TOPIC – I THE SANGAM AGE
SANGAM AGE – LITERATURE
• Sangam age is rightly regarded as constituting the Augustan age of Tamil literature.
• It deals with secular matters relating to public and social activity like Government, war, charity, renunciation, worship, trade, and agriculture, physical manifestations of nature like mountains and rivers and private thoughts and activity like conjugal love and domestic life of the inner circle of the members of the family.
• They are called Puram and Aham (Agam). Puram literature deals with matters capable of externalization or objectification. Aham literature deals with matters strictly limited to one aspect of subjective experience viz. love. The division of Aham and Puram is essentially Tamilian.
• The Tamils were not strangers to other forms of classifying literary themes viz., Aram. Porul, Inbam and Vidu. These were four goals of life and the literature which deals with them falls under the corresponding sections. This classification is not much different from the Aham – Puram classification because Aram, Porul and Vidu come under Puram and Inbam under Aham.
• Tolkappiyar, Valluvar, Iliango Adigal, Sittalai Sattanar, Nakkirar, Kapilar, Paranar, Auvaiyar, Mangudi Marudanar and a few others were outstanding the poets and thinkers of the Sangam age.
• The Pattuppattu is a collection of ten long poems. Of these Mulaippattu, Kurinjipattu and Pattinappalai belong to Aham and the rest are Puram.
• Some of the anthologies belong to Aham group and the others to Puram group.
• The same is the case with the eighteen Killkkanakku works.
• Nearly 75 small edicts have been found from caves near Madurai. These edicts are written in Tamil-Brahmi script.
• The Sangam Epics
Written by poet Sattai Sattanar of Madurai.
Contents: Manimegallai’s (the daughter of Kovalan & Madhavi) efforts to preserve her chastity and her conversion to a Buddhist nun.
Reference of development of fine arts in Sangam age.
Oldest and greatest of Sangam epics.
Literal meaning: the jewelled Anklet.
Written by Illango Avadigal (grandson of the Chola king Karikala through his daughter).
Date: 200 AD.
Contents: story of Kovalan (a merchant) of Puhar, who falles in love with a dancer Mahdavi and ignores his wife Kannagi. Kannagi avenges the death of Kovalan at the hands of the Pandayan king and becomes a goddess. With her begins Kannagi / Patni cult.
It is a love story.
The references of Adimandi, the daughter of the Chola king Karikala and Attan Atti, the chera Prince are found in Silappadikaram.
Silappadikaram says that Gajabahu, king of Ceylon, attended the worship of Kannagi- the Goddess of chastity – instituted by the Chera king Senguttuvan. Gajabahu ruled from 173 to 191 A.D. So Silappadikaram written by Senguttuvan’s brother Ilango belonged to the second century A.D. Manimekalai also belonged to that period. It is rightly said that Gajabahu – Senguttuvan synchronism is the sheet – anchor of the chronology of Tamil history.
• Other works
(a) Sivaga Sindamani/ Jivak Chintamani
Written by Liruttakkadevar (a Jaina by religion) – Vaisya from Madura.
Contents: Story of Sivaga / Jivaka who possesses supernatural powers and wins a new bride for his harem. At the end of his life he becomes a Jaina monk.
Exhibits the influence of Sanskrit style.
It is known as a marriage book.
Written by Tokapiyar, one of the 12 desciples of saint Agastya.
Work on Tamil grammar.
Divided into three sections each having nine sub-chapters (Ilayas).
Total number of sutras is 1612.
This book is based on the Sanskrit grammar of Aindra School.
Written by Saint Agattiyar
Work on grammar of letters & life
SANGAM AGE – SOCIAL LIFE
• The Sangam literature speaks or many tribes and also refers to the traditional castes. This means that the caste divisions and the tribal arrangement stood side by side.
• The Marakkudi were a separate section of society and they had their own traditions and beliefs. They worshipped the Goddess of victory and offer sacrifices to her.
• The Sangam society was not priest – dominated although the priests were slowly trying to assume powers of advice and supervision.
• Tolkappiyam written by Tolkappiyar mentions four fold division of Sangam society. He refers to Andanar (Parppar), Arasar, Vaisiyar and Velalar.
• The Andanar were held in high esteem. The duties or privileges of the Andanar were learning, teaching, performing sacrifices, helping others to perform sacrifices, giving presents and receiving presents. The Andanar were recruited for service in the royal court as Purohits and probably as astrologers also. Some of them served as judicial advisers and were employed as ambassadors.
• The Tamil Brahmins of the Sangam age were a respectable and learned community who lived apart in their streets. They were strictly vegetarians in their food habits.
• Some Brahmins did not take up the traditional occupation of the priestly class. Some of them were known as dealers in bangles. Some of them became musicians. Adherence to traditional and prescribed ways of life was considered to be the first social virtue. This gave extraordinary stability to society.
• The Brahmin community had been taking roots in the social structure of Tamilaham. The Brahmins were attached to the land and were proud of their country and their mother tongue. They considered Sanskrit the language of their religion. Sanskrit was not referred to as the Deva Bhasha. It was just the language of the North. The Tamil Brahmanas was resented by the poets of the Sangam and other learned men of the land.
• The view of the Tamils was that “while character is above learning, learning is above caste.” Caste by birth began to assert itself. The idea that the individual’s lack of merits can be made up by the high caste to which he belongs, or vice versa, was perhaps becoming more and pronounced.
• The Brahmin enjoyed considerable respect at the court. Most of the kings treated them with great courtesy.
• It seems that trade was common to Vaisyas and Velalas. It appears that learning, performing sacrifice, making gifts, agriculture, protection of cows and trade were the prescribed duties of a Vaisya. Learning, other than the Vedas, making gifts, agriculture, protection of cows, trade and worship were the prescribed functions of a Vellala. Considerable confusion existed between the Vaisyas and Velalas.
• We have no positive evidence to show that slavery as an institution existed in the Tamilaham of the Sangam age. We have no references to the sale and purchase of human – beings. However, that does not mean that there were no low servants or labourers whose condition of life left much to be desired.
• Though in a general way, the entire caste system revolves around the Brahman axis, it was also so in Tamilaham. The most distinctive feature of the Tamil caste system was the Brahmin. The king, the merchants and the peasants did not correspond to the Kshatriyas, the Vaisyas and the Sudras of the Aryan caste system. The Velalas of South India were not the Sudras of North India.
• Untouchability was practised.
• Level of material culture was high.
• The status of women in Sangam society was not equal to that of men either in theory or in practice. The Sangam society consisted of many kinds of women. There were married women who had settled down as dutiful housewives looking after their husbands and children and managing their household. It is these women who either committed Sati or led a very hard life as widows. There were female ascetics of Buddhist or Jain sects like Kaundi Adigal and Manimekalai. There were also a large number of courtesans. They acted as bodyguards. Women were not recruited as soldiers, ministers, ambassadors or other advisers of the king. They did not own property.
• There were different kinds of marriages. There were idealistic ways of marriage which involved no rituals. They were performed by the consent of the man and the woman only without the knowledge of the parents or relations. Another type of marriage involved the performance of many rituals. The third type of marriage was in which the rituals for the Brahmins, the kings and the Vaisyas differed from the Velalar. There was also the custom of Sati in Sangam society. The wife perished with her husband on the funeral pyre.
• As every woman did not commit Sati after the death of her husband, she had to lead a very hard life as a widow. Her life was one of penance. It was a degraded life.
• Intoxicants were freely used. There is a reference to opium also.
• There were many forms and qualities of dress worn by the various classes of people. The kind of dress varied from class to class and individual to individual. The labouring classes were on the verge of nudity. They did not mind near nudity. Shepherds and cowherds wore only loin cloth and dispensed with the upper cloth. Stitched garments were also in vogue but not largely. Many valuable ornaments or special metals or jewels were worn by the rich people. The others put on simple ornament like glass beads strung together. The people loved perfumery. Flowers were the greatest favourites of Tamil women.
• The Sangam people had enough entertainment for their spare and leisure hours. In the urban areas, the people had a lot of social activity. The villagers spent their leisure time in a variety of ways some of which were cultured and desirable and the rest low and vulgar. In the villages, cock- fighting and goat- fighting were popular. Gambling was practised widely. Wrestling was a form of fighting which often ended in the death of one of the parties. Children played innocent games.
• The Sangam people had their own beliefs and superstitions. They believed in the significance of dreams and omens. They believed in ghosts and spirits and were afraid of them.
• The Tamil society of the Sangam age was an advanced and civilized society. Education was not merely known and encouraged but was a wide- spread social activity. The pattern of education was not merely reading and understanding of books but also listening to the learned persons. It was believed that the advice given by wise and experienced person was like a support on a slippery ground. Those who listened to the learned were the very abode of humility. Education of a secular nature was not the peculiar preserve of any particular community or caste, sex or stage in life. The Sangam scholars belonged to all the class. It was believed that education gave self – confidence and dignity to men hence was sought after.
• A Kanakkayar was a grammar teacher who collected a group of students and taught them grammar and literature.
• Teachers who collected a large number of students and organised education on a large scale were called Kulapatis.
• Works on grammar like the Tolkappiyam, on poetics and mathematics were subjects studied by any student. Astronomy was allied to mathematics. The fine arts like music, dance, drama, painting, building architecture, sculpture etc. were specialized in by the hereditary artists. Much of the teaching was oral. The students wrote but sparingly and got practically everything by heart.
SANGAM AGE – RELIGIOUS LIFE
• The religion of the Sangam Tamils was not of a uniform of single pattern. The Sangam people knew and preached both the ritualistic and supplicatory aspects of religion.
• Their rituals were related to animism and other forms of deity worship. There was tree worship, stone worship, water worship, animal worship and the worship of stars and planets. They were supposed to be divinely animated.
• There were three strands of religion during the Sangam period viz., the indigenous gods, the exotic Hindu gods and the exotic non- Hindu religious faiths, functions etc. All the three co- existed and till the very end of the Sangam age, no serious and open clash occurred among them.
• Different gods were worshipped by the people living in different regions. The cowherds worshipped Tirumal so that he might bestow many milch cows on them. The hunters of the hill tracts worshipped Murugan as the god of the hillock. Other gods and goddesses of the hill – side were also recognised and worshipped. Indira was worshipped by the agriculturists who depended, for their produce on rains. There was a special festival instituted in Puhar in honour of Indra. The Chola king himself managed this festival. The fishermen and the people of the coastal regions worshipped Varuna, the god of the wide ocean. The worship of the Sun and the Moon was known. Usually, the crescent moon was worshipped.
• Murugan was the deity par excellence of the Tamils. The word Murugan means divinity and he was supposed to reside generally on the hill – tops. The temples of Murugan are mentioned in the Sangam literature. There is persistent tradition that the original deity in Venkatam Hill was Murugan. Tirumal was a great competitor to Murugan. At some places, Tirumal worship was started in place of Murugan worship by the enthusiastic worshippers of Tirumal. Though there are many references that Siva or Indra was the chief god for them, Murugan undoubtedly was the favourite god of the Tamils. He had not acquired the name of Subrahmanyam then though occasionally he was called Kumara. The shade of Vengai tree was considered appropriate for installing an idol of Murugan. The devotees beat the Tondaham drum and blew the bugle. Bells were rung. Flowers were strewn.
• Indra, Yama, Varuna and Soma were considered as the guardians of the four directions viz., the East, the South, the West and the North respectively.
• Gods on the basis of caste are also mentioned in the Silappadikaram.
• A large number of temples are mentioned in the Sangam literature. The temple was called Nagar.
• The name Siva is rarely mentioned in Sangam literature but many of his attributes are mentioned.
• The temple of Indra is mentioned in Silappadikaram and in Manimekalai.
• “Kannagi or Pattini Cult” was an established institution. Images of Pattini Devi were placed in temples.
• The name of Rama is not mentioned as a deity along with other gods in the Sangam literature. The name of Ganesa is also not specifically mentioned in the Sangam literature.
• The great Sangam poets Kapilar and Nakkirar were the worshippers of Siva but there was no feeling of religious antagonism.
• Aryan Brahmanical Hinduism reached Tamilaham earlier than Jainism and Buddhism,. The authors of the Manimekalai, Virasoliam and Kundala kesi were great Buddhists. There were also intellectual giants among the Jains who made fundamental contribution to Tamil literature. Both Buddhism and Jainism were subordinate to the indigenous practices and the Brahmanical Vedic religion. The effect of the Buddhist and Jain teachings on individuals might have been considerable, but their general effect on society was negligible.
• The Tamils of the Sangam age were aware of certain spiritual and philosophical truths. They believed that life is distinct from body. While life can function independently of the body, the body is incapable of functioning when divorced from life.
• The god of death was known as Kurram.
• Kubera, Yama and Balram were also worshipped.
SANGAM AGE – ECONOMIC LIFE
• The king was the owner of the territory over which he ruled.
• Agriculture, fishing and hunting were the major occupations. The textile industry, house-building, planning and building of towns, forging of weapons and other avocations provided the necessaries comforts and luxuries of life. A large number of persons were engaged in industries and commerce, both inland and foreign. The major towns like Puhar, Uraiyur, Vanji, Tondi, Musiri, Madurai, Kanchi etc. absorbed most of these manufactured goods. Industry was encouraged on account of the rising demand in foreign markets. Shipping and other allied industries like harbour-building and warehouse construction etc. were developed to sustain foreign trade. Weaving was a part-time occupation of the farmers and a regular full-time occupation for many others.
• The market place was known as Avanam. It was a centre of transactions. Transfers of property were common. Gifts are frequently mentioned. Gifts of movable and immovable property were in vogue. Assignment of tax-free villages to Brahmins was a special gift. Gifts were considered as irrevocable. Mortgages of immovable property and pawning or pledging of movable property were quite common.
• Next to agriculture, spinning and weaving were the most important and widely practised crafts. Women spent their spare time in spinning cotton threads. Weaving was a specialized industry in certain very important centres like Uraiyur, Madurai etc. The textile products were known for their beauty and fineness. Embroidered clothing was a well-known article of manufacture. Dyeing was a widespread ancillary industry to weaving. In addition to silk and cotton fabrics, cloth made of wood fibre also was used by the priestly class. The smithy was an important industrial factory where weapons of war were forged and repaired. Carpentry was a very common industry which was practised as an hereditary profession. The carpenter was engaged in house-building and in building boats, canoes and ships and chariots.
• Tamil literature of the Sangam period is full of details regarding the trading or commercial activities of the people. There was both internal and foreign trade at that time. Generally, industry and trade were carried on by groups of hereditary craftsmen pursuing their profession at the ancestral work place.
• Most of the trade was carried on by barter. Paddy constituted the most commonly accepted medium of exchange, especially in the more rural parts of the land. Well purified white salt was sold for paddy. Paddy was sold by mentioning its price in terms of salt. Honey and roots were exchanged for fish oil and arrack. Sugarcane and rice flakes were exchanged for venison and toddy.
• There were well-established markets or bazaars called Angadi in the bigger towns.
• There was an extensive trade with foreign countries. Tamilaham had certain commodities which were in great demand in foreign markets. Those were pepper, ginger and rice among food products, sandal – wood, ayil and almug among trees, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric amongst spices and ivory and pearls for luxurious ornaments. Gems and corundum, cotton and cotton fabrics for dress, monkeys, deer and peacocks among favourite domesticated animals and birds, cheetahs and tigers and elephants among the wilder animals. These articles were in great demand in the crowded Bazaars of foreign lands.
• There was trade with Greece and Rome. A large number of Roman gold coins of the Augustan age have been found in many parts of South India. Those coins show that there was brisk trade between Tamilaham and Rome which brought a lot of gold to Tamilaham. There were direct trade routes between Tamilaham and Arabia, Egypt and Rome. The direct and brisk trade between Rome and Tamilaham declined during the third century on account of the growing anarchy in the Roman Empire. However, the trade did not die out. The Romans came and colonized certain parts of Tamilaham. As there were many pirates in the Western sea, the Roman merchant convoys took military protection for their ships.
• The Tamils took to the sea very naturally and had a great reputation as sea – farers. That helped the extensive and lucrative foreign trade which Tamilaham enjoyed during the Sangam period.
• According to the Periplus, sea voyages to India were undertaken in the month of Epiphi or June
• Ship – building was a native industry in Tamilaham. A description of the harbour of Puhar speaks of rows of large boats which had returned laden with grain obtained in exchange for the white salt they had sold. Other boats were seen in the backwaters of Puhar tied to the rows of pegs. Warehouses for storing the merchandise were built on the beach. Goods were collected in these warehouses to be loaded in the ships going abroad.
• Romans trading with Sangam kingdoms built a temple of Augustus at Muziris.
• Uraiyur was famous for cotton, pearls and Muslin.
• Yavanapriya was Sanskrit term which came to be used for Indian pepper.
• The coins of Augustus and Tiberius predominate the Roman coins found in India.
• Muslin, Ivory, Beryl, gems & pearls and spices were the most important items of export to Roman Empire. Wine was imported from Rome.
• Excavations at Arikamedu and Alagangulam had provided evidence about the Indo-Roman trade.
• Revenue and finance
• On special occasions, the payment of land revenue was remitted. That happened when rains failed or the harvest was not satisfactory or some other calamity took place.
• It was competent for the king to assign tax-free lands to certain persons or institutions. At times, whole villages were granted tax-free to persons of the king’s choice.
• Villages granted as gift (involving freedom from the payment of taxes) to Brahmins were called Brahmadeya.
• Next to land revenue were the customs duties and tolls. Tamilaham had an extensive trade with places like Rome, Egypt, Burma, Malaya and Java.
SANGAM AGE – POLITY
• Hereditary monarchy was the prevailing form of government in Sangam age.
• The Sangam age polity was marked by the Cheras, Cholas and Pandayas kingdoms. It may be presumed that the Cheras were the earliest.
• King was known as Ko, Mahnam, lraivan, Korravan, Vendan etc.
• The crowned monarchs of Tamilaham were called Vendar.
• The other chieftains who did not wear crown were called Mannar.
• The eldest son of the reigning king generally succeeded his father and the throne was inherited by him as a matter of right. Law of Primogeniture was established
• The royal court was called Avai, Arasavai or Vettavai.
• Five qualities of a king were – Knowledge of the Vedas, Right speech, Knowledge of economy, Knowledge of astrology and Control over senses.
• The king had certain basic functions and those were learning, performing sacrifices, making presents, protecting the subjects and punishing the wicked and the guilty. The sacrifices prescribed for the kings were Rajsuya (the imperial sacrifice) and Asvamedha (the horse sacrifice).
• There is no evidence that any king was deposed during the Sangam period, but many kings voluntarily abdicated on certain occasions. A king may abdicate if he was defeated in a battle or otherwise humiliated. There was a provision for a Council of Regency if the new king was a minor. The eldest prince was the heir – apparent and was called Komahnam. The other sons and brother of the king were called Ilango.
• The king was expected to maintain the dignity of his office by looking after the welfare of the people and maintaining law and order. It was believed that “a king who does not look after his subjects as a mother looks goes to hell
• The three ambitions of an ideal king were aspiring to the spiritual wealth, conquering the other rulers in the world and leaving behind a good reputation.
• Divine qualities were attributed to the king.
• In Sangam age there was practice of erecting monuments for dead soldiers and worshipping them. These were known as Virakkal/ Nadukul (Hero stone).
• Kavalmapam/ Kadimaram were Tutelary tree. Each ruler had a great tree in his palace as a symbol of power.
• Two intuitions called Aimperukulu and Enperayam are mentioned in many Tamil Sangam texts. The Aimperukulu consisted of the Purohit, the army chief, the ambassador, the spies and the ministers. The Enperayam consisted of the Karanattiyalavar (the accountants), Karumakarar (executive officials), Kanakassurram (treasury officials), Kadaikappalar (palace guards), Nagaramandar (leading men among the king’s subjects in the capital city), Padaittalaivar (chiefs of the infantry), Yanai Virar (chiefs of the elephantry) and Ivuli Maravar (chiefs of the cavalry). There was no difference in status between these groups of royal servants.
• The king employed many ministers and their duties were advisory. They were present in the court and advised the king on matters on which they were consulted. Ministers bore the title of Kavidi.
• The kings of the Sangam age employed Dutas or ambassadors. They were the representatives of one king in the court of another. The chief qualifications of an ideal Duta were pleasing manners, coming from a high, family, clemency, eloquence, a good and stately figure, a good and high standard of education, ability to time his message without betraying or fear and showing favour and courage in the face of certain death.
• Spies were employed by the king in large numbers. They were called Orrar.
• For all practical purposes, the people were allowed to manage their local affairs. The people of a village governed themselves through rich, experienced, influential and sufficiently wise men of the locality. A small village assembly (Avai) met in the village to transact local business. The village institutions of Manram and Podiyil were concerned mainly with the arbitration of petty disputes arising in the village.
• Generally, the war started with a well-known incident, cattle-lifting. The incident was both a pretext and a justification. The King led his army in person and was at the head of his army. He exhibited great bravery of the battle-field.
• The court in the capital town was called Avai and the court in the village was called Manram.
• Ordinarily, witnesses were examined in the court for the disposal of cases. Occasionally, trial by ordeal was resort to. Trial by ordeal was followed both in civil and criminal cases.
• The two most recurring causes of warfare in Sangam age were cattle lifting and refusal to give princess in marriage.
• The fundamental cause of conflict between the cholas, Cheras and Pandayas was the desire to control the fertile delta of Kaveri River.
• The reference to a woman ruler of Pandayan kingdom comes from Megasthenes.
• There used to be five councils to assist king.
• The members o five councils where known as Mashanam.