Sangam Age

Sangam Age | History


  • Three Sangams flourished under the royal patronage of the Pandyas.
  • 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.
  • These Tamil literary works remain useful sources to reconstruct the history of the Sangam Age.

Sangam Literature

  • The corpus of Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku and the two epics – Silappathigaram and Manimegalai.
  • Tolkappiyam authored by Tolkappiyar is the earliest of the 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 Ettutogai or Eight Anthologies consist of eight works – Aingurunooru, Narrinai, Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripada and Padirruppattu.
  • The Pattuppattu or Ten Idylls consist of ten works – Thirumurugatruppadai, Porunaratruppadai, Sirupanatruppadai, Perumpanatruppadai, Mullaippattu, Nedunalvadai, Madurai kkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinapalai and Malaipadukadam.
  • Both Ettutogai and Pattuppattu 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.
  • Silappathigaram was written by Elango Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar also provides valuable information on the Sangam polity and society.

Other Sources

  • In addition to the Sangam literature, the Greek authors like Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy mention the commercial contacts between the West and South India.
  • The Ashokan inscriptions mention the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers on the south of the Mauryan empire.
  • The Hathikumbha inscription of Kharavela of Kalinga also mentions about Tamil kingdoms.
  • The excavations at Arikkamedu, Poompuhar, Kodumanal and other places reveal the overseas commercial activities of the Tamils.

Period of Sangam Literature

  • The chronology of the Sangam literature is still a disputed topic among scholars.
  • The sheet anchor of Sangam chronology lies in the fact that Gajabhagu II of Sri Lanka and Cheran Senguttuvan of the Chera dynasty were contemporaries.
  • This is confirmed by Silappathigaram as well as the Dipa vamsa and Maha vamsa.
  • The Roman coins issued by Roman emperors of the first century A.D were found in plenty in various places of Tamil Nadu.
  • The most probable date of the Sangam literature has been fixed between the third century B.C. to third century A.D. on the basis of literary, archaeological and numismatic evidence.


  • The Cheras ruled over parts of modern Kerala.
  • Their capital was Vanji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri.
  • They had the palmyra flowers as their garland.
  • The Pugalur inscription of the first century A.D refers to three generations of Chera rulers.
  • Padirruppattu also provides information on Chera kings.
  • Perum Sorru Udhiyan Cheralathan, Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralathan and Cheran Senguttuvan were the famous rulers of this dynasty.


  • 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.
  • Karikala was a 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.  This event is mentioned in many Sangam poems.
  • Vahaipparandalai was another important battle fought by him in which nine enemy chieftains submitted before him.
  • Karikala’s military achievements made him the overlord of the whole Tamil country.
  • Trade and commerce flourished during his reign period.
  • He was responsible for the reclamation of forest lands and brought them under cultivation thus adding prosperity to the people.
  • He also built Kallanai across the river Kaveri and also constructed many irrigation tanks.


  • The Pandyas ruled over the present-day southern Tamil Nadu. Their capital was Madurai.
  • The earliest kings of the Pandyan dynasty were Nediyon, Palyagasalai Mudukudumi Peruvaludhi and Mudathirumaran.
  • There were two Neduncheliyans.
  • The first one was known as Aryappadai Kadantha Neduncheliyan (one who won victories over the Aryan forces).
  • He was responsible for the execution of Kovalan for which Kannagi burnt Madurai.
  • The other was Talaiyalanganattu Cheruvenra (He who won the battle at Talaiyalanganam) Neduncheliyan.
  • He was praised by Nakkirar and Mangudi Maruthanar.
  • He wore this title after defeating his enemies at the Battle of Talaiyalanganam, which is located in the Tanjore district.
  • Maduraikkanji written by Mangudi Maruthanar describes the socio-economic condition of the Pandya country including the flourishing seaport of Korkai.
  • The last famous Pandyan king was Uggira Peruvaludhi.
  • 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.
  • Among them, Pari, Kari, Ori, Nalli, Pegan, Ay and Adiyaman were popular for their philanthropy and patronage of Tamil poets.
  • They were known as Kadai Yelu Vallalgal.
  • Although they were subordinate to the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers, they were powerful and popular in their respective regions.

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.

The Chera kings assumed titles like

  • Vanavaramban
  • Vanavan
  • Kuttuvan
  • Irumporai
  • Villavar

The Chola kings assumed titles like

  • Senni
  • Valavan
  • Killi

The Pandya kings

  • Thennavar
  • Minavar

Each of the Sangam dynasties had a royal emblem

  • 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)
  • Spies (otrar)
  • The military administration was also efficiently organized during the Sangam Age.
  • Each ruler had a regular army and their respective Kodimaram (tutelary tree).
  • Land revenue was the chief source of the state’s income while custom duty was also imposed on foreign trade.
  • The Pattinappalai refers to the custom officials employed in the seaport of Puhar.
  • 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.

Sangam Society

  • Tolkappiyam refers to the fivefold division of lands
  • Kurinji (hilly tracks)
  • Mullai (pastoral)
  • Marudam (agricultural)
  • Neydal (coastal)
  • 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 – hunting and honey collection.
  • Mullai – chief deity Mayon (Vishnu), chief occupation – cattle – rearing and dealing with dairy products.
  • Marudam – chief deity Indira, chief occupation –
  • Neydal – chief deity Varunan, chief occupation – fishing and salt manufacturing.
  • Palai – chief deity Korravai, chief occupation – robbery.
  • Tolkappiyam also refers to four castes namely
  • arasar
  • anthanar
  • vanigar
  • Vellalar
  • Other tribal groups like
  • Parathavar
  • Panar
  • Eyinar
  • Kadambar
  • Maravar
  • Pulaiyar were also found in the Sangam society.
  • Ancient primitive tribes like
  • Thodas
  • Irulas
  • Nagas
  • 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 was having 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
  • 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.
  • Many hero stones with legends inscribed on them were found in different parts of Tamil Nadu.
  • This kind of worshipping the deceased has great antiquity.

Position of Women

  • Women poets like
  • Avvaiyar
  • Nachchellaiyar
  • Kakkaipadiniyar flourished in this period and contributed 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.
  • The life of widows was miserable.
  • The practise of Sati was also prevalent in the higher strata of society.
  • 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.
  • Koothu was the most popular entertainment of the people.

The 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 handicrafts of the Sangam period were popular.
  • They include weaving, metal works and carpentry, shipbuilding and the 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 cotton clothes woven at Uraiyur.
  • Both internal and foreign trade was well organized and briskly carried on in the Sangam Age.
  • Internal trade was mostly based on the barter system.
  • External trade was carried between South India and the Greek kingdoms.
  • The author of Periplus provides the most valuable information on foreign trade.
  • 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.
  • Merchants carried the goods on the carts and on the animal – back from place to place.
  • After the ascendancy of the Roman Empire, the Roman trade assumed importance.
  • Plenty of gold and silver coins issued by the Roman Emperors like Augustus, Tiberius and Nero were found in all parts of Tamil Nadu.
  • 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.
  • Gold, horses and sweet wine were the chief imports.

End of the Sangam Age

  • Towards the end of the third century A.D., 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.
  • 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.

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