Sangam literature

Sangam literature

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Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil
Tamil language
Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and in the Indian union territory of Pondicherry. Tamil is also an official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore...

Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 created between the years c. 600 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 commonly referred to as 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
' refers to the classical era territory of old South Indian royalties covering modern Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Tamil Eelam and southern parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka.; In an academic context, Tamilakam is used to refer to these territories as a single cultural area, where Tamil was the natural...


The poems belonging to the Sangam literature were composed by Dravidian 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
C. W. Thamotharampillai
C.W. Thamotharampillai also sometimes the initials are used as S.V , devoted his energies to the work of editing and publishing some of the oldest works of classical Tamil poetry and grammar.Pillai along with his contemporaries such as U. V...

 and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer
U. V. Swaminatha Iyer
U. V. Swaminatha Iyer , 1855–1942 C.E., was a Tamil scholar and researcher who was instrumental in bringing many long-forgotten works of classical Tamil literature to light...


Sangam literature

Sangam literature deals with emotional and material topics such as love, war, governance, trade and bereavement.
Much of the Tamil literature believed to have been composed in the Sangam period is lost to us, though detailed lists of works known to the 10th century compilers have survived.

The Indologist Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Zvelebil
Kamil Václav Zvelebil was a distinguished Czech scholar in Indian literature and linguistics, notably Tamil, Sanskrit, Dravidian linguistics and literature and philology.- Biography :...

 quotes A.K.Ramanujan :"In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quite 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 who were part of proto-Dravidian Jain culture. The Tamil in all their 2,000 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: The Major Eighteen Anthology Series (பதினெண்மேல்கணக்கு) comprising The Eight Anthologies (எட்டுத்தொகை) and the Ten Idylls (பத்துப்பாட்டு) and The Minor Eighteen Anthology Series (பதினெண்கீழ்கணக்கு)


Sangam Poems falls into two categories: the 'inner field' (Agam அகம்), and the 'outer field'(Puram புறம்) as described even in the first available Tamil grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

, the Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...


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
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

, benevolence
Benevolence means an act of, or a general inclination towards, charity."Benevolence" may also refer to:* Benevolence , a faculty in the discredited theory of Phrenology* USS Benevolence , a Haven class hospital ship-See also:...

, philanthropy
Philanthropy etymologically means "the love of humanity"—love in the sense of caring for, nourishing, developing, or enhancing; humanity in the sense of "what it is to be human," or "human potential." In modern practical terms, it is "private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of...

, social life, and customs.

The division into agam and puram is not rigid, but depends upon the interpretation used in a specific context.

Environmental classifications

Sangam literature illustrates the thematic classification scheme first described in the Tolkappiyam
The Tolkāppiyam is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature. It is written in the form of noorpaa or short formulaic compositions and comprises three books - the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram. Each of these books is...

. 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, umignai, nochchi, thumbai, 'vaagai, paataan, and pothuviyal.

Tamil Sangams

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
Pandya Kingdom
The Pandyas were fierce warriors who took part in the Kurukshetra War as per the epic Mahabharata. A Pandya king named Sarangadhwaja, is mentioned as participating in the Kurukshetra War, siding with the Pandavas. It is not clear if Pandyas were linked to the Pandavas of North India...

 rulers of the mythical cities of 'South' Madurai, Kapatapuram and Madurai to have 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
Kumari Kandam
Kumari Kandam is the name of a supposed sunken landmass referred to in existing ancient Tamil literature...

 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.
Sangam Place of Organisation Chairman Kingdom Books
First Madurai Agastaya Pandya No books survived
Second Kapatpuram Earlier- Agastaya
Later- Tolkappiyar (One of the disciples of Agastaya)
Pandya Tolkappium (author - Tolkappiyar)
Third Madurai Nakkirar Pandya 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
U. V. Swaminatha Iyer
U. V. Swaminatha Iyer , 1855–1942 C.E., was a Tamil scholar and researcher who was instrumental in bringing many long-forgotten works of classical Tamil literature to light...

. They painstakingly collected and catalogued numerous manuscripts in various stages of deterioration. Navalar and Pillai hailed from Jaffna
Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province, Sri Lanka. It is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna district located on a peninsula of the same name. Jaffna is approximately six miles away from Kandarodai which served as a famous emporium in the Jaffna peninsula from classical...

. Navalar brought to print for the first time any Sangam text; this was the Thirumurukaattuppadai of Pattupattu (one of The Ten Idylls), in 1851. Pillai brought the first of the Eight Anthologies (Edduththokai) of the Sangam classics the Kaliththokai, in 1887. Swaminathaiyar brought his first print of Pattupattu in 1889. Together, these scholars printed and published Tholkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar urai (1895), Tholkappiyam Senavariyar urai, (1868), Manimekalai
Manimekalai or Maṇimekalai , written by the Tamil Buddhist poet Seethalai Saathanar is one of the masterpieces of Tamil literature. It is considered to be one of the five great epics of Tamil literature. Manimekalai is a poem in 30 cantos...

(1898), Cilappatikaram
Silappatikaram Silappatikaram has been dated to likely belong to the beginning of Christian era, although the author might have built upon a pre-existing folklore to spin this tale. The story involves the three Tamil kingdoms of the ancient era, the Chola, the Pandya and the Chera...

(1889), Pattupattu
PathuPattu – The ten Idylls, is an anthology of ten mid length books and is one of the oldest surviving Tamil Poetry. This collection is considered part of the Sangam Literature and dated approximately between 300 BCE and 200 CE...

(1889), and Purananuru
Purananuru is a Tamil poetic work in the Pathinenmaelkanakku anthology of Tamil literature, belonging to the Sangam period corresponding to between 200 BCE – 100 CE. Purananuru is part of the Ettuthokai anthology which is the oldest available collection of poems of Sangam literature in Tamil....

(1894), all with scholarly commentaries. They published more than 100 works in all, including minor poems. J V Chellaiah of Jaffna College
Jaffna College
-See also:* List of schools in Northern Province, Sri Lanka* Uduvil Girl's College* Union College-External links:* * * *...

 did the entire translation of Pattupattu in English in 1945.

See also