The Sangam period (Tamil: சங்ககால பருவம், Cankakāla paruvam ?) is the period in the history of ancient southern India (known as the Tamilakam) spanning from c. 300 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous. The period during which these poems were composed is called the Sangam period, referring to the prevalent Sangam legends claiming literary academies lasting thousands of years, giving the name to the corpus of literature. Sangam literature is primarily secular, dealing with everyday themes in a Tamilakam context.
The poems belonging to Sangam literature were composed by Tamil poets, both men and women, from various professions and classes of society. These poems were later collected into various anthologies, edited, and with colophons added by anthologists and annotators around 1000 AD. Sangam literature fell out of popular memory soon thereafter, until they were rediscovered in the 19th century by scholars such as Arumuga Navalar, C. W. Thamotharampillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer.
|History of literature
|Modern by century|
Sangam literature deals with emotional and material topics such as love, war, governance, trade and bereavement. Some of the greatest Tamil scholars, like Thiruvalluvar, who wrote on ethics, and on the various issues of life like wealth, virtue and love, or the Tamil poet Mamulanar, who explored historical incidents that happened in India, lived during the Sangam period.
The Indologist Kamil Zvelebil quotes A.K.Ramanujan: "In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quiet and dramatic Tamil poems. In their values and stances, they represent a mature classical poetry: passion is balanced by courtesy, transparency by ironies and nuances of design, impersonality by vivid detail, austerity of line by richness of implication. These poems are not just the earliest evidence of the Tamil genius. The Tamils, in all their 2000 years of literary effort, wrote nothing better."
Compilation of literature
The available literature from this period was categorized and compiled in the 10th century into two categories based roughly on chronology. The categories are: Pathinenmaelkanakku (The Major Eighteen Anthology Series; பதினெண்மேல்கணக்கு) comprising Eṭṭuttokai (The Eight Anthologies ;எட்டுத்தொகை) and the Pattupattu (Ten Idylls; பத்துப்பாட்டு) and Pathinenkilkanakku (The Minor Eighteen Anthology Series;பதினெண்கீழ்கணக்கு).
The 'inner field' topics refer to personal or human aspects, such as love and sexual relationships, and are dealt with in a metaphorical and abstract manner. The 'outer field' topics discuss all other aspects of human experience such as heroism, valour, ethics, benevolence, philanthropy, social life, and customs.
The division into agam and puram is not rigid, but depends upon the interpretation used in a specific context.
Sangam literature illustrates the thematic classification scheme first described in the Tolkappiyam. The classification ties the emotions involved in agam poetry to a specific landscape. These landscapes are called thinai (திணை). These are: kurinji (குறிஞ்சி), mountainous regions; mullai (முல்லை), forests; marutham (மருதம்), agricultural land; neithal (நெய்தல்) coastal regions; paalai (பாலை) deserts. In addition to the landscape based thinais, kaikkiLai and perunthinai are used for unsolicited love and unsuited love respectively.
Similar thinais pertain to puram poems as well, though these categories are based on activity rather than landscape: vetchi, 'karanthai, vanchi, kanchi, uzhignai, nochchi, thumbai, 'vaagai, paataan, and pothuviyal.
According to the compilers of the Sangam works such as Nakkeeran, the Tamil Sangams were academies, where Tamil poets and authors are said to have gathered periodically to publish their works. The legends claim that the Pandya rulers of the mythical cities of 'South' Madurai, Kapatapuram, and Madurai, patronized the three Sangams. The word "Sangam" is probably of Indo-Aryan origin (and was not used anywhere in the Sangam literature itself), coming from "Sangha", the Buddhist and Jain term for an assembly of monks.
While these claims of the Sangams and the description of sunken land masses Kumari Kandam have been dismissed as frivolous by historiographers, "Sangam literature" is still the preferred term for referring to the collection of Tamil works from the period 200 BC to 200 AD. Noted historians like Kamil Zvelebil have stressed that the use of 'Sangam literature' to describe this corpus of literature is a misnomer and Classical literature should be used instead.[dated info]
|Sangam||Place of Organisation||Chairman||Kingdom||Books|
|First||Thenmadurai||Agastya||Pandiya||No books survived|
Later- Tolkappiyar (a disciple of Agastaya)
|Pandiya||Tolkappiyam (author - Tolkappiyar)|
|Third||Madurai||Nakkirar||Pandiya||covers entire corpus of Sangam Literature|
The works of Sangam literature were lost and forgotten for several centuries before they were brought to light by several Tamil scholars, such as Arumuga Navalar, S. V. Damodaram Pillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer. They painstakingly collected and catalogued numerous manuscripts in various stages of deterioration. Navalar and Pillai hailed from Jaffna. Navalar brought the first Sangam text into print; this was the Thirumurukaattuppadai of Pattupattu (one of The Ten Idylls), in 1851. Pillai brought out the first of the Eight Anthologies (Edduththokai) of the Sangam classics, the Kaliththokai, in 1887. Swaminathaiyar published his first print of Pattupattu in 1889. Together, these scholars printed and published Tholkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar urai (1895), Tholkappiyam Senavariyar urai, (1868), Manimekalai (1898), Cilappatikaram (1889), Pattupattu (1889), and Purananuru (1894), all with scholarly commentaries. They published more than 100 works in all, including minor poems. J V Chellaiah of Jaffna College did the entire translation of Pattupattu in English in 1945.
- There are some who claim earlier dates (up to 600 BCE). Others cite as late as 200 BCE. The date of 300 BCE may represent a middle-of-the road consensus view; e.g. see the well-received textbook Ancient India, Upinder Singh, 2009, p. 15. However, it is quite likely that the songs existed in oral tradition well before this date.
- Kamil Veith Zvelebil, Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature, p. 12
- K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, A History of South India, OUP (1955) p. 105
- Classical Tamil
- T.S. Subramanian (2009-07-10). "Jain History of Tamil Nadu vandalised". Retrieved 2011-06-03.
The six Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions of the 2nd century B.C. on the brow of five caverns on the Kazhugumalai hill near Mankulam, 38 km from Madurai, are the most ancient ones in Tamil Nadu and establish the historical facts that the Pandyan king Nedunchezhiyan ruled in the 2nd century B.C. and that Sangam literature dates back to the same period.
- George L. Hart III, The Poems of Ancient Tamil, U of California P, 1975.
- Irayanaar Agapporul dated to c 750 AD first mentioned the Sangam legends. An inscription of the early tenth century AD mentions the achievements of the early Pandya kings of establishing a Sangam in Madurai. See K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, A History of South India, OUP (1955) p. 105
- "The latest limit of Ettutokai and Pattupattu may be placed around 700 AD...." – Vaiyapuri Pillai, History of Tamil language and literature p. 38.
- "...the Tamil language of these brief records achieved a flowering during the first centuries of the Common Era, culminating in the emergence of a poetic corpus of very high quality [...] To this corpus the name sangam poetry was added soon afterwards...." Burton Stein, A History of India (1998), Blackwell p. 90.
- The only religious poems among the shorter poems occur in paripaatal. The rest of the corpus of Sangam literature deals with human relationship and emotions. See K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, OUP (1955) pp. 330–335
- Chera, Chola, Pandya: Using Archaeological Evidence to Identify the Tamil Kingdoms of Early Historic South India – Abraham, Shinu Anna, Asian Perspectives – Volume 42, Number 2, Fall 2003, pp. 207–223 University of Hawaii Press
- Morality and Ethics in Public Life by Ravindra Kumar p.92
- Essays on Indian Society by Raj Kumar p.71
- Zvelebil, Kamil V., Tamil Literature, 1975, E J Brill, Leiden, p 108
- Ramanujan, A.K., Interior Landscape, 1967, Afterword, p115.
- The Hindu : Book Review : Resurrecting Lemuria
- Kamil Zvelebil., The Smile of Murugan
- A library of palmyra manuscripts
- "Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature", Kamil V. Zvelebil
- Minatchisuntharan, T.P. History of Tamil Literature. Annamalai University Publications in linguistics, 3. Annamalai University, 1965
- Krishnamurti, C.R., Thamizh Literature Through the Ages, Vancouver, B.C. Canada 
- Varalaaru.com – Monthly web magazine on South Indian History and Literature
- Sangam Literature Translations and Explanations
- sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com Great Overview and Detailed Translations of all Sangam Literature in English by Vaidehi Herbert