Sangam Age: A Deep Look into the History

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The Sangam Age is considered as the oldest period of southern India. It is also one of the most significant period in ancient India’s history. There were important literary works composed during this period. The Sangam Age also witnessed the flourishing of trade and commerce through several ports that existed during the times. There were import and export of important goods between southern India and the West. To make you aware on such aspects of the Sangam age, we will talk about the dynasties that ruled the Southern region. We will also be discussing on the administration, economy, society, and the decline of the Sangam Age.

So, without any further delay let us start our reading adventure on Sangam Age!

What is the Sangam age or Sangam period?

  • The Sangam age or the Sangam period starts from 3rd century CE and ends in 3rd century AD in southern India that comprised the area south of river Krishna and Tungabhadra.
  • There were three sangam academies conducted in South India which is known as Mychchangam in Tamil. They were also referred as “kootam” which means a gathering, another name for Madurai.
  • The Pandya kings of Madurai were great patrons of these Sangams.
  • Eminent scholars attended these Sangams which operated as the board of censors and the best literature was presented in the form of anthologies.
  • These literary works were exemplaries of Dravidian literature.

The three Sangams or Academy of Tamil Poets are described as follows:

  • The First Sangam is supposed to have taken place at Madurai and might have been attended by legendary sages and gods. There are no literary accounts for the First Sangam.
  • The Second Sangam took place at Kapadapuram and Tolkappiyam is the only surviving literary text of this Sangam.
  • Like the First Sangam, the third Sangam also was held at Madurai. Some of the Tamil works exist from this period. These texts are an important source of information to know about the history of the Sangam period.

Sangam Literature

  • Sangam literature is one of the oldest literature in the history of South India. It consists of many texts composed in ancient Tamil.
  • One gets to know about the Sangam period through the extant Sangam literature.

The Sangam literature comprises the following texts:

  • Tolkappiyam
  • Ettutogai
  • Pattuppattu
  • Pathinenkilkanakku
  • Silappathikaram (an epic)
  • Manimegalai (an epic)
  • Tolkappiyam is one of the oldest Tamil literary works that was composed by the Tamil poet Tolkappiyar.
  • It is a popular and important work on Tamil grammar that highlights the political, social and economic conditions during the Sangam age.
  • Tolkapiyyam is divided into three parts of nine sections each that instructs on letter (Ezhuttu), word (Col) and subject matter (Porul).
  • It also consists poetic and epigrammatic statements about phonology, syntax, rhetoric, morphology, prosody etc.

Ettutogai or Eight Anthologies consists of the following eight works:

  • Aingurunooru
  • Narrinai
  • Aganaooru
  • Purananooru
  • Kuruntogai
  • Kalittogai
  • Paripadal

Pattuppattu or Ten Idylls consists of the following ten works:

  • Thirumurugarruppadai
  • Porunararruppadai
  • Sirupanarruppadai
  • Perumpanarruppadai
  • Mullaippattu
  • Nedunalvadai
  • Maduraikkanji
  • Kurinjippatttu
  • Pattinappalai
  • Malaipadukadam

The other literary works include:

  • Pathinenkilkanakku
  • Silappathikaram
  • Manimegalai

History of South India

What are The Dynasties of the Sangam Age?

The dynasties that ruled during the Sangam age are the Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas. Let us read about them in details:

Cheras

  • The Cheras ruled in the central and northern regions of Kerala and the Kongu region of Tamil Nadu.
  • Their emblem was the “Bow and Arrow”.
  • The capital of the Cheras was Vanji.
  • We can find references of the three generations of Chera kings in the Pugalur inscription.
  • The ports, Musiri and Tondi were under the control of the Cheras.
  • The Cheras had extensive Indian Ocean networks that allowed them to carry maritime trade. They also earned considerable profits because of their excellent geographical placement.
  • The Cheras carried out trade with the Romans and also built a temple of the Roman king Augustus Caesar.
  • The Chera kings were referred to as the “Kerelaputas” which meant “sons of Kerala“.
  • The founder of the Chera dynasty is Uthiyan Cheralathan. Other prominent rulers of the Chera dynasty include Nedunjeral Adan, Senguttuvan and Kudakko IIlanjeral Irumporai.
  • Senguttuvan (2nd century AD) was the greatest ruler of the Cheras and is also called the Red Chera or the Good Chera.
  • Senguttuvan’s military expeditions to the Himalayas were recorded in the epic Silapathikaram that also mentions that he overpowered many rulers of the north. He was also the first king to send an ambassador to China from South India.
  • Senguttuvan welcomed the Pattini cult in Tamil Nadu where Kannagi was worshipped as an ideal wife.

Cholas

  • The Cholas ruled in the central and northern regions of Tamil Nadu.
  • They mostly ruled in Kaveri delta, or Cholamandalam.
  • The Chola dynasty spanned regions like the Tiruchirapalli district, Thanjavur district (Tamil Nadu), Tiruvarur district, Karaikal district, Nagapattinam district, Ariyalur district, Perambalur district and Pudukkottai district.
  • The capital of the Cholas was situated in Uraiyur that is located near Tiruchirapalli town. It was later shifted to Puhar or Poompuhar. Another important town that served as the royal residence and port was Kaviripattanam.
  • The insignia or emblem of the Chola dynasty was the Tiger.
  • The Chola dynasty also had an efficient navy.
  • The most prominent ruler of the Chola dynasty was the King Karikala.
  • Kadiyalur Uruttirangannar wrote Pattinappalai that portrays the life and military achievements of king Karikala
  • The Sangam poems also depicts the Battle of Venni in which the king waged a war against the confederacy of Cheras, Pandyas, eleven minor chieftains and defeated them. The other important battle fought by the king was Vahaipparandalai.
  • Important developments took place in trade and commerce during Karikala’s reign.
  • Karikala also founded Kaviripattanam or the port city of Puhar and built 160 km of embankment alongside the Kaveri river.

Pandyas

  • The Pandyas ruled over the southern region of the present-day Tamil Nadu.
  • The capital of the Pandyas was Madurai.
  • The emblem or insignia of the Pandyas were a “carp” or “fish”.
  • Madurai is supposed to be burnt and destroyed by the curse of Konnagi who is the wife of Kovalan.
  • The social and economic conditions of the Korkai seaport can be found in Maduraikkanji that was written by Mangudi Maruthanar.
  • Practices like sati, caste, idol worship was prevalent and the widows were treated poorly.
  • The Vedic rites, rituals and sacrifices were performed and the Brahmin priests were greatly patronized.
  • The Pandyas patronised Sangam literature including Sangam poems.
  • They had a well-maintained regular army.
  • Trade and commerce were efficient and they had some of the best pearls.
  • The Kalabhras eventually replaced them.

Sangam Administration

  • There was heriditary rule of governance during the Sangam period.
  • The king received support from the 5 councils of ministers (amaichar), priests (anthanar), envoys (thuthar), military commanders (senapathi) and spies (orrar).
  • Each ruler had a regular army and the administration system was an organized and efficient one.
  • The state’s main income derived from land revenues. Moreover, foreign trade bore custom duties which was another source of income during Sangam period.
  • The royal treasury was filled with items received during wars.
  • Vigilance was maintained over roads and highways to prevent them from getting robbed or smuggled.

Sangam Society

  • Lands were divided into five fold-divisions – Kunji (hilly tracks), Mullai (pastoral), Marudam (agricultural), Neydal (coastal) and Palai (desert).
  • There were four divisions of castes, namely arasar (ruling class), anthanar, vanigar (trade and commerce class), and vellalar (Agriculturists). These land and caste divisions are mentioned in the Tolkapiyyam.
  • Primitive tribes like Thodas, Irulas, Nagas and Vedars existed during this period.
  • One can find references of important women in Sangam literature. They were engaged in intellectual pursuits. The women poets during the Sangam period were Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar and Kakkaipadiniyar.
  • There was considerable freedom in allowing women to choose their desired partners. However, widows survived in poor conditions and were deprived of many rights.
  • Sati existed during the Sangam period.

Sangam Religion

  • The principal deity of the Sangam age was Murugan who is considered a Tamil God.
  • The worship of Murugan and the festivities were mentioned in the Sangam literature.
  • Murugan was worshipped with the six abodes known as Arupadai Veedu.
  • The other gods that were worshipped during the Sangam period were Mayon (Vishnu), Vendan (Indiran), Korravai and Varunan.
  • The worship of the Hero Stone or Nadu Kal was performed to commemorate the bravery of the warriors who fought in the battle. The worship of Nadu Kal was significant during the Sangam period.

Sangam Economy

  • The main occupation of the Sangam society was agriculture and the main crop grown was rice.
  • Handicraft involved weaving, carpentry, metal works, ship building, crafting ornaments made of beads, ivory and stone.
  • Both internal and external trade flourished during the Sangam period.
  • The people during the Sangam era were great weavers of cotton and silk clothes. Cotton clothes of Uraiyur was particularly popular and these clothes were in high demand in the western world.
  • The port city of Puhar became a foreign trade hub that saw big ships loaded with precious goods arrive at the place.
  • Other significant ports included Tondi, Musiri, Korkai, Arikkamedu and Marakkanam.
  • Major exports of the Sangam era: Cotton fabrics, spices (pepper, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon), ivory goods, precious stones and pearls.
  • Major imports of the Sangam era: sweet wine, horses and gold.

The Decline of the Sangam Age

With the end of the 3rd century A.D, the Sangam era started declining. The Kalabhras overpowered the Sangam society and ruled between 300 AD to 600 AD (also known as the dark age by historians).

Important Sources of Sangam Age

  • Sangam literature is a vital source of information on the Sangam age.
  • Greek authors like Megasthenes, Pliny etc mentioned the communications of trade between South India and the West.
  • One can find the mention of Tamil kingdoms in the edicts of Ashoka.
  • The life of the Sangam people can also be traced through the Adhichanallur archaeological excavations.

Final Thought!

The compilation of the Sangam literature through the Sangam assemblies or academies help historians to trace its history. We can see that the Sangam age was not simply limited to the exquisite literature of the period. It was the age when the three important dynasties, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas ruled the south of India with ample military prowess. We can also very well witness the social, political and economic developments that took place during the period. Thus, we can conclude that the Sangam age was one of the best period in the history of ancient South India.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is it called Sangam Age?

Sangam Age is called so because Sangams or academies were held during the reign of the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas where erudite men gathered to censor and compile Tamil anthologies.

What are the 3 Sangams?

The 3 Sangams were the academies of Tamil Poets, also known as Muchchangam. The first and the third one was held at Madurai and the second Sangam was held at Kapadapuram.

Where was the first Sangam held?

The first Sangam was supposed to be held at Madurai that is believed to be attended by gods and legendary sages. No literary accounts exists of this period.

What is Sangam history?

The Sangam history can be traced through the Sangam period (3rd century CE-3rd century AD), where the three dynasties of Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas ruled Southern India. They made valuable contributions in every field including Sangam literature.

Which is the oldest Tamil work?

The oldest extant Tamil literary work is Tolkappiyam. It belongs to the Sangam period.

Who was the famous poet during Sangam Period?

The famous poets during Sangam period are Thiruvalluvar, Elango Adigal and Sittalai Sattanar.

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