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Sangam Age – Introduction, Literature, Political History, Polity

Sangam Age

The Sangam period, specifically the third Sangam period, marks a significant chapter in the history of ancient Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and parts of Sri Lanka, which was then called Tamilakam. This era extended from around the 6th century BCE to the 3rd century CE.

Introduction

  • This era, spanning from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., is known as the Sangam Period in South India.
  • The term “Sangam” is derived from academies that flourished under the support of the Pandya kings of Madurai during this time.
  • The Sangam academies were important literary gatherings where scholars came together under royal patronage to create anthologies of the choicest literature.
  • These gatherings were vital for the development of the earliest Dravidian literature in South India.
  • According to Tamil legends, there were three Sangams, collectively known as Muchchangam, held in ancient South India.
  • The First Sangam, believed to have taken place in Madurai, was attended by gods and legendary sages. Unfortunately, no literary works from this Sangam have survived.
  • The Second Sangam was held at Kapadapuram, and the only surviving work from this event is Tolkappiyam.
  • The Third Sangam, also in Madurai, produced some surviving Tamil literary works that are valuable sources for reconstructing the history of the Sangam period.

Literature

Major source giving details of Sangam Age:

Tolkappiyam: Authored by Tolkappiyar, Tolkappiyam is the earliest known Tamil literary work. While primarily a grammar guide, it also sheds light on the political and socio-economic conditions of its time.

Ettutogai (Eight Anthologies): This collection includes eight works: Aingurunooru, Narrinai, Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal, and Padirruppatu.

Pattuppattu (Ten Idylls): Comprising ten works, such as Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai, Sirupanarruppadai, and others, Pattuppattu offers insights into the culture and life of ancient times.

Pathinenkilkanakku: Featuring eighteen works on ethics and morals, the standout piece is Tirukkural, written by the great Tamil poet and philosopher, Thiruvalluvar.

Silappathikaram and Manimegalai: Silappathikaram, penned by Elango Adigal, and Manimegalai, by Sittalai Sattanar, are two significant epics providing valuable details about Sangam society and politics.

Other Sources that give details about the Sangam Period:

  • Ancient Greek Writers: Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny, and Ptolemy talked about trade links between the Western world and South India.
  • Ashokan Inscriptions: The inscriptions of Emperor Ashoka refer to the Chera, Chola, and Pandya rulers situated to the south of the Mauryan Empire.
  • Hathigumpha Inscription: Kharavela of Kalinga’s Hathigumpha inscription also notes the existence of Tamil kingdoms.

Political History of Sangam Period

South India, during the Sangam Age, was ruled by three dynasties- the Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas and Minor Chieftains. The main source of information about these kingdoms is traced from the literary references of Sangam Period.

Cheras

  • The Cheras were in charge of parts of what we now know as Kerala. Their main city was Vanji, and they had important ports in Tondi and Musiri.
  • Cheran Senguttuvan, a notable figure from the 2nd century A.D., was associated with the Cheras. Interestingly, his younger brother was Elango Adigal, who wrote Silappathigaram.

Cholas

  • During the Sangam period, the Chola kingdom covered a vast area from the modern Tiruchi district to southern Andhra Pradesh. They initially set up their capital in Uraiyur before moving it to Puhar.

Pandyas

  • The Pandyas ruled over southern Tamil Nadu, with Madurai as their capital. Mangudi Maruthanar’s Maduraikkanji provides insights into the socio-economic conditions of the Pandya region, including the thriving seaport of Korkai.
  • The Pandyan rule during the Sangam Age started to decline due to the invasion of the Kalabhras.

Minor Chieftains

  • In the Sangam period, minor chieftains played a crucial role. While they were subordinate to the Chera, Chola, and Pandya rulers, they held significant power and were popular in their respective regions.

Sangam Polity and Administration

  • In the Sangam period, our leaders followed a hereditary monarchy system.
  • Each dynasty had its own symbol – Cholas had the tiger, Pandyas the carp/fish, and Cheras the bow.
  • The king had five groups of helpers: ministers, priests, envoys, military commanders, and spies.
  • Our military was well-organized, with each ruler having a dedicated army.
  • The main income came from land taxes, and there was also a tax on foreign trade.
  • War booty played a significant role in filling the royal treasury.
  • Roads were maintained and guarded to ensure safety from robbery and smuggling.

Sangam Society

Tolkappiyam talks about dividing lands into five parts. Each of these regions had its own main jobs and specific gods associated with them.

Land DivisionChief DeityOccupation
KurinjiMuruganHunting and honeycollection
MullaiMayon (Vishnu)Cattle-rearing anddealing with dairy products
MarudamIndiraAgriculture
NeydalVarunanFishing and salt manufacturing
PalaiKorravaiRobbery

Religion

  • During the Sangam period, people primarily revered Murugan as the Tamil God, with his worship having ancient roots.
  • Sangam literature mentions festivals dedicated to God Murugan, highlighting the significance of his worship during that time.
  • Murugan was esteemed with six sacred abodes referred to as Arupadai Veedu.
  • Besides Murugan, other deities like Mayon (Vishnu), Vendan (Indiran), Varunan, and Korravai were also worshipped during the Sangam period.
  • A notable practice during this era was the Hero Stone or Nadu Kal worship, where stones were erected in memory of the bravery displayed by warriors in battle.

Position of Women

  • In the Sangam age, women held a respected position in society. They were not only respected but were also allowed to pursue intellectual endeavors.
  • The era witnessed the flourishing of women poets like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar. They made significant contributions to Tamil literature, showcasing the intellectual prowess of women.
  • Women in the Sangam period had the freedom to choose their life partners. This reflects a level of autonomy and agency in their personal lives.
  • Unfortunately, the life of widows during this time was marked by hardship. Widows faced difficulties and challenges that made their lives miserable.
  • In the higher echelons of society, the practice of Sati was prevalent. This tradition involved widows self-immolating on their husband’s funeral pyre, adding a tragic dimension to the lives of women in certain sections of society.

Economy 

  • Agriculture was the main occupation during the Sangam period, with rice being the most widely cultivated crop.
  • Skilled craftsmanship included weaving, metalworking, carpentry, shipbuilding, and crafting ornaments with beads, stones, and ivory. These items were highly sought after in both local and international trade.
  • The people achieved high expertise in spinning and weaving cotton and silk clothes, particularly the cotton fabrics woven in Uraiyur, which were in great demand in the Western world.
  • The port city of Puhar emerged as a crucial center for foreign trade, witnessing the arrival of large ships carrying precious goods. Other significant ports included Tondi, Musiri, Korkai, Arikkamedu, and Marakkanam.
  • Roman gold and silver coins, issued by emperors like Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero, have been discovered throughout Tamil Nadu, underscoring the thriving trade relations with the Roman Empire.
  • Major exports during the Sangam age comprised cotton fabrics, spices (pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric), ivory products, pearls, and precious stones. Traders, in turn, imported horses, gold, and sweet wine.

End of Sangam Age

  • The Sangam period, which lasted until the end of the 3rd century A.D., gradually experienced a decline.
  • Following the Sangam period, from 300 to 600 A.D., the Tamil country was occupied by the Kalabhras.
  • Historians often refer to the period of Kalabhras’ rule as an interregnum or a ‘dark age.’

Read Also: Tholpavakkoothu – UPSC

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