist of ten
works – Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai,
Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu,
Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai
and Malaipadukadam. Both Ettutogai and Pattuppattu were divided
into two main groups – Aham (love) and Puram (valour).
Pathinenkilkanakku contains eighteen works mostly dealing with
ethics and morals. The most important among them is Tirukkural
authored by Thiruvalluvar. Silappathigaram written by Elango
Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar also provides valuable
information on the Sangam polity and society.
Other Sources
In addition to the Sangam literature, the Greek authors like
Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy mention the commercial
contacts between the West and South India. The Asokan inscriptions
mention the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers on the south of the
Mauryan empire. The Hathikumbha inscription of Kharavela of
Kalinga also mentions about Tamil kingdoms. The excavations at
Arikkamedu, Poompuhar, Kodumanal and other places reveal the
overseas commercial activities of the Tamils.
Period of Sangam Literature
The chronology of the Sangam literature is still a disputed
topic among the scholars. The sheet anchor of Sangam chronology
lies in the fact that Gajabhagu II of Sri Lanka and Cheran
Page 3


85
The Sangam Age constitutes an important chapter in the history
of South India. According to Tamil legends, there existed three
Sangams (Academy of Tamil poets) in ancient Tamil Nadu popularly
called Muchchangam. These Sangams flourished under the royal
patronage of the Pandyas. The first Sangam, held at Then Madurai,
was attended by gods and legendary sages but no literary work of
this Sangam was available. The second Sangam was held at
Kapadapuram but the all the literary works had perished except
Tolkappiyam. The third Sangam at Madurai was founded by
Mudathirumaran. It was attended by a large number of poets who
produced voluminous literature but only a few had survived. These
Tamil literary works remain useful sources to reconstruct the history
of the Sangam Age.
Sangam Literature
The corpus of Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam,
Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and the two epics
LESSON 8
SANGAM AGE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The Sangam literature and other sources for the Sangam
period.
2. The political history of the Sangam period.
3. The Sangam polity and society.
4. Religion and the position of women in the Sangam period.
5. The economic condition of the Sangam age.
87 86
Senguttuvan of the Chera dynasty were contemporaries. This is
confirmed by Silappathigaram as well as the Dipavamsa and
Mahavamsa. Also the Roman coins issued by Roman emperors of
the first century A.D were found in plenty in various places of Tamil
Nadu. Therefore, the most probable date of the Sangam literature
has been fixed between the third century B.C. to third century A.D.
on the basis of literary, archaeological and numismatic evidences.
Political History
The Tamil country was ruled by three dynasties namely the
Chera, Chola and Pandyas during the Sangam Age. The political
history of these dynasties can be traced from the literary references.
Cheras
The Cheras ruled over parts of modern Kerala. Their capital
was V anji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri. They
had the palmyra flowers as their garland. The Pugalur inscription of
the first century A.D refers to three generations of Chera rulers.
Padirruppattu also provides information on Chera kings. Perum
Sorru Udhiyan Cheralathan, Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralathan
and Cheran Senguttuvan were the famous rulers of this dynasty.
Cheran Senguttuvan belonged to 2
nd
 century A.D. His younger
brother was Elango Adigal, the author of Silappathigaram. Among
his military achievements, his expedition to the Himalayas was
remarkable. He defeated many north Indian monarchs. Senguttuvan
introduced the Pattini cult or the worship of Kannagi as the ideal
wife in Tamil Nadu. The stone for making the idol of Kannagi was
brought by him after his Himalayan expedition. The consecration
ceremony was attended by many princes including Gajabhagu II
from Sri Lanka.
– Silappathigaram and Manimegalai. Tolkappiyam authored by
Tolkappiyar is the earliest of the Tamil literature. It is a work on
Tamil grammar but it provides information on the political and socio-
economic conditions of the Sangam period. The Ettutogai or Eight
Anthologies consist of eight works – Aingurunooru, Narrinai,
Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal
and Padirruppattu. The Pattuppattu or Ten Idylls consist of ten
works – Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai,
Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu,
Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai
and Malaipadukadam. Both Ettutogai and Pattuppattu were divided
into two main groups – Aham (love) and Puram (valour).
Pathinenkilkanakku contains eighteen works mostly dealing with
ethics and morals. The most important among them is Tirukkural
authored by Thiruvalluvar. Silappathigaram written by Elango
Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar also provides valuable
information on the Sangam polity and society.
Other Sources
In addition to the Sangam literature, the Greek authors like
Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy mention the commercial
contacts between the West and South India. The Asokan inscriptions
mention the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers on the south of the
Mauryan empire. The Hathikumbha inscription of Kharavela of
Kalinga also mentions about Tamil kingdoms. The excavations at
Arikkamedu, Poompuhar, Kodumanal and other places reveal the
overseas commercial activities of the Tamils.
Period of Sangam Literature
The chronology of the Sangam literature is still a disputed
topic among the scholars. The sheet anchor of Sangam chronology
lies in the fact that Gajabhagu II of Sri Lanka and Cheran
89 88
including the flourishing seaport of Korkai. The last famous Pandyan
king was Uggira Peruvaludhi. The Pandyan rule during the Sangam
Age began to decline due to the invasion of the Kalabhras.
Minor Chieftains
The minor chieftains played a significant role in the Sangam
period. Among them Pari, Kari, Ori, Nalli, Pegan, Ay and Adiyaman
were popular for their philanthropy and patronage of Tamil poets.
Therefore, they were known as Kadai Yelu V allalgal. Although they
were subordinate to the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers, they were
powerful and popular in their respective regions.
Sangam Polity
Hereditary monarchy was the form of government during the
Sangam period. The king had also taken the advice of his minister,
court-poet and the imperial court or avai. The Chera kings assumed
titles like V anavaramban, V anavan, Kuttuvan, Irumporai and Villavar,
the Chola kings like Senni, Valavan and Killi and the Pandya kings
Thennavar and Minavar. Each of the Sangam dynasties had a royal
emblem – carp for the Pandyas, tiger for the Cholas and bow for
the Cheras. The imperial court or avai was attended by a number of
chiefs and officials. The king was assisted by a large body of officials
who were divided into five councils. They were ministers (amaichar),
priests (anthanar), military commanders (senapathi), envoys (thuthar)
and spies (orrar). The military administration was also efficiently
organized during the Sangam Age. Each ruler had a regular army
and their respective Kodimaram (tutelary tree).
Land revenue was the chief source of state’s income while
custom duty was also imposed on foreign trade. The Pattinappalai
refers to the custom officials employed in the seaport of Puhar. Booty
captured in wars was also a major income to the royal treasury.
Cholas
The Chola kingdom of the Sangam period extended from
modern Tiruchi district to southern Andhra Pradesh. Their capital
was first located at Uraiyur and then shifted to Puhar. Karikala was
a famous king of the Sangam Cholas. Pattinappalai portrays his
early life and his military conquests. In the Battle of V enni he defeated
the mighty confederacy consisting of the Cheras, Pandyas and eleven
minor chieftains. This event is mentioned in many Sangam poems.
Vahaipparandalai was another important battle fought by him in which
nine enemy chieftains submitted before him. Karikala’s military
achievements made him the overlord of the whole Tamil country.
Trade and commerce flourished during his reign period. He was
responsible for the reclamation of forest lands and brought them
under cultivation thus adding prosperity to the people. He also built
Kallanai across the river Kaveri and also constructed many irrigation
tanks.
Pandyas
The Pandyas ruled over the present day southern Tamil Nadu.
Their capital was Madurai. The earliest kings of the Pandyan dynasty
were Nediyon, Palyagasalai Mudukudumi Peruvaludhi and
Mudathirumaran. There were two Neduncheliyans. The first one
was known as Aryappadai Kadantha Neduncheliyan (one who won
victories over the Aryan forces). He was responsible for the
execution of Kovalan for which Kannagi burnt Madurai. The other
was Talaiyalanganattu Cheruvenra (He who won the battle at
Talaiyalanganam) Neduncheliyan.  He was praised by Nakkirar and
Mangudi Maruthanar. He wore this title after defeating his enemies
at the Battle of Talaiyalanganam, which is located in the Tanjore
district. By this victory Neduncheliyan gained control over the entire
Tamil Nadu. Maduraikkanji written by Mangudi Maruthanar
describes the socio-economic condition of the Pandya country
Page 4


85
The Sangam Age constitutes an important chapter in the history
of South India. According to Tamil legends, there existed three
Sangams (Academy of Tamil poets) in ancient Tamil Nadu popularly
called Muchchangam. These Sangams flourished under the royal
patronage of the Pandyas. The first Sangam, held at Then Madurai,
was attended by gods and legendary sages but no literary work of
this Sangam was available. The second Sangam was held at
Kapadapuram but the all the literary works had perished except
Tolkappiyam. The third Sangam at Madurai was founded by
Mudathirumaran. It was attended by a large number of poets who
produced voluminous literature but only a few had survived. These
Tamil literary works remain useful sources to reconstruct the history
of the Sangam Age.
Sangam Literature
The corpus of Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam,
Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and the two epics
LESSON 8
SANGAM AGE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The Sangam literature and other sources for the Sangam
period.
2. The political history of the Sangam period.
3. The Sangam polity and society.
4. Religion and the position of women in the Sangam period.
5. The economic condition of the Sangam age.
87 86
Senguttuvan of the Chera dynasty were contemporaries. This is
confirmed by Silappathigaram as well as the Dipavamsa and
Mahavamsa. Also the Roman coins issued by Roman emperors of
the first century A.D were found in plenty in various places of Tamil
Nadu. Therefore, the most probable date of the Sangam literature
has been fixed between the third century B.C. to third century A.D.
on the basis of literary, archaeological and numismatic evidences.
Political History
The Tamil country was ruled by three dynasties namely the
Chera, Chola and Pandyas during the Sangam Age. The political
history of these dynasties can be traced from the literary references.
Cheras
The Cheras ruled over parts of modern Kerala. Their capital
was V anji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri. They
had the palmyra flowers as their garland. The Pugalur inscription of
the first century A.D refers to three generations of Chera rulers.
Padirruppattu also provides information on Chera kings. Perum
Sorru Udhiyan Cheralathan, Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralathan
and Cheran Senguttuvan were the famous rulers of this dynasty.
Cheran Senguttuvan belonged to 2
nd
 century A.D. His younger
brother was Elango Adigal, the author of Silappathigaram. Among
his military achievements, his expedition to the Himalayas was
remarkable. He defeated many north Indian monarchs. Senguttuvan
introduced the Pattini cult or the worship of Kannagi as the ideal
wife in Tamil Nadu. The stone for making the idol of Kannagi was
brought by him after his Himalayan expedition. The consecration
ceremony was attended by many princes including Gajabhagu II
from Sri Lanka.
– Silappathigaram and Manimegalai. Tolkappiyam authored by
Tolkappiyar is the earliest of the Tamil literature. It is a work on
Tamil grammar but it provides information on the political and socio-
economic conditions of the Sangam period. The Ettutogai or Eight
Anthologies consist of eight works – Aingurunooru, Narrinai,
Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal
and Padirruppattu. The Pattuppattu or Ten Idylls consist of ten
works – Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai,
Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu,
Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai
and Malaipadukadam. Both Ettutogai and Pattuppattu were divided
into two main groups – Aham (love) and Puram (valour).
Pathinenkilkanakku contains eighteen works mostly dealing with
ethics and morals. The most important among them is Tirukkural
authored by Thiruvalluvar. Silappathigaram written by Elango
Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar also provides valuable
information on the Sangam polity and society.
Other Sources
In addition to the Sangam literature, the Greek authors like
Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy mention the commercial
contacts between the West and South India. The Asokan inscriptions
mention the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers on the south of the
Mauryan empire. The Hathikumbha inscription of Kharavela of
Kalinga also mentions about Tamil kingdoms. The excavations at
Arikkamedu, Poompuhar, Kodumanal and other places reveal the
overseas commercial activities of the Tamils.
Period of Sangam Literature
The chronology of the Sangam literature is still a disputed
topic among the scholars. The sheet anchor of Sangam chronology
lies in the fact that Gajabhagu II of Sri Lanka and Cheran
89 88
including the flourishing seaport of Korkai. The last famous Pandyan
king was Uggira Peruvaludhi. The Pandyan rule during the Sangam
Age began to decline due to the invasion of the Kalabhras.
Minor Chieftains
The minor chieftains played a significant role in the Sangam
period. Among them Pari, Kari, Ori, Nalli, Pegan, Ay and Adiyaman
were popular for their philanthropy and patronage of Tamil poets.
Therefore, they were known as Kadai Yelu V allalgal. Although they
were subordinate to the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers, they were
powerful and popular in their respective regions.
Sangam Polity
Hereditary monarchy was the form of government during the
Sangam period. The king had also taken the advice of his minister,
court-poet and the imperial court or avai. The Chera kings assumed
titles like V anavaramban, V anavan, Kuttuvan, Irumporai and Villavar,
the Chola kings like Senni, Valavan and Killi and the Pandya kings
Thennavar and Minavar. Each of the Sangam dynasties had a royal
emblem – carp for the Pandyas, tiger for the Cholas and bow for
the Cheras. The imperial court or avai was attended by a number of
chiefs and officials. The king was assisted by a large body of officials
who were divided into five councils. They were ministers (amaichar),
priests (anthanar), military commanders (senapathi), envoys (thuthar)
and spies (orrar). The military administration was also efficiently
organized during the Sangam Age. Each ruler had a regular army
and their respective Kodimaram (tutelary tree).
Land revenue was the chief source of state’s income while
custom duty was also imposed on foreign trade. The Pattinappalai
refers to the custom officials employed in the seaport of Puhar. Booty
captured in wars was also a major income to the royal treasury.
Cholas
The Chola kingdom of the Sangam period extended from
modern Tiruchi district to southern Andhra Pradesh. Their capital
was first located at Uraiyur and then shifted to Puhar. Karikala was
a famous king of the Sangam Cholas. Pattinappalai portrays his
early life and his military conquests. In the Battle of V enni he defeated
the mighty confederacy consisting of the Cheras, Pandyas and eleven
minor chieftains. This event is mentioned in many Sangam poems.
Vahaipparandalai was another important battle fought by him in which
nine enemy chieftains submitted before him. Karikala’s military
achievements made him the overlord of the whole Tamil country.
Trade and commerce flourished during his reign period. He was
responsible for the reclamation of forest lands and brought them
under cultivation thus adding prosperity to the people. He also built
Kallanai across the river Kaveri and also constructed many irrigation
tanks.
Pandyas
The Pandyas ruled over the present day southern Tamil Nadu.
Their capital was Madurai. The earliest kings of the Pandyan dynasty
were Nediyon, Palyagasalai Mudukudumi Peruvaludhi and
Mudathirumaran. There were two Neduncheliyans. The first one
was known as Aryappadai Kadantha Neduncheliyan (one who won
victories over the Aryan forces). He was responsible for the
execution of Kovalan for which Kannagi burnt Madurai. The other
was Talaiyalanganattu Cheruvenra (He who won the battle at
Talaiyalanganam) Neduncheliyan.  He was praised by Nakkirar and
Mangudi Maruthanar. He wore this title after defeating his enemies
at the Battle of Talaiyalanganam, which is located in the Tanjore
district. By this victory Neduncheliyan gained control over the entire
Tamil Nadu. Maduraikkanji written by Mangudi Maruthanar
describes the socio-economic condition of the Pandya country
91 90
the Sangam period were Mayon (Vishnu), V endan (Indiran), V arunan
and Korravai. The Hero Stone or Nadu Kal worship was significant
in the Sangam period. The Hero Stone was erected in memory of
the bravery shown by the warrior in battle. Many hero stones with
legends inscribed on them were found in different parts of Tamil
Nadu. This kind of worshipping the deceased has a great antiquity.
Position of Women
There is a plenty of information in the Sangam literature to
trace the position of women during the Sangam age. Women poets
like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar flourished in this
period and contributed to Tamil literature. The courage of women
was also appreciated in many poems. Karpu or Chaste life was
considered the highest virtue of women. Love marriage was a
common practice. Women were allowed to choose their life partners.
However, the life of widows was miserable. The practice of Sati
was also prevalent in the higher strata of society. The class of dancers
was patronized by the kings and nobles.
Fine Arts
Poetry, music and dancing were popular among the people of
the Sangam age. Liberal donations were given to poets by the kings,
chieftains and nobles. The royal courts were crowded with singing
bards called Panar and Viraliyar. They were experts in folk songs
and folk dances. The arts of music and dancing were highly
developed. A variety of Yazhs and drums are referred to in the
Sangam literature. Dancing was performed by Kanigaiyar. Koothu
was the most popular entertainment of the people.
Economy of the Sangam Age
Agriculture was the chief occupation. Rice was the common
crop. Ragi, sugarcane, cotton, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon
and a variety of fruits were the other crops. Jack fruit and pepper
Roads and highways were well maintained and guarded night and
day to prevent robbery and smuggling.
Sangam Society
Tolkappiyam refers to the five-fold division of lands -  Kurinji
(hilly tracks), Mullai (pastoral), Marudam (agricultural), Neydal
(coastal) and Palai (desert). The people living in these five divisions
had their respective chief occupations as well as gods for worship.
· Kurinji – chief deity was Murugan – chief occupation,
hunting and honey collection.
· Mullai – chief deity Mayon (Vishnu) –   chief occupation,
cattle-rearing and dealing with dairy products.
· Marudam – chief deity Indira – chief occupation, agriculture.
· Neydal – chief deity V arunan – chief occupation fishing and
salt manufacturing.
· Palai – chief deity Korravai – chief occupation robbery.
Tolkappiyam also refers to four castes namely arasar, anthanar,
vanigar and vellalar. The ruling class was called arasar. Anthanars played
a significant role in the Sangam polity and religion. V anigars carried on
trade and commerce. The vellalas were agriculturists. Other tribal groups
like Parathavar, Panar, Eyinar, Kadambar, Maravar and Pulaiyar were
also found in the Sangam society. Ancient primitive tribes like Thodas,
Irulas, Nagas and V edars lived in this period.
Religion
The primary deity of the Sangam period was Seyon or
Murugan, who is hailed as Tamil God. The worship of Murugan
was having an ancient origin and the festivals relating to God Murugan
was mentioned in the Sangam literature. He was honoured with six
abodes known as Arupadai Veedu. Other gods worshipped during
Page 5


85
The Sangam Age constitutes an important chapter in the history
of South India. According to Tamil legends, there existed three
Sangams (Academy of Tamil poets) in ancient Tamil Nadu popularly
called Muchchangam. These Sangams flourished under the royal
patronage of the Pandyas. The first Sangam, held at Then Madurai,
was attended by gods and legendary sages but no literary work of
this Sangam was available. The second Sangam was held at
Kapadapuram but the all the literary works had perished except
Tolkappiyam. The third Sangam at Madurai was founded by
Mudathirumaran. It was attended by a large number of poets who
produced voluminous literature but only a few had survived. These
Tamil literary works remain useful sources to reconstruct the history
of the Sangam Age.
Sangam Literature
The corpus of Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam,
Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and the two epics
LESSON 8
SANGAM AGE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The Sangam literature and other sources for the Sangam
period.
2. The political history of the Sangam period.
3. The Sangam polity and society.
4. Religion and the position of women in the Sangam period.
5. The economic condition of the Sangam age.
87 86
Senguttuvan of the Chera dynasty were contemporaries. This is
confirmed by Silappathigaram as well as the Dipavamsa and
Mahavamsa. Also the Roman coins issued by Roman emperors of
the first century A.D were found in plenty in various places of Tamil
Nadu. Therefore, the most probable date of the Sangam literature
has been fixed between the third century B.C. to third century A.D.
on the basis of literary, archaeological and numismatic evidences.
Political History
The Tamil country was ruled by three dynasties namely the
Chera, Chola and Pandyas during the Sangam Age. The political
history of these dynasties can be traced from the literary references.
Cheras
The Cheras ruled over parts of modern Kerala. Their capital
was V anji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri. They
had the palmyra flowers as their garland. The Pugalur inscription of
the first century A.D refers to three generations of Chera rulers.
Padirruppattu also provides information on Chera kings. Perum
Sorru Udhiyan Cheralathan, Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralathan
and Cheran Senguttuvan were the famous rulers of this dynasty.
Cheran Senguttuvan belonged to 2
nd
 century A.D. His younger
brother was Elango Adigal, the author of Silappathigaram. Among
his military achievements, his expedition to the Himalayas was
remarkable. He defeated many north Indian monarchs. Senguttuvan
introduced the Pattini cult or the worship of Kannagi as the ideal
wife in Tamil Nadu. The stone for making the idol of Kannagi was
brought by him after his Himalayan expedition. The consecration
ceremony was attended by many princes including Gajabhagu II
from Sri Lanka.
– Silappathigaram and Manimegalai. Tolkappiyam authored by
Tolkappiyar is the earliest of the Tamil literature. It is a work on
Tamil grammar but it provides information on the political and socio-
economic conditions of the Sangam period. The Ettutogai or Eight
Anthologies consist of eight works – Aingurunooru, Narrinai,
Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal
and Padirruppattu. The Pattuppattu or Ten Idylls consist of ten
works – Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai,
Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu,
Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai
and Malaipadukadam. Both Ettutogai and Pattuppattu were divided
into two main groups – Aham (love) and Puram (valour).
Pathinenkilkanakku contains eighteen works mostly dealing with
ethics and morals. The most important among them is Tirukkural
authored by Thiruvalluvar. Silappathigaram written by Elango
Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar also provides valuable
information on the Sangam polity and society.
Other Sources
In addition to the Sangam literature, the Greek authors like
Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy mention the commercial
contacts between the West and South India. The Asokan inscriptions
mention the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers on the south of the
Mauryan empire. The Hathikumbha inscription of Kharavela of
Kalinga also mentions about Tamil kingdoms. The excavations at
Arikkamedu, Poompuhar, Kodumanal and other places reveal the
overseas commercial activities of the Tamils.
Period of Sangam Literature
The chronology of the Sangam literature is still a disputed
topic among the scholars. The sheet anchor of Sangam chronology
lies in the fact that Gajabhagu II of Sri Lanka and Cheran
89 88
including the flourishing seaport of Korkai. The last famous Pandyan
king was Uggira Peruvaludhi. The Pandyan rule during the Sangam
Age began to decline due to the invasion of the Kalabhras.
Minor Chieftains
The minor chieftains played a significant role in the Sangam
period. Among them Pari, Kari, Ori, Nalli, Pegan, Ay and Adiyaman
were popular for their philanthropy and patronage of Tamil poets.
Therefore, they were known as Kadai Yelu V allalgal. Although they
were subordinate to the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers, they were
powerful and popular in their respective regions.
Sangam Polity
Hereditary monarchy was the form of government during the
Sangam period. The king had also taken the advice of his minister,
court-poet and the imperial court or avai. The Chera kings assumed
titles like V anavaramban, V anavan, Kuttuvan, Irumporai and Villavar,
the Chola kings like Senni, Valavan and Killi and the Pandya kings
Thennavar and Minavar. Each of the Sangam dynasties had a royal
emblem – carp for the Pandyas, tiger for the Cholas and bow for
the Cheras. The imperial court or avai was attended by a number of
chiefs and officials. The king was assisted by a large body of officials
who were divided into five councils. They were ministers (amaichar),
priests (anthanar), military commanders (senapathi), envoys (thuthar)
and spies (orrar). The military administration was also efficiently
organized during the Sangam Age. Each ruler had a regular army
and their respective Kodimaram (tutelary tree).
Land revenue was the chief source of state’s income while
custom duty was also imposed on foreign trade. The Pattinappalai
refers to the custom officials employed in the seaport of Puhar. Booty
captured in wars was also a major income to the royal treasury.
Cholas
The Chola kingdom of the Sangam period extended from
modern Tiruchi district to southern Andhra Pradesh. Their capital
was first located at Uraiyur and then shifted to Puhar. Karikala was
a famous king of the Sangam Cholas. Pattinappalai portrays his
early life and his military conquests. In the Battle of V enni he defeated
the mighty confederacy consisting of the Cheras, Pandyas and eleven
minor chieftains. This event is mentioned in many Sangam poems.
Vahaipparandalai was another important battle fought by him in which
nine enemy chieftains submitted before him. Karikala’s military
achievements made him the overlord of the whole Tamil country.
Trade and commerce flourished during his reign period. He was
responsible for the reclamation of forest lands and brought them
under cultivation thus adding prosperity to the people. He also built
Kallanai across the river Kaveri and also constructed many irrigation
tanks.
Pandyas
The Pandyas ruled over the present day southern Tamil Nadu.
Their capital was Madurai. The earliest kings of the Pandyan dynasty
were Nediyon, Palyagasalai Mudukudumi Peruvaludhi and
Mudathirumaran. There were two Neduncheliyans. The first one
was known as Aryappadai Kadantha Neduncheliyan (one who won
victories over the Aryan forces). He was responsible for the
execution of Kovalan for which Kannagi burnt Madurai. The other
was Talaiyalanganattu Cheruvenra (He who won the battle at
Talaiyalanganam) Neduncheliyan.  He was praised by Nakkirar and
Mangudi Maruthanar. He wore this title after defeating his enemies
at the Battle of Talaiyalanganam, which is located in the Tanjore
district. By this victory Neduncheliyan gained control over the entire
Tamil Nadu. Maduraikkanji written by Mangudi Maruthanar
describes the socio-economic condition of the Pandya country
91 90
the Sangam period were Mayon (Vishnu), V endan (Indiran), V arunan
and Korravai. The Hero Stone or Nadu Kal worship was significant
in the Sangam period. The Hero Stone was erected in memory of
the bravery shown by the warrior in battle. Many hero stones with
legends inscribed on them were found in different parts of Tamil
Nadu. This kind of worshipping the deceased has a great antiquity.
Position of Women
There is a plenty of information in the Sangam literature to
trace the position of women during the Sangam age. Women poets
like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar flourished in this
period and contributed to Tamil literature. The courage of women
was also appreciated in many poems. Karpu or Chaste life was
considered the highest virtue of women. Love marriage was a
common practice. Women were allowed to choose their life partners.
However, the life of widows was miserable. The practice of Sati
was also prevalent in the higher strata of society. The class of dancers
was patronized by the kings and nobles.
Fine Arts
Poetry, music and dancing were popular among the people of
the Sangam age. Liberal donations were given to poets by the kings,
chieftains and nobles. The royal courts were crowded with singing
bards called Panar and Viraliyar. They were experts in folk songs
and folk dances. The arts of music and dancing were highly
developed. A variety of Yazhs and drums are referred to in the
Sangam literature. Dancing was performed by Kanigaiyar. Koothu
was the most popular entertainment of the people.
Economy of the Sangam Age
Agriculture was the chief occupation. Rice was the common
crop. Ragi, sugarcane, cotton, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon
and a variety of fruits were the other crops. Jack fruit and pepper
Roads and highways were well maintained and guarded night and
day to prevent robbery and smuggling.
Sangam Society
Tolkappiyam refers to the five-fold division of lands -  Kurinji
(hilly tracks), Mullai (pastoral), Marudam (agricultural), Neydal
(coastal) and Palai (desert). The people living in these five divisions
had their respective chief occupations as well as gods for worship.
· Kurinji – chief deity was Murugan – chief occupation,
hunting and honey collection.
· Mullai – chief deity Mayon (Vishnu) –   chief occupation,
cattle-rearing and dealing with dairy products.
· Marudam – chief deity Indira – chief occupation, agriculture.
· Neydal – chief deity V arunan – chief occupation fishing and
salt manufacturing.
· Palai – chief deity Korravai – chief occupation robbery.
Tolkappiyam also refers to four castes namely arasar, anthanar,
vanigar and vellalar. The ruling class was called arasar. Anthanars played
a significant role in the Sangam polity and religion. V anigars carried on
trade and commerce. The vellalas were agriculturists. Other tribal groups
like Parathavar, Panar, Eyinar, Kadambar, Maravar and Pulaiyar were
also found in the Sangam society. Ancient primitive tribes like Thodas,
Irulas, Nagas and V edars lived in this period.
Religion
The primary deity of the Sangam period was Seyon or
Murugan, who is hailed as Tamil God. The worship of Murugan
was having an ancient origin and the festivals relating to God Murugan
was mentioned in the Sangam literature. He was honoured with six
abodes known as Arupadai Veedu. Other gods worshipped during
93 92
Learning Outcome
After learning this lesson the students will be able to explain
1. The Sources for the study of the Sangam period including
the Sangam literature.
2. The Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers of the Sangam
period and their achievements.
3. The Sangam polity including the administrative system
and other details.
4. The Sangam society, the five divisions of landscape, their
religious life and the position of women.
5. The economy during the Sangam period, particularly the
overseas commercial contacts during the Sangam period.
End of the Sangam Age
Towards the end of the third century A.D., the Sangam period
slowly witnessed its decline. The Kalabhras occupied the Tamil
country for about two and a half centuries. We have little information
about the Kalabhra rule. Jainism and Buddhism became prominent
during this period. The Pallavas in the northern Tamil Nadu and
Pandyas in southern Tamil Nadu drove the Kalabhras out of the
Tamil country and established their rule.
were famous in the Chera country. Paddy was the chief crop in the
Chola and Pandya country.
The handicrafts of the Sangam period were popular. They
include weaving, metal works and carpentry, ship building and
making of ornaments using beads, stones and ivory. There was a
great demand for these products, as the internal and external trade
was at its peak during the Sangam period. Spinning and weaving of
cotton and silk clothes attained a high quality. The poems mention
the cotton clothes as thin as a cloud of steam or a slough of a snake.
There was a great demand in the western world for the cotton clothes
woven at Uraiyur.
Both internal and foreign trade was well organized and briskly
carried on in the Sangam Age. The Sangam literature, Greek and
Roman accounts and the archaeological evidences provide detailed
information on this subject. Merchants carried the goods on the
carts and on animal-back from place to place. Internal trade was
mostly based on the barter system.
External trade was carried between South India and the Greek
kingdoms. After the ascendancy of the Roman Empire, the Roman
trade assumed importance. The port city of Puhar became an
emporium of foreign trade, as big ships entered this port with
precious goods. Other ports of commercial activity include Tondi,
Musiri, Korkai, Arikkamedu and Marakkanam. The author of
Periplus provides the most valuable information on foreign trade.
Plenty of gold and silver coins issued by the Roman Emperors like
Augustus, Tiberius and Nero were found in all parts of Tamil Nadu.
They reveal the extent of the trade and the presence of Roman
traders in the Tamil country. The main exports of the Sangam age
were cotton fabrics, spices like pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon
and turmeric, ivory products, pearls and precious stones. Gold,
horses and sweet wine were the chief imports.
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