Sangam Literature - Significance, Time Period, UPSC Notes

By K Balaji|Updated : November 16th, 2022

Sangam Literature, popularly referred to as "the poetry of the noble ones," depicts the oldest forms of the Tamil language and is the earliest studied literature of South India. The period of Sangam literature was approximately between 300 BC and 300 AD, but most literary works were created from 100 CE to 250 CE. This period's three chief Tamil kingdoms were the Cholas, the Pandyas, and the Cheras. The complete details pertaining to the Sangam literature have been furnished here.

There are many meanings of Sangam, such as meeting, fraternity, gathering, and academy". The ancient Tamil Siddhar Agastyar chaired the first Sangam of Tamil in Madurai. Sangam Literature is one of the leading sources for registering the early chronology of the old Tamil polity, including the kings, monarchs, poets, etc. This article orients everything about Sangam Literature, its classification, significance, and culture.

Table of Content

What is Sangam Literature?

The Sangam literature is known to be authored by 473 poets, out of which 102 were unknown. These poets arrived from distinct backgrounds; some belonged to royal families, and a few were even farmers. A minimum of 27 of the total poets were females.

Several poems under the Sangam age literature discussed Heroism and displayed great liveliness. They dealt exclusively with matters that were non-religious and lacked references to rich legends.

Classification of Sangam Age Literature

Sangam Literature has been categorized based on the composition, context and interpretation period.

  • The literature is split into two types: Akam and Puram.
  • Akam poetry relates to the feelings and sentiments of romantic love, sexual connection, and sensuality.
  • In contrast, Puram's poetry focuses on exploits and courageous attainments in the setting of war and public life.

Given below are the details of every classification.

Sangam Literature Classification

Based on Period of Composition

Sangam Literature Details

Patinenmelkanakku

The most ancient Tamil poetry works formed 200 BCE to 100 BCE.

Patinenkilkanakku

Literary work formed between 100 CE and 500 CE, before the era of the Pallavas

Group of 18 poetry manuscripts

Primary works include Palamoli, Thirukkural, Naladiyar, etc.

Based on the Context and Interpretation

Sangam Literature Details

Akam (Inner)

Abstract conversation on human factors such as sexual connections, love, etc.

Puram (outer)

Experiences by human beings such as customs, ethics, heroism, social life, philanthropy, etc.

Sangam Literature is divided into seven minor genres, called Tinai, which includes Akam and Puram. This genre is based on the terrain or location in which the poetry is created, which possesses the following.

Sangam Age Literature Classification

Kurinci

Mountainous regions

Mullai

Pastoral woods

Marutam

Riverine agricultural land

Neytal

Coastal regions

Palai

Arid regions

In addition to the geography-based Tiṇais, the classifications used for Akam poetry are namely:

  • Perunthinai - Unsuitable, big genre
  • Kaikkilai - Badly-matched, one-sided
  • Ain-tinai - Well-matched, mutual love.

Takanobu Takahashi commented that Puram poetry is straightforward as it utilizes names and locations. The Tiṇais about Puram poems were similar to Akam. Types are occasionally based on the activity listed below:

  • Kanchi (Disaster)
  • Vetchi (Cattle charge)
  • Vanchi (Attack, training for war)
  • Paataan (Burial hymn and praise)
  • Vakai (Victory)
  • Pothuviyal
  • Tumpai (War)
  • Karanthai
  • Ulinai (Encirclement).

Three Types of Sangam Literature - Muchchangam

It is known that there are three types of Sangam Literature (Academy of Tamil poets) according to the legends of Tamil. These are recognized in old Southern India, commonly known as Muchchangam. The three types are:

  • First Sangam - This was held at Madurai, accompanied by legendary scholars and divinities. There is no availability of literary work under this Sangam.
  • Second Sangam - It was conducted at Kapadapuram, solely Tolkappiyam prevails from Second Sangam.
  • Third Sangam - It was held at Madurai. This Sangam was a valuable source to rebuild the history of this era and consists of a few Tamil literary works.

Sangam

Time Period

Kingdom

No. of Poets

First

4440 years

Pandiya

549

Second

3700 years

Pandiya

1700

Third

1850 years

Pandiya

Tolkappiyam - 2nd Literature of Sangam Age

The 2nd Sangam or Tolkappiyam literature work is the most ancient existent work of Tamil till now and was formed by Tolkappiyar. It was found between the 4th - 5th centuries CE.

  • It provided details on human psychology, economic, political, and social circumstances during the Sangam period.
  • It also explained Tamil grammar.
  • Tolkappiyam has significantly less influence on Sanskrit in its literature work.
  • The work includes a comprehensive range of 1612 Sutras.
  • There are nine chapters in this work that are equally divided into three sections.

Third Tamil Sangam

The literature from the third Sangam period was classified and assembled in the tenth century CE into two classifications based on chronology.

  • The principal origins of information for this Sangam age are archaeological sources, foreign accounts, and academic sources.
  • The structure of the third Sangam is organized into eight anthologies known as Ettuthokai/Ettuttokoi and ten idylls known as Pattuppattu.

Ettuthokai - Eight Anthologies of Sangam Literature

Ettuthokai, also well-known as the Eight Anthologies, is a poetic work of Tamil that comprises part of the Eighteen Greater Texts anthology series of Sangam Literature. It includes the listed literary works.

Name

Extant poems

Number of poets

Narrinai

400

175

Kuruntokai

402

205

Ainkurunuru

499

5

Patirruppattu

86

8

Paripatal

33

13

Kalittokai

150

5

Akananuru

401

145

Purananuru

398

157

Pattuppattu - The Ten Idylls

It was commonly spelt as Ten Idylls and is a classical poetic Tamil work in Sangam Literature. It contained Puram (public life and battle) poems with 100 and 800 lines. It includes the listed literary works.

Name

Author of Sangam Literature

Poem Lines

Malaipatukatam

Perunkaucikanar

583

Kurincippattu

Kapilar

261

Perumpanarruppatai

Uruttirankannaiyar

500

Tirumurukarruppatai

Nakkirar

317

Netunalvatai

Nakkirar

188

Pattinappalai

Uruttirankannanar

301

Porunararruppatai

Mutattamakkanniyar

234

Mullaippattu

Napputanar

103

Cirupanarruppatai

Nattattanar

296

Maturaikkanci

Mankuti Marutanar

782

Post-Sangam Period (200 CE - 600 CE)

The era began in 200 CE and lasted till 600 CE. It is believed that Jain writers also authored five minor works. The post-Sangam period witnessed the composition of five big epics in Tamil:

  • Jivaka Chintamani
  • Valaiyapati
  • Kundalakesi
  • Manimekalai
  • Silappadikaram.

Silappadikaram

Ilango Adigal composed this Sangam. The meaning of term depicts the story of an anklet. The Author is considered stern-prince, and his elder brother was Cheran king Senguttuvan.

  • The main character is Kannagi, who seeks revenge for her poorly killed husband from the Pandya empire.
  • The poem gives a lot of understanding into modern Tamil culture, government, values and social life of the people.

Manimekalai

Chithalai Chathanar, also known as Sattanar, composed this literature, a continuation of Silappadikaram. The principal objective of the Author was to grow Buddhism in South India as the work unites the faith of Buddhism over other theologies of the time.

Significance of Sangam Literature in Ancient South India

Sangam literature or poetry focused on individuals and culture. It is virtually only non-religious except for reference to numerous gods. The literature provided wisdom into diverse aspects of old Tamil society, individuals, and religious and non-religious beliefs.

  • It constitutes evidence of Sanskrit loan words, indicating continuing academic and linguistic cooperation between ancient Tamil Nadu and other regions of the subcontinent of India.
  • The Sangam literature offered recorded evidence of native literary evolution in Southern India, similar to Sanskrit literature and Tamil’s classical status.
  • The existing mythological Sangams certify a group of scholars who influenced the life of old Tamil Nadu based on literacy, intellectual, cultural and linguistic aspects.

List of Sangam Literature Books

The Sangam books collection contains 2381 poems in Tamil written by 473 poets, out of which many poets are still unidentified. Mentioned are some of the best books for Sangam Literature. These are available online on popular websites.

Sangam Literature Books

Author

The Interior Landscape, Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology

A.K. Ramanujam

Tamil Heroic Poetry

K. Kailasapathy

Tamil Love Poetry – The Five Hundred Short Poems of Ainkurunuru (Translation of all the 500 poems)

Martha Ann Selby

The Four Hundred Songs of War and Wisdom

George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz

Tholkappiyam

S. Ilakkuvanar

Tamil Brahmi Inscriptions of the Sangam Age

Iravatham Mahadevan

The Smile of Murugan: On Tamil Literature of South India

Kamil Zvelebil

Poets of the Tamil Anthologies – Ancient Poems of Love and War

George L. Hart

Landscape and Poetry – A study of nature in Classical Tamil Poetry

Xavier Thani Nayagam

The Poems of Ancient Tamil – Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts

George L. Hart

Decline of Sangam Literature

The decline of the Sangam age began at the end of the 3rd century AD. The Kalabhras inhabited the Tamil homeland after the Post-Sangam era between the span of 300 AD to 600 AD. The period witnessed was known as a dark side or interregnum by the ancient chroniclers.

Sangam Literature UPSC

Sangam literature UPSC topic is covered as the subject of Ancient History in the UPSC Syllabus. Every year at least 1 or 2 questions can be asked in the UPSC Prelims exam, so it is crucial to learn about Sangam Literature. Candidates can refer to the Ancient History Notes for UPSC to study for UPSC Prelims and Mains.

Sangam Literature UPSC PDF

If preparing for the UPSC 2023 exam, aspirants must know full knowledge about the historical significance of the Sangam Age. Also, download the UPSC Previous Year Question Papers to practice questions from the topic.

Important Notes for UPSC
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FAQs on Sangam Literature

  • According to historical terms, Sangam Literature meant “the poetry of the noble ones”. The exact meaning of Sangam is an association, and the publications that connote ancient Tamil literature is known as Sangam literature. It is the earliest South India available literature.

  • Sangam & Thirukkural constitutes of 1330 couplets. It has been decoded into many languages, including foreign languages and explains epics, attachment, and government. The book is composed by Thiruvalluvar.

  • Sangam literature is believed to be assembled between 400 BC and 300 BC. Tolkappiyam is the oldest Tamil work. The literature records the early chronology of the ancient Tamil polity, including the kings, monarchs, poets, etc.

  • There was no caste hierarchy in the form of a four-fold Vedic system during the Sangam era. Society was organized as groups based on their occupation who lived isolated from one another.

  • Sangam literature is considered necessary as it is one of the primary sources for documenting the early chronology of the ancient Tamil country, be it the kings, rulers, poets, etc.

  • The sources of the Sangam age include Ettutogai, Pathinenkilkanakku, Pattuppattu, Tolkappiyam, and two epics named – Silappathikaram and Manimegalai. The earliest work of literature in Tamil was Tolkappiyam, composed by Tolkappiyar.

  • The 2nd Sangam or Tolkappiyam literature work is the most ancient existent work of Tamil till now and was formed by Tolkappiyar. It was found between the 4th - 5th centuries CE. It provided details on human psychology, political, economic, and social circumstances during the Sangam period.

  • The types of Sangam literature are Pattuppattu, Tolkappiyam, Pathinenkilkanakku, Ettutogai, and two heroic long poems called– Manimegalai and Silappathikaram. The earliest literary work of Tamil was Tolkappiyam, composed by Tolkappiyar.

  • Silappadikaram depicts the story of an anklet. Ilango Adigal composed this Sangam. The Author is considered stern-prince, and his elder brother was Cheran king Senguttuvan. The poem gives a lot of insight into modern Tamil culture, government, values, and social life of the people.

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