Sangam Age

South India during Sangam Age

The Sangam Age refers to the period between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE in South India. It is named after the Sangam academies that flourished under the patronage of the Pandya kings of Madurai. These academies served as centers of literary and intellectual activities, producing the earliest works of Dravidian literature.

Sangam Literature
  • Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, Silappathikaram, and Manimegalai are the major works of Sangam literature.
  • Tolkappiyam, authored by Tolkappiyar, is an important work on Tamil grammar that also provides insights into the socio-economic and political conditions of the time.
  • Ettutogai consists of eight anthologies, while Pattuppattu comprises ten idylls that offer valuable details about Sangam society and polity.
  • Pathinenkilkanakku includes eighteen works on ethics and morals, with Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar being the most important.
  • Silappathikaram and Manimegalai are two epics that provide additional information about the Sangam society and polity.

Read More about Sangam Literature

Other Sources
  • Greek authors like Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny, and Ptolemy mention commercial trade contacts between the West and South India.
  • Ashokan inscriptions mention the Chera, Chola, and Pandya rulers to the south of the Mauryan Empire.
  • The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela of Kalinga also references Tamil kingdoms.

Political History
  • The Sangam Age saw the rule of three major dynasties: Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas.
  • The Cheras controlled central and northern parts of Kerala and the Kongu region of Tamil Nadu, with their capital at Vanji.
  • The Cholas ruled the central and northern parts of Tamil Nadu, with their core area of rule being the Kaveri delta.
  • The Pandyas ruled from Madurai, with Korkai as their main port.
  • The Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas played significant roles in trade, warfare, and cultural patronage during this period.

Sangam Polity and Administration
  • Hereditary monarchy was the prevalent form of government during the Sangam period.
  • Each dynasty had a distinct royal emblem: tiger for the Cholas, carp/fish for the Pandyas, and bow for the Cheras.
  • The king was assisted by ministers, priests, envoys, military commanders, and spies.
  • The military administration was well-organized, and regular armies were associated with each ruler.
  • Land revenue and custom duty on foreign trade constituted the main sources of state income.

Sangam Society
  • The Tolkappiyam mentions the five-fold division of lands and the existence of four castes during this period.
  • Ancient primitive tribes like Thodas, Irulas, Nagas, and Vedars also lived during the Sangam Age.

Position of Women
  • Women enjoyed respect and intellectual pursuits during the Sangam Age.
  • Notable women poets like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar contributed to Tamil literature.
  • Women had the freedom to choose their life partners, although the life of widows was often difficult.
  • The practice of Sati was prevalent in higher strata of society.

  • The primary deity of the Sangam period was Murugan, also known as Kartikeyan.
  • Other gods worshipped during this period were Mayon (Vishnu), Vendan (Indiran), Varunan, and Korravai.
  • Hero Stone or Nadu Kal worship was significant and erected in memory of warriors' bravery.

  • Agriculture, including rice cultivation, was the chief occupation during the Sangam Age.
  • Handicrafts like weaving, metalwork, carpentry, shipbuilding, and ornament-making thrived.
  • Spinning and weaving of cotton and silk were highly skilled crafts, with Uraiyur renowned for cotton fabrics.
  • Ports like Puhar, Tondi, Musiri, Korkai, Arikkamedu, and Marakkanam played crucial roles in trade.
  • Trade flourished, and Tamil Nadu received gold and silver coins issued by Roman emperors.
  • Major exports included cotton fabrics, spices, ivory products, pearls, and precious stones, while imports consisted of horses, gold, and sweet wine.

End of Sangam Age
  • The Sangam period witnessed a decline by the end of the 3rd century CE.
  • The Kalabhras occupied Tamil country in the post-Sangam period (300-600 CE), leading to an interregnum or 'dark age'.

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