Sangam Age


    • The Sangam period or age, particularly referring to the third Sangam period, is the period of history of ancient Tamil Nadu, Kerala and parts of Sri Lanka (then known as Tamilakam), spanning from c. 6th century BCE to c. 3rd century CE.
      • It was named after the famous Sangam academies of poets and scholars centred in the city of
    • The chronology of the Sangam literature is still a disputed topic among the scholars.
      • However, the most probable date of the Sangam literature has been fixed between third century B.C. to third century A.D., on the basis of literary, archaeological and numismatic evidences.
    • Historians and Ideologists regard the Sangam period as the ‘classical age’ of the Tamils analogous to the age of the classics in Greece and Rome and to that of the Renaissance of later period in Europe.
    • The term ‘Sangam’ literally means ‘confluence’.
      • However, in the context of early South Indian history, this term can be rendered into English as an assembly, a college or an academy of learned people, held under the patronage of the Pandyan kings, who were great lovers of literature and the fine arts.
    • The Sangam was a voluntary of organization of poets.
      • It was similar to a Round Table Conference, which allowed sitting room only to an authentic poet.
    • According to Tamil legends, there existed three Sangams (Academy of Tamil poets) in ancient TamilNadu  popularly called Muchchangam.
      • 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.

Sangam Literature

  • As mentioned earlier, the Sangam works contain mines of information for the study of early history of Tamilakam.
  • They reflect the matter of great historical importance.
  • Tolkappiyam, a treatise on Tamil grammar and poetics, composed probably during the second Sangam, is the oldest extant literary work in Tamil.
  • Modern scholarship use the term ‘Sangam Literature’ for only those works in verse (prose is of much later origin), which are comprised in the Ettutogai (Eight collections), Pattupattu (Ten songs) and Patinenkilkanakku (The Eighteen Minor Works), which are judged to have been produced in that order during the period A.D 150-250.
    • 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
    • Pathinenkilkanakku contains eighteen works mostly dealing with ethics        and morals. The most important among them is Tirukkural authored by
  • Further, the so called ‘Five Epics’ (‘the five great poems’) include Jivakachintamani, Silappadikaram, Manimekalai, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi
    • Ilango Adigal was the author of Silappadikaram
    • Manimekalai was written by Sathanar mainly to propound the Buddhist doctrine among Tamils
    • These poetical works describe about the social, religious, economic and political conditions of Tamilakam with the focus on the cities like Madurai, Puhar (Poompuhar/ Kaveripattinam), Vanji (Karur) and
  • Also, the ‘Eighteen Minor Works’ include the ethical and didactic literature. The didactic literature, which includes the world famous Tirukkural is mostly in stanza form.


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 Vanji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri
    • Cheran  Senguttuvan belonged to 2nd century A.D. His younger brother was Elango Adigal, the author of Silappathigaram
  • 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.
  • Pandyas
    • The Pandyas ruled over the present day southern Tamil Nadu. Their capital was Madurai.
    • Maduraikkanji written by Mangudi Maruthanar describes the socioeconomic condition of the Pandya country including the flourishing seaport of Korkai
    • 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.
    • 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 to take the advice of his minister, court-poet and the imperial court or avai.
  • The Chera kingsassumed titles like Vanavaramban, Vanavan, Kuttuvan, Irumporai and Villavar,
    • The Chola kings  assumed titles like Senni, Valavan and Killi
    • The Pandya kings assumed titles like Thennavar and Minavar.
  • Each of the Sangam dynasties had a royal emblem, such as:
    • Carp for the Pandyas
    • Tiger for the Cholas
    • 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).
  • Further, the policies of the king were controlled by a system of checks and balances in the councils.
    • Silappadikaram refers to the two types of councils —Aimperunkulu and Enperayam.
    • The aimperunkulu or the council of five members was the council of the ministers.
    • The enperayam or the great assembly (perayam) consisted of 8 members (government officers).
    • This worked as an administrative machinery of the state. These two assemblies that of the Five and that of the Eight functioned as administrative bodies, though their function was generally advisory in character. However, their advice was rarely rejected by the king.
  • The military administration was also efficiently organized during the Sangam Age.
    • Each ruler had a regular army and their respective Kodimaram (tutelary tree).
  • Further, Land revenue was the chief source of state’s income while custom dutywas also imposed on foreign trade.
    • The Pattinappalai refers to the custom officials employed in the seaport of Puhar.
  • Also, Booty captured in wars was also a major income to the royal treasury.
    • Roads and highways were well maintained and guarded night and day to prevent robbery and smuggling
  • Also, of the three muventars (three crowned monarch) the Cholas controlled the fully irrigated fertile Cauvery (Kaveri) basin with their capital at Uraiyur, the Pandyas ruled over the pastoral and littoral parts with the capital at Madurai, and the Cheras had their sway over the hilly country in the west with Vanji (Karur) as the capital



Sangam Society

  • Tolkappiyam refers to the fivefold division of lands.
  • The people living in these five divisions had their respective chief occupations, as well as their Gods as follows:
Land Division Chief Deity Occupation
Kurinji Murugan Hunting and honey


Mullai Mayon (Vishnu) Cattle-rearing and

dealing with dairy products

Marudam Indira Agriculture
Neydal Varunan Fishing and salt manufacturing
Palai Korravai Robbery
  • Also, tolkappiyam also refers to four castes namely:
    • Arasar, which was the ruling class
    • Anthanars., which played a significant role in the Sangam polity and religion.
    • Vanigars carried on trade and commerce
    • Vellalaswere 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 Vedars lived in this period.



  • The primary deity of the Sangam period was Seyon or Murugan, who is hailed as Tamil God.
    • The worship of Murugan has an ancient origin and the festivals relating to God Murugan was mentioned in the Sangam literature.
  • Other gods worshipped during the Sangam period were Mayon (Vishnu), Vendan (Indiran), Varunan 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

Position of Women

  • There is 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 contribute 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.
  • Also, 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.
  • Koothuwas 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 were famous in the Chera country.
    • Paddy was the chief crop in the Chola and Pandya country.
  • The handicraftsof 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.
      • 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.
  • Further, 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 TamilNadu.
    • 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.
    • While Gold, horses and sweet wine were the chief imports.


Analysis of the Sangam Age

  • Thus, the picture that emerges from the study of Sangam literature reflects that the period witnessed the conception of state for the first time in South India. However, it was still in the process of crystallization.
  • Sangam polity was characterized by the patriarchal and patrimonial systems in which the administrative staff system and various offices were directly controlled by the rulers.
  • We also notice social inequalities with the dominance of the Brahmanas.
    • But the acute class distinction, which appeared in later times, were lacking in Sangam age.
  • Agriculture was the backbone of Sangam economy.
  • The trading activities, especially trade relations with the Mediterranean World enriched their economy.
  • The foreign elements also influenced the socio-economic and cultural life of people.
  • The beliefs and customs practised by Sangam people suggest the complex nature of their religion.
    • Both, animism and idol worship, were followed during the Sangam age.


End of the Sangam Age

  • Toward the end of the third century A., 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.
  • Later, 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.