Sangam Age UPSC: History, Chola Chera Pandya Dynasty, Literature and More

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : November 11th, 2022

The Sangam Age is the period in the history of ancient Tamil Nadu spanning from c. 3rd century BC to c. 3rd century AD. It is named after the famous Sangam academies of poets and scholars centred in the city of Madurai. Three Sangams (Academies of Tamil Poets), also known as Muchchangam, are said to have existed in ancient Tamil Nadu, according to Tamil tradition. The Pandyas' royal patronage allowed these Sangams to flourish. The Sangam Age was believed to exist between the area lying south of river Krishna and Tungabhadra. Historians and ideologists regard the Sangam period as the "classical age" of the Tamils, comparable to the Classical era in Greece and Rome and the Renaissance of later European periods. Sangam translates to confluence in Sanskrit.

The topic of Sangam Age is significant for the UPSC Exam, based on the pattern of UPSC Previous Year Question Papers. An essential period in the history of ancient India is the Sangam Dynasty.

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Sangam Age

From roughly the 6th century BCE to roughly the 3rd century CE, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and parts of Sri Lanka experienced the Sangam Age, more precisely, the third Sangam Period. It was given that name in honour of the illustrious Madurai-based Sangam schools of poets and philosophers. The best work was published in anthologies censored by distinguished thinkers who congregated at the Sangams (academies of Tamil poets). These books were some of the earliest works of Dravidian literature.

Three Sangams, often called Muchchangam in ancient South India, were reportedly held according to Tamil traditions.

  • Gods and legendary sages are said to have attended Madurai's First Sangam. There is no published literary work by the First Sangam.
  • The solitary remnant of the Second Sangam, which took place at Kapadapuram, is Tolkappiyam.
  • Also hosted in Madurai was the Third Sangam. These Tamil literary works, some of which have survived, can be used as sources to piece together the history of the Sangam era.

Sangam Age: Political History of Chola Chera Pandya

Throughout the Sangam Age, South India was ruled by the Cheras, Cholas, and Pandya kingdoms. The primary source of information about these dynasties is literary references from the Sangam Period.

Chola

  • The Cholas' control over Tamil Nadu's central and northern territories was centred in the Kaveri delta, later known as Cholamandalam.
  • Puhar or Kaviripattinam, close to Tiruchirapalli town, served as their main port and alternative royal palace. Uraiyur served as their capital.
  • Their logo included a tiger.
  • The Cholas also possessed a successful navy.
  • Karikala was a well-known Sangam Chola emperor. Through the Pattinappalai, his life and military triumphs are depicted.
  • Numerous Sangam hymns make reference to the Battle of Venni, in which Karikala defeated the coalition of Chera, Pandya, and eleven minor chieftains. Due to his military skill at the time, he governed the whole Tamil region.
  • Puhar is a harbour city that Karikala built.

>> Sangam Age UPSC Notes [PDF]

Chera

  • The Cheras were in charge of Tamil Nadu's Kongu region and Kerala's central and northern regions.
  • Their capital was Vanji, and Musiri and Tondi ports on the west coast were under their control.
  • The anthem of Cheras was "Bow and arrow."
  • The Pugalur inscription from the first century AD mentions three generations of Chera kings.
  • The prominence of the Cheras was aided by trade with the Romans. A shrine dedicated to Augustus was also built.
  • The greatest ruler of the Cheras during the second century A.D. was Senguttuvan, often known as the Red Chera or the Good Chera. The epic Silapathikaram described his military prowess.

Pandya

  • The Cheras were in charge of Tamil Nadu's Kongu region as well as Kerala's central and northern regions.
  • Their capital was Vanji, and Musiri and Tondi ports on the west coast were under their control.
  • The anthem of Cheras was "Bow and arrow."
  • The Pugalur inscription from the first century AD mentions three generations of Chera kings.
  • The prominence of the Cheras was aided by trade with the Romans. A shrine dedicated to Augustus was also built.
  • The greatest ruler of the Cheras during the second century A.D. was Senguttuvan, often known as the Red Chera or the Good Chera. The epic Silapathikaram described his military prowess.

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Sangam Literature: Insights on Sangam Age

As was already said, the Sangam writings are a gold mine of data for studying Tamilakam's early history. They offer insight into a crucial historical issue. The Sangam literature consists of the epics Silappathikaram and Manimegalai, Tolkappiyam, Pathinenkilkanakku, Ettutogai, and Pattuppattu.

  • Tolkappiyam, written by Tolkappiyar, is regarded as the first piece of Tamil literature. Although it is a study of the Tamil language, it also offers insights into the socio-political environment of the day.
  • Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Aingurunooru, Narrinai, Paripadal, Aganaooru, Purananooru, and Padirruppatu are the eight works that makeup Ettutogai (Eight Anthologies).
  • Ten pieces make up The Pattuppattu (Ten Idylls), including Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai, Thirumurugarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu, Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Porunararruppadai, Sirupanarruppadai, and Malaipadukadam.
  • There are eighteen works on ethics and morals in Pathinenkilkanakku. The most significant of these writings is Tirukkural, written by Tamil great poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar.
  • Elango Adigal and Sittalai Sattanar are the authors of the two epics, Silappathikaram and Manimegalai. They also offer important information on Sangam society and politics.

Greek authors like Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny, and Ptolemy, in addition to the Sangam Literature, point to trade ties between the West and South India.

  • The Asokan inscriptions make reference to the Chera, Chola, and Pandya emperors of the Mauryan empire.
  • Tamil kingdoms are also mentioned in the Kharavela of Kalinga's Hathikumbha inscription.
  • The excavations show the Tamils' international commerce activities at Arikamedu, Poompuhar, Kodumanal, and other sites.

Sangam Period: Polity and Administration

Hereditary monarchy was the system of government throughout the Sangam era. The Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras each possessed a unique royal emblem during the Sangam Period: a tiger, a carp or fish, and a bow.

  • The king received assistance from several officials who were organised into five councils.
  • They were envoys (thuthar), ministers (amaichar), priests (anthanar), secret agents (senapathi), and military commanders (orrar).
  • Each monarch had a regular army connected to them, and the military government was well-run.
  • The state's primary funding source came from land sales, and a customs duty was also imposed on all foreign trade.
  • The royal treasury received a substantial amount of revenue from war booty.
  • The roads and highways were maintained and guarded to prevent theft and smuggling.

Society During Sangam Age

The inhabitants of the Tolkappiyam had their own major occupations and deities to worship. Tolkappiyam is the name for the five-fold land division. Aside from the ruling class, tolkappiyam also refers to the four castes of arasar, anthanar, vanigar, and vellalar (Agriculturists).

The five-fold land division was:

  • Kurinji (hilly tracks): chief occupation was hunting and honey collection.
  • Mullai (pastoral): chief occupation was cattle-rearing and dealing with dairy products.
  • Marudam (agricultural): chief occupation was agriculture
  • Neydal (coastal): chief occupation was fishing and salt manufacturing.
  • Palai (desert): major occupation was of robbery.

Land

Type of land

Chief deity

Chief occupation

Kurunji

Hilly tracts

Murugan

Hunting and honey collection

Mullai

Pastoral

Mayon

Cattle rearing and dealing with dairy products

Marudham

Agricultural

Indira

Agricultural

Neidhal

Coastal

Varunan

Fishing and salt manufacturing

Palai

Desert

Korravai

Robbery

Women were respected and permitted to pursue academic interests. Women poets like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar flourished and made significant literary contributions to Tamil.

  • Women were free to select the life partners they wanted. But widows' lives were wretched.
  • The practise of Sati is also mentioned as common among the upper classes of society.

Religion During the Sangam Period

Murugan, revered as the Tamil God, served as the main god during the Sangam era. The celebration of God Murugan's festivals is described in Sangam literature, and his worship has a long history.

  • Arupadai Veedu, six abodes honouring Murugan, was created.
  • During the Sangam era, people also worshipped Mayon (Vishnu), Vendan (Indiran), Varunan, and Korravai.
  • The Hero Stone, also known as Nadu Kal worship, was prominent during the Sangam period and was built as a monument to the warriors' courage while engaged in combat.

Sangam Age Economy

The main occupation was agriculture, with rice being the most popular crop. The handicrafts included weaving, carpentry, metalworking, shipbuilding, and the creation of jewellery out of ivory, stones, and beads. A great level of proficiency was obtained in spinning and weaving cotton and silk clothing. Particularly for the cotton clothing woven at Uraiyur, these were in high demand in the western world.

  • These were in high demand during the Sangam era, when both domestic and international trade peaked.
  • Due to the arrival of large ships carrying valuable products, the port city of Puhar developed into a significant hub for international trade.
  • Tondi, Musiri, Korkai, Arikkamedu, and Marakkanam were additional large ports with significant commercial activity.
  • During the Sangam era, cotton textiles, spices including pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric, as well as goods made of ivory, pearls, and precious stones, were the main exports.
  • Horses, gold, and sweet wine were the main imports for the traders.

At the close of the third century A.D., the Sangam period began to deteriorate progressively. The Kalabhras ruled over Tamil territory for about 250 years. The Kalabhra era is a period about which very little is known. Jainism and Buddhism gained popularity at this time.

The Kalabhras were driven out of Tamil Nadu by the northern Pallavas and the southern Pandyas, who thereafter established their rule.

Sangam Age UPSC

A significant period in South Indian history is the Sangam Age. In ancient Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and parts of Sri Lanka, the Sangam period or age, and particularly the third Sangam period, was a historical era that spanned roughly from the sixth century BCE to the third century CE.

The topic is covered under the Ancient History section of the UPSC Syllabus and aspirants can refer to the History Books for UPSC to study the Sangam Period in detail.

Sangam Age UPSC Questions

Question: Which of the following ancient Tamil Kingdoms came to be known from Sangam Literature? 

  1. Chola
  2. Chera
  3. Pandya
  4. All of the above

Answer: Option D

Question: What was the term used for forced tax during Sangam Age?

  1. Tairave
  2. Karamai
  3. Pandu
  4. Pillai

Answer: Option A

Check the below links to download Sangam Age Questions PDF in English and Hindi. The PDF includes important facts related to the Sangam period, Sangam literature, the south empire during the Sangam age etc.

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Sangam Age FAQs

  • In ancient Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and parts of Sri Lanka, the Sangam Age, and particularly the third Sangam period, was a historical era that spanned roughly from the sixth century BCE to the third century CE. It was given the illustrious Sangam schools of poets and intellectuals from Madurai as its name.

  • The handicrafts included weaving, carpentry, metalworking, shipbuilding, and the creation of jewellery out of ivory, stones, and beads. These were in high demand during the Sangam era when both domestic and international trade peaked. A great level of proficiency was obtained in spinning and weaving cotton and silk clothing.

  • Tradition has it that the first Tamil Sangam in Madurai was presided over by the Ancient Tamil Siddhar Agastaya. He is considered the founding father of Sangam literature.

  • Based on its physical layout, Tamil Nadu was divided during the Sangam Age into five distinct landscapes known as the "five thinais": Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham, Neithal, and Palai.

  • The Five Great Epics, according to later Tamil literary tradition, are- Silappathikaram and Manimegalai, Tolkappiyam, Pathinenkilkanakku, Ettutogai, and Pattuppattu.

    To download Sangam Age UPSC Notes, click here.

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