Sangam literature is possibly the earliest written form of Tamil literature. The term 'Sangam' refers to the three academic/literary gatherings that took place between the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. The 'Sangams' were organised under the patronage of the Pandya kings of Madurai where poets gathered and produced these masterpieces. The poetry of Sangam literature was written by both male and female poets from a variety of professions and social strata.
The First Sangam is said to have taken place in Madurai, with gods and mythological sages in attendance. The literary work of this Sangam is unavailable.
From the Second Sangam, which was held in Kapadapuram, only Tolkappiyam survives.
The Third Sangam was also held at Madurai. A few of these Tamil literary works have survived and can be utilised to reconstruct the history of the Sangam period.
Although the majority of Sangam literature has been lost, some of it was compiled in the 10th century AD when anthologists and annotators collated and edited these poems into many anthologies, adding colophons.
2 Catergoties of Sangam Literature
Sangam poems are classified into two categories.
The 'inner field' (Agam)
The 'outer field' (Puram).
The subjects of the 'inner field' are metaphorical and abstract representations of personal or human characteristics such as love and sexual contact. All other dimensions of human experience, such as bravery, heroism, ethics, kindness, philanthropy, social life, and customs, are addressed in 'outside field' topics. The distinction between agam and puram is not absolute; rather, it is determined by the interpretation applied in a particular scenario.
Important Sangam Literature
Tolkappiyam, penned by Tolkappiyar, is the first Tamil literary work. It is largely a study of the Tamil language, but it also includes information about the political and socio-economic conditions of the time.
Ettutogai is made up of eight works: Aingurunooru, Narrinai, Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal, and Padirruppatu (Eight Anthologies).
Pattuppattu consists of ten works: Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunarruppadai, Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu, Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai, and Malaipadukadam (Ten Idylls).
Pathinenkilkanakku contains eighteen books on ethics and morals. The most famous of these books is Tirukkural, authored by Thiruvalluvar, a brilliant Tamil poet and philosopher.
Silappathikaram was written by Elango Adigal, and Manimegalai was written by Sittalai Sattanar. They also provide valuable information about Sangam politics and society.
Resources for learning about the Sangam Period :
Greek authors such as Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny, and Ptolemy mention commercial trade relations between the West and South India.
The Ashokan inscriptions mention the Chera, Chola, and Pandya monarchs to the south of the Mauryan kingdom.
The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela of Kalinga mentions Tamil kingdoms.
What can Sangam literature tell about the political, economic and social aspects of the time?
Sangam literature contains a wealth of knowledge regarding the political, economic, and social aspects of the historical period.
It refers to the robust Indo-Roman trade. According to the record, they imported gold, wine, ceramics, and slaves and exported spices, textiles, and silk.
It provides us with information on the era's major ports (Muchiri, Arikamedu), large cities (Kanchivaram), and significant economic activity (textile making, agriculture).
It emphasises the economic relevance of women and demonstrates the importance of rice growing.
It shows that towards the end of the third century, the economic decline had set in, as the poets do not lavish praise on the time's monarchs.
It signifies that Tamil civilization was partially brahmanized. The hierarchy was headed by the Brahmans, followed by the Vellalars.
It analyses the development of a clan-based society and the value of kinship. The poets pay homage to the kings' entire families, not just the monarch. Hillsmen, forestmen, delta people, and coastal people were the principal clans described.
It informs us about the establishment of untouchability.
Additionally, they keep us informed about current political events. For instance, the texts describe the rule of Cholas, Cheras and Pandya with their socio-economic realities.