Sangam Age - Frontier IAS
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Ancient and Medieval History

Sangam Age - Frontier IAS

The Sangam Period (1st- 3rd Century AD)

  • Sangam literally means ‘Union’. It was an assembly or Union of Tamil Poets.
  • Although it was compiled/written in 6-7th Century AD, it depicts the society of 1st-4th AD.
  • Three types of Tamil Literary pieces are found-Grammar, Poems and Epics.
  • It describes the period of Pandyas, Cheras and Cholas, the three important rival kingdoms of South India. 
  • According to Legends, There were 3 sangams that took more than 10000 years to complete.
  • They were patronized by 197 kings.
  • 6598 poets participated.

Read Also: Buddhism and Jainism Notes

Historical Information from Sangam Literature

  • In Sangam literature, three kingdoms are mentioned – Pandyas, Cheras and Cholas.
  • The literature informs us about the contemporary economy, like agriculture was well developed and the land was fertile.
  • The cotton cloth industry was also well developed. The main centre was Uraiyur.
  • They had well-developed port cities like Muziri in Kerala.
  • Roman coins have been found at Arikamedu (Pondicherry) and a Roman Colony was also found there. Showing trade relations with Europe.
  • They used animal pulled carts for transportation.
  • Traders used to take their female folks with them unlike the traders of the north.
  • In the society, there were certain similarities and dissimilarities from the north:
  • The Varna ‘Kshatriya’ is almost missing in the south.
  • The Brahmins enjoyed the highest position in the South as in the north but the second-highest social significance was that of Vaishya.
  • Similar Vedic rituals were prevalent here like that of North.
  • The Brahmins of South Ate non – vegetarian and also took wine. It was not taboo here like it was in North India.
  • These Sangams flourished under the royal patronage of the Pandyas.

1st Sangam:

  • Held at Madurai
  • Attended by gods and legendary sages under the chairmanship of Agastya, but no literary work of this Sangam is available.

2nd Sangam:

  • Held at Kapadapuram
  • All the literary works had perished except Tolkappiyam.
  • Under the chairmanship of Agastya

3rd Sangam:

  • Held at Madurai.
  • It was founded by Mudathirumaran.
  • Under the chairmanship of Nakkirar.
  • 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, Ettuthogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and the two epics Silappathikaram and Manimegalai.
  • Tolkappiyam authored by Tolkappiyar is the earliest of 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 Ettuthogai or Eight Anthologies consist of eight works – Aingurunooru, Narrinai, Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kurunthogai, Kalithogai, Paripadal and Padirruppattu.
  • The Pattupattu or Ten Idylls consist of ten works – Thirumurugatrupadai, Porunararruppadai, Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaipattu, Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai and Malaipadukadam.
  • Ettuthogai and Pattupattu 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.
  • The epics, Silapathikaram was written by Elango Adigal and Manimekalai by Seethalai Sathanar also provides valuable information on the Sangam polity and society.

Period of Sangam Literature

  • The most probable date of the Sangam literature has been fixed between the third century B.C. to third century A.D.

Political History

  • The Tamil country was ruled by three dynasties namely the Chera, Chola and Pandyas during the Sangam Age.

The Cheras

  • Occupied the portion of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
  • Their capital was Vanji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri.
  • Udiyangeral, Senguttuvan were the famous rulers of this dynasty.
  • Cheran Senguttuvan belonged to the 2nd century A.D. His younger brother was Elango Adigal, the author of Silappathigaram.
  • Senguttuvan introduced the Pattini cult or the worship of Kannagi as the ideal wife in Tamil Nadu.

Sangam Age - Frontier IAS

The Chola

  • The Chola kingdom called Cholamandalam was situated to the Northeast of Pandya kingdom between the Pennar and Vellar rivers.
  • It corresponded to modern Tanjore and Tiruchchirappalli district.
  • The capital was first located at Uraiyur and then shifted to Puhar.
  • Puhar identical with kaveripattanam was the main port of Cholas and served as the alternative capital of Cholas.
  • The earliest Chola king was Elara who conquered Sri Lanka and ruled over it for nearly 50 years.
  • Karikala – one of the famous king of the Sangam Cholas. Pattinappalai portrays his early life and his military conquests.
  • In the Battle of Venni, he defeated the mighty confederacy consisting of the Cheras, Pandyas and eleven minor chieftains.
  • Vahaipparandalai was another important battle fought by him in which nine enemy chieftains submitted before him.
  • The Cholas were wiped out in the attack of Pallavas from the north.

The Pandyas

  • The Pandyas ruled over the present-day southern Tamil Nadu. 
  • Their capital was Madurai, situated on the banks of the Vaigai river.
  • The Pandya was first mentioned by Megasthenes, who aid their kingdom was famous for pearls.
  • The Pandya territory included the modern district of Tirunelveli, Ramand and Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
  • The Pandya kings profited from trade with the Roman empire and sent emissaries to Roman emperor Augustus and Trojan.

Sangam Age - Frontier IAS

  • The Pandyas find the first mention in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
  • The earliest known Pandya ruler was Mudukudumi.
  • The greatest Pandya king, Nendujelian, accuse Kovalan of theft.
  • As a result, the city of Madurai was laid under a curse by Kannagi.

Sangam Polity

  • The 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.

Titles adopted by kings –

  • Chera: Vanavaramban, Vanavan, Kuttuvan, Irumporai and Villavar.
  • Chola : Senni, Valavan and Killi.
  • Pandya: Thennavar and Minavar.

Each of the Sangam dynasties had a royal emblem:

  • Cholas – Tiger
  • Cheras - Bow
  • Pandyas - Carp

The king was assisted by a large body of officials who were divided into five councils.

They were:

  • Ministers (amaichar)
  • Priests (anthanar)
  • Military commanders (Senapati)
  • Envoys (thuthar)
  • Spies (orrar).
  • Each ruler had a regular army and their respective Kodimaram (tutelary tree).
  • The chief source of the state’s income - Land revenue. While custom duty was also imposed on foreign trade.
  • Pattinappalai - custom officials employed in the seaport of Puhar.
  • Booty captured in wars was also a major income to the royal treasury.

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Sangam Society

Five-fold division of lands:

  • Kurinji (hilly tracks)
  • Mullai (pastoral)
  • Madam (agricultural)
  • Nidal (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 was hunting and honey collection.
  • Mullai: chief deity Mayon (Vishnu), chief occupation was cattle-rearing and dealing with dairy products.
  • Marudam: chief deity Indira, chief occupation was agriculture.
  • Neydal: chief deity Varunan, chief occupation was fishing and salt manufacturing.
  • Palai: chief deity Korravai, chief occupation was a robbery.
  • Korravai ancient goddess of war and victory and mother of Murugan,
  • Tolkappiyam also refers to four castes
  • Arasar: the ruling class.
  • Anthanars played a significant role in the Sangam polity and religion.
  • Vanigars carried on trade and commerce.
  • Vellalas were agriculturists.
  • Ancient primitive tribes like Thodas, Irulas, Nagas and Vedars lived in this period.

Religion

  • Primary deity: 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.
  • 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.

Position of Women

  • Women poets like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar flourished in this period and contributed to Tamil literature.
  • 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.
  • The life of widows was miserable.
  • The practise of Sati was also prevalent in the higher strata of society.

Fine Arts

  • Panar and Viraliyar – singing bards
  • Kanigaiyar – dance person
  • Koothu – most famous form of entertainment

The economy of the Sangam Age

  • Agriculture - chief occupation.
  • Common crop – Rice.
  • Other crops - Ragi, sugarcane, cotton, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and a variety of fruits
  • Jack fruit and pepper were famous in the Chera country.
  • Chief crop in the Chola and Pandya country – Paddy

Others

  • The handicrafts of the Sangam period were popular and included weaving, metal works and carpentry, shipbuilding and the making of ornaments using beads, stones and ivory.
  • The spinning and weaving of cotton and silk clothes attained a high quality.
  • There was a great demand in the western world for the cotton clothes woven at Uraiyur.

Trade

  • Flourished during this period
  • 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.
  • 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 and he was the critic of India as it drained Rome’s gold.
  • Main exports - cotton fabrics, spices like pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric, ivory products, pearls and precious stones.
  • Chief imports - Gold, horses and sweet wine.
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