First Cankam

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The First Cankam period (Tamilமுதற்சங்க பருவம், Mutaṟcanka paruvam ?) or Head Cankam period (Tamilதலைச்சங்க பருவம், Talaiccanka paruvam ?) was a legendary period in the history of Ancient Tamilakam said to be the foremost of Tamil Sangams, known in the Tamil language as கூடல் (kooṭal) or 'gathering'. It is the first of three Tamil Sangams of Classical Tamil literature. While most historians accept that the historicity of this literature, they do accept that some literary academies would have held Pandyan patronage.[1] This is not to be confused with the historical Third Cankam period which lasted roughly from 600 BC to 300 AD.


It was allegedly held in Old Madurai under the patronage of 89 Pandya kings,[2][3] who were called Maravar[4] during this period. The city was then called (Tamilகூடல், kooṭal ?) reflecting the site of the Tamil Sangam[5] and (Tamilதிருவாலவாய், Tiruvālavāi ?) which literally means 'Holy mouth of poison' referring to the tightly coiled city boundaries.[6] It is meant to have lasted for 4,440 years, would put the First Cankam between 9600 BC to 5200 BC.[7][8]

Some are of the opinion that Agattiyar was the head of the Talaiccankam, however, this is unlikely as the first mention of him is from Ptolemy and no Sangam work refers to him.[9] A more likely proposition is Shiva being the head of the First Cankam as believed by others.[10] சிவன் (civan) in Tamil means 'the red one'.[11]


Its function was to judge literary works and credit their worth. Later literary works like Iraiyanar Akaporul mention that 549 poets were members of it including Shiva, Murugan, Kuperan and seven Pandya kings.[12] And 16,149 authors attended the convocation. Its chief works were Perumparipadal, Mudukuruku, Mudunarai and Kalariyavirai. It used Agattiyam as its grammar.[13] There are no surviving works from this period.

Muranjiyur Mudinagar, a member of the first Tamil Cankam, is believed to have been a king of the Nagas in Jaffna.[14] Siddha medicine is said to have been practiced during the First Cankam,[15] and people "enjoyed mental and bodily health, respecting nature and living hygienically."[16] After the Cankam concluded, women would discuss issues that concerned them like the difference of wages between the sexes, or land ownership, or about an industrial action.[17][18]


Iraiyanar Kalaviyal mentions a King Kandungon was the last ruler during the Talaiccankam. He is not to be confused with Kadungon who defeated the Kalabhras.[19] It was washed away in a sea-deluge. This led to the Middle Cankam period.


  1. ^ Harman, William (1992). The sacred marriage of a Hindu goddess. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  2. ^ Kenneth Hurry, Alain Daniélou (2003). A brief history of India. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. 
  3. ^ Sen, Sailendra Nath (1992). Ancient Indian History and Civilization. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 204. 
  4. ^ "Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India", page 62, Martha Ann Selby, Indira Viswanathan Peterson, Suny Press
  5. ^ Devi, Leela (1986). History of Kerala. Vidyarthi Mithram Press & Book Depot. p. 61. 
  6. ^ Hudson, Dennis (2008). The body of God: an emperor's palace for Krishna in eighth-century Kanchipuram. Oxford University Press. p. 51. 
  7. ^ S. Cunjithapatham, M. Arunachalam (1989). Musical tradition of Tamilnadu. International Society for the Investigation of Ancient Civilizations. p. 11. 
  8. ^ "Proceedings - Volume 1 of Proceedings: Edited by R. E. Asher, Vadasery Iyemperumal Subramoniam" page 184, R. E. Asher, Vadasery I. Subramoniam, Pennsylvania State University
  9. ^ Saletore, Rajaram Narayan (1984). Encyclopaedia of Indian culture: Volume 4. Sterling Publishers. 
  10. ^ Journal of Indian history, Volume 38. Dept. of History, University of Kerala. 1960. 
  11. ^ Carpenter, Joseph Estlin (1921). Theism in medieval India: lectures delivered in Essex Hall, London. Williams & Norgate. 
  12. ^ Harman, William (1992). The sacred marriage of a Hindu goddess. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  13. ^ Iyengar, Sesha (1982). Dravidian India. Asian Educational Services. 
  14. ^ Pillay, Kolappa Pillay Kanakasabhapathi (1963). South India and Ceylon. University of Madras. 
  15. ^ Ca. Vē Cuppiramaṇiyan̲, Vē. Irā Mātavan̲ (1983). Heritage of the Tamils: Siddha medicine. International Institute of Tamil Studies. 
  16. ^ Weiss, Richard (2009). Recipes for immortality: medicine, religion, and community in South India. Oxford University Press. 
  17. ^ Maria Mies, Lalita K. Kumari, M. Krishna Kumari (1986). Indian women in subsistence and agricultural labour. International Labour Office. p. 133. 
  18. ^ Samta (Association) (1982). Manushi: Volume 3; Volume 3. Samta (Association). 
  19. ^ Piḷḷai, Es Vaiyāpurip (1988). Vaiyapuripillai's history of Tamil language and literature: from the beginning to 1000 A.D. New Century Book House.