Sangam Age

Sangam Age


The era spanning from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. in South India, specifically the region south of the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers, is denoted as the Sangam Period.

This historical phase derives its name from the Sangam academies, which thrived under the royal patronage of the Pandya kings of Madurai. These academies served as forums where eminent scholars congregated, functioning as a board of censors. It was during these gatherings that exceptional literary works, in the form of anthologies, were produced. These compilations represent the earliest specimens of Dravidian literature. According to Tamil legends, the Sangam period comprised three academies known as Muchchangam. The First Sangam, supposedly convened in Madurai, was attended by gods and legendary sages, although no literary works from this event have survived. The Second Sangam was hosted at Kapadapuram, with Tolkappiyam being the sole surviving literary work from this assembly. The Third Sangam took place in Madurai as well, and although only a few Tamil literary works have endured the test of time, they stand as valuable sources for reconstructing the history of the Sangam period.

Major Sources of the age: Sangam Literature

  • Tolkappiyam, authored by Tolkappiyar, is considered the earliest Tamil literary work, primarily focused on Tamil grammar but also providing insights into the political and socio-economic conditions of the time.
  • Ettutogai (Eight Anthologies) consists of works such as Aingurunooru, Narrinai, Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal, and Padirruppatu.
  • The Pattuppattu (Ten Idylls) includes works like Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai, Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu, Nedunalvadai, Madurai Kanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai, and Malaipadukadam.
  • Pathinenkilkanakku comprises eighteen works about ethics and morals, with Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar being the most significant.
  • Two epics, Silappathikaram by Elango Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar, provide valuable insights into Sangam society and polity.

Other Sources Detailing the Sangam Period:

  • Greek authors like Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny, and Ptolemy mentioned commercial trade contacts between the West and South India.
  • Ashokan inscriptions reference the Chera, Chola, and Pandya rulers to the south of the Mauryan empire.
  • The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela of Kalinga also contains mentions of Tamil kingdoms.

Political History of Sangam Period:

During the Sangam Age, South India was dominated by three prominent dynasties—the Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas. The primary source of information about these kingdoms is derived from literary references of the Sangam Period.


  • The Cheras held sway over the central and northern regions of Kerala as well as the Kongu region in Tamil Nadu.
  • Their capital was Vanji, and they controlled the west coast ports of Musiri and Tondi.
  • The emblem of the Cheras was the "bow and arrow."
  • Notably engaged in trade with the Romans, their importance in commerce is evident from the Pugalur inscription of the 1st century AD.
  • Senguttuvan, the Red Chera or the Good Chera, a ruler from the 2nd century AD, is regarded as the greatest Chera monarch.
  • Senguttuvan's military feats are chronicled in the epic Silapathikaram, providing details about his expedition to the Himalayas where he defeated several North Indian rulers.
  • He introduced the Pattini cult, worshiping Kannagi as the ideal wife in Tamil Nadu, and initiated the first South Indian embassy to China.


  • The Cholas held control over the central and northern areas of Tamil Nadu, with their core rule in the Kaveri delta, later known as Cholamandalam.
  • Uraiyur served as their capital, and Puhar or Kaviripattinam was an alternate royal residence and chief port town.
  • The emblem of the Cholas was the "Tiger," and they maintained a proficient navy.
  • King Karikala, a notable ruler, is celebrated in Sangam literature, particularly in Pattinappalai, showcasing his life and military conquests.
  • The Battle of Venni, mentioned in many Sangam poems, highlights Karikala's victory over a confederacy of Cheras, Pandyas, and eleven minor chieftains.
  • Karikala's reign witnessed flourishing trade and commerce. He founded the port city of Puhar and constructed a 160 km embankment along the Kaveri River.


  • The Pandyas ruled from Madurai, with Korkai as their main port, renowned for pearl fishery and chank diving.
  • Their emblem was the "Fish," and they were patrons of the Tamil Sangams, contributing to the compilation of Sangam poems.
  • The Pandyas maintained a regular army, engaged in prosperous trade, and gained renown for their pearls.
  • The dynasty supported Sati, caste, and idol worship, while widows faced mistreatment.
  • They embraced the Vedic religion and patronized Brahmin priests.
  • The Kalabhras invasion marked the decline of Pandya power during the Sangam Age.
  • After the Sangam Period, the dynasty experienced a period of diminished significance for over a century before resurging in the late 6th century.

Society of the Sangam Age

In the Sangam society, Tolkappiyam delineates a distinctive Five-fold division of lands, encompassing:

  • Kurinji: Hilly tracks
  • Mullai: Pastoral areas
  • Marudam: Agricultural regions
  • Neydal: Coastal areas
  • Palai: Desert regions

Moreover, Tolkappiyam provides insights into the societal structure, acknowledging four primary castes:

  • Arasar: The ruling class
  • Anthanar: A designated caste
  • Vanigar: Engaged in trade and commerce
  • Vellalar: Primarily agriculturists

The fabric of Sangam society also wove in the existence of ancient primitive tribes, including Thodas, Irulas, Nagas, and Vedars, reflecting the diversity and coexistence of various communities during this period.

Position of women during the period:

The Sangam literature provides valuable insights into the position of women during the Sangam Age, reflecting a nuanced portrayal of their societal role.

  • Respect and Intellectual Pursuits: Women in the Sangam era were accorded respect and were actively engaged in intellectual pursuits.
    • Notably, there were accomplished women poets like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar who not only flourished but also made significant contributions to Tamil literature.
  • Marriage and Life Choices: Women during this period were granted the agency to choose their life partners, showcasing a degree of autonomy in matters of marriage.
  • Challenges for Widows: The life of widows during the Sangam Age was marked by challenges and hardships, contributing to their overall misery.
  • Sati Practice: The Sangam literature also mentions the prevalence of the practice of Sati, particularly in the higher strata of society. This practice involved widows self-immolating or undergoing societal pressure to do so after the death of their husbands.

The diverse depiction of women in Sangam literature reflects a multifaceted reality, acknowledging both their agency and the challenges they faced within the societal framework of the time.


During the Sangam period, the predominant deity was Murugan, revered as the Tamil God. The worship of Murugan held ancient origins, and festivals dedicated to this deity found mention in Sangam literature. Murugan was esteemed with six abodes, collectively known as Arupadai Veedu.

Alongside Murugan, other deities were also venerated in the Sangam period:

  • Mayon (Vishnu): Recognized and worshiped as an important divine figure.
  • Vendan (Indiran): Acknowledged and revered in the religious practices of the time.
  • Varunan: Found a place among the gods worshiped during this era.
  • Korravai: Another deity held in reverence during the Sangam period.

A notable religious practice during this period was the worship of Hero Stones, known as Nadu Kal. These stones were erected in commemoration of the valor displayed by warriors in battle. This form of worship symbolized the acknowledgment of bravery and was a significant aspect of the religious landscape during the Sangam era.

Economy of the Sangam Age:

  • Agriculture: Agriculture was the predominant occupation during the Sangam Age, with rice being the primary and most common crop.
  • Handicrafts: Various handicrafts flourished, including weaving, metalworks, carpentry, shipbuilding, and the crafting of ornaments using beads, stones, and ivory.
    • These crafted goods were in high demand both in internal and external trade, which thrived during the Sangam period.
  • Textile Expertise: High expertise was achieved in spinning and weaving cotton and silk clothes, particularly the cotton clothes woven at Uraiyur. These textiles were greatly sought after in the western world.
  • Trade and Ports: The port city of Puhar emerged as a vital hub for foreign trade, witnessing the entry of large ships carrying precious goods.
    • Other significant ports facilitating commercial activities included Tondi, Musiri, Korkai, Arikamedu, and Marakkanam.
  • Coinage and Trade with Romans: Roman Emperors such as Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero issued gold and silver coins, and these coins have been discovered throughout Tamil Nadu, indicating a flourishing trade relationship.
  • Exports: Major exports during the Sangam age comprised cotton fabrics, spices (pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric), along with ivory products, pearls, and precious stones.
  • Imports: Traders engaged in importing horses, gold, and sweet wine, indicating a diverse range of commodities exchanged in the trade networks.

End of Sangam Age:

  • The Sangam period experienced a gradual decline towards the end of the 3rd century A.D.
  • The Kalabhras occupied Tamil country in the post-Sangam period (300 AD to 600 AD), a phase often referred to as an interregnum or 'dark age' by earlier historians.

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