The Sangam Literature

The Sangam means an association. Here, it refers to Tamil Sangam, an association of Tamil poets.

The Sangam means an ‘association’. Here, it refers to Tamil Sangam, an association of Tamil poets, which flourished in ancient history of South India. These Tamil poets composed the Sangam literature and the period in which it was composed is called Sangam Age. During this age there were three important Tamil kingdoms- the Chera, Cholas and the Pandyas. The historical evidences of sangam literature can be traced through three sources namely- literary sources, archaeological sources and foreign accounts.

The period of sangam literature is still disputed because, the three important epics of that period, Silappathigaram as well as the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa confirms that Gajabhagu II of Sri Lanka and Cheran Senguttuvan of the Chera dynasty were contemporaries. Also the coins issued by the Roman Emperor of 1st century are found in the various places of Tamil Nadu in large quantity. Moreover, the Greek authors like Magasthenes, Strabo and Pliny had mentioned about the commercial contacts between the West and the South India. The Ashokan Empire inscriptions mentioned the Cheras, Chola and Pandya rulers on the south of the Mauryan Empire. Therefore the 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 foreign evidences.

The Sangam literature consists of Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku and the two epics Silappathigaram and Manimegalai. Among these the Tolkappiyam authored by Tolkappiyar was the earliest work, provides the information on Social, Economic and political conditions of the Sangam Age along with the Tamil grammar. Ettutogai were the eight Anthologies consisting eight works. Both Ettutogai and Pattuppattu were divided into two main groups – Aham (love) and Puram (valour).

During the post-Sangam period, Pathinenkilkanakku or eighteen works dealing with ethics and morals was composed. The most important among them is Tirukkural written by Thiruvalluvar. Silappathigaram written by Elango Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar also belonged to post-modern period. These provide valuable information on the Sangam polity and society. The Kalugumalai inscription helps to know about ancient Tamil scripts called Tamil Brahmi. The Tirukkovalur inscription refers to the local chieftains and the tragic end of the Tamil poets.

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