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Sangam Age, Literature, Dynasties, and Governance – The Sangam Age has a very important place in ancient South Indian history. This period is known for its literary advancement as well as its military and administrative system along with its trade and commerce. The three major dynasties of this period were the Cheras, the Cholas, and the Pandyas. In this blog, we will study point by point the literature of the Sangam period, the dynasty system.

Sangam Age, Literature, Dynasties and Governance introduction

  • The period between about the 3rd century BC. and the 3rd century AD in South India (the area south of the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers) is known as the Sangam period.


  • This period is known as the Sangam Sabhas organized during that period. The Sagam Sabhas were mainly patronized by the Pandya rulers.


  • The most illustrious literature was produced by scholars of a high order in the Sangam Sabhas.

  • This literature of the Sangam period is the main source and reflection of Dravidian literature.


  • Ancient Tamil legends refer to the organization of three Sangams, in these Sangams Tamil poets composed various compositions, popularly known as Muchachangam.

  • According to legend, the first Sangam is believed to have been held in Madurai, in which great sages, including the gods, made their presence felt. Although no historical literary evidence is available about this Sangam.


  • The second Sangam was organized at Kapdapuram, from which the literature of the time is available only in the form of Tolkappiyam.

  • The third Sangam was also organized in Madurai. Some literary works of this period are left which prove useful in knowing the history of the Sangam period.


  • Sangam Literature: Major Literary Sources of the Contemporary.


  • The Sangam literature includes the names of two epics (Silappathikaram and Manimegalai) Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, Pattupattu, Pathinenkilkanakku.

  • Tolkappiyar was written by Tolkappiyar and is considered to be the earliest Tamil literary work. Although it is a writing work on Tamil grammar, it presents to us the details of the political and socio-economic conditions of the time.


  • The Ettutogai (Eight Anthology) consists of eight compositions – Aingurunuru, Narinai, Aganauru, Purananuru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal and Padirappatu.


  • The Pattupattu (Ten Idols) consists of ten compositions – Thirumurugaruppadi, Porunarruppadai, Sirupanaruppadai, Perumpanaruppadai, Mullaappattu, Nedunlavadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjipattu, Pattinappalai and Malaippadukdam.

Pathinenkilkanakku has eighteen compositions about ethics and morality. Thirukkural by Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar occupies an important place among these greatest Tamil literary works.

The two epics are the Silappathikaram written by Elango Adigal and Manimegalai by Sitalai Sattanar. They also provide valuable details about the Sangam society and the state system.

The source of our knowledge about the Sangam period comes from the following literature –


  • Greek writers like Megasthenes, Strabo, Pliny, and Ptolemy mention commercial trade contacts between West and South India.
  • The inscriptions of Ashoka mention the Chera, Chola, and Pandya rulers in the south of the Maurya Empire.


  • The Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela of Kalinga also mentions Tamil kingdoms.

Political History of the Sangam Period

During the Sangam period, three great dynasties, the Cheras, the Cholas, and the Pandyas, ruled in South India. The history related to these dynasties comes to us mainly from the Sangam literature written in the Sangam era.


The control of the Cheras was mainly extended in the northern part of Kerala and the areas of Tamil Nadu.

Their capital was Vanji and they had direct control over the ports of the west coast, Musiri, and Tondi, from which trade and commerce flourished.

The emblem of the Cheras was “bow and arrow”.

The Pugalur inscription of the 1st century AD mentions three generations of Chera rulers.

The Cheras were important for trade with the Romans. He also built a temple of Augustus there.

The greatest ruler of the Cheras was Senguttuvan, the Lal Chera or the Good Chera, dated to the 2nd century AD.

His military achievements are described in the epic Silpathikaram, which details his expedition to the Himalayas, where he defeated several north Indian rulers.

Senguttuvan practiced the Pattini cult or Kannagi in Tamil Nadu as the worship of an ideal wife.

He was the first to send his embassy to China from South India.


The Cholas ruled the central and northern parts of Tamil Nadu.

The Kaveri delta was the main area of ​​his rule, this area later came to be known as Cholamandalam.

Uraiyur (near Tiruchirapalli town) was his capital, Puhar or Kaveri Pattinam as an alternative royal residence and the main port city.

The tiger was his symbol.

The Cholas also maintained an efficient navy.

The most famous ruler of the Cholas during the Sangam period was King Karikala.

Pattinappalai portrays his life and military victories.

Several Sangam poems mention the battle of Venni where he defeated a confederacy of Cheras, Pandyas, and eleven petty chieftains.

Karikala’s military achievements made him the overlord of the entire Tamil region at that time.

Trade and commerce flourished during his time.

He founded the port city of Puhar (similar to Kaveripattinam) and built a 160 km embankment along the river Kaveri.


  • The Pandyas ruled from Madurai.


  • During his reign, Korkai was the main port, located near the confluence of Thamparaparani with the Bay of Bengal. It was famous for pearling, fish farming, and chalk diving.


  • His symbol was “fish”.
  • The Pandya rulers patronized the Tamil Sangams and provided state facilities and assistance for the compilation of Sangam poems.

  • The rulers maintained a regular army.


  • Trade was prosperous and their pearls were famous.

  • Sati system, caste discrimination, and idol worship were mainly prevalent in the Sangam age. Widows were looked upon with contempt.


  • He adopted the Vedic religion of Yagya and patronized the Brahmin priests.


  •  Their power began to weaken with the invasion of a tribe known as the Kalabharas.
  • After the Sangam era, this dynasty lost its importance for more than a century, only to emerge once again at the end of the sixth century.

Sangam Politics and Administration

    In the Sangam period, the form of governance was prevalent on the hereditary basis, the rule was run in a monarchical manner.

    Each dynasty of the Sangam age had a royal symbol – the tiger for the Cholas, the carp/fish for the Pandyas, and the bow for the Cheras.

    The king was assisted by an elaborate body of officials, who were classified into five councils.

    They were ministers (Amichar), priests (Anthanar), messengers (Thuthar), military commanders (Senapati), and spies (Orar).

    The military administration was efficiently organized and a regular army was attached to each ruler.

    The main source of income of the state was land revenue while customs duty was also levied on foreign trade.

    The major source of complementing the royal treasury was the spoils captured in the wars.

    Roads and highways were maintained and guarded to prevent robbery and smuggling.

Confluence society

    Tolkappiyam refers to the five-fold division of land – Kurinji (hill track), Mulai (country), Marudam (agriculture), Nedal (coastal), and Palai (desert).

    Tolkappiyam also mentions four castes, namely Arsar (ruling class), Anantar, Vanigar (trade and commerce carried on), and Vellalar (farmer).

    Ancient primitive tribes like Thoda, Irula, Naga, and Vedars lived in this period.

Status of women in the Sangam age

    The description of the condition of women in the Sangam age is found in detail in the Sangam literature.

    Women were respected and allowed intellectual pursuits. Women poets such as Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar developed and contributed to Tamil literature.

    Women probably had the freedom to choose their life partner, although this was limited to the upper classes. But the life of widows was pathetic.

    There is also mention of the practice of Sati being prevalent in the upper strata of the society.


    The primary and main deity of the Sangam period was the presiding deity Murugan, who is ranked as a Tamil god.

   Lord Murugan and the major festivals associated with him are described in the Sangam literature and this is an indication that the worship of Murugan is the origin of the ancient Tamil religious system.

    Murugan was bestowed with six abodes known as Arupadai Veedu.

    Other deities worshiped during the Sangam period were Mayan (Vishnu), Vendan (Indiran), Varunan, and Korravai.

    War warriors were of great importance in the Sangam period and the Hero Stone or the Nadu period was worshiped to show their bravery.

The economy of the Sangam Age

    Agriculture was the main occupation with rice being the most common crop.

    Handicrafts included weaving, metalwork and carpentry, shipbuilding, and jewelry making using beads, stones, and ivory.

    They were in great demand in the internal and external trade that took place during the Sangam period at its peak.

    High expertise was achieved in the spinning and weaving of cotton and silk fabrics. They were in great demand in the western world, especially for the cotton fabrics woven in Uraiyur.

    The port city of Puhar became an important place of foreign trade, as large ships entered the port carrying valuables.

    Other important ports of commercial activity were Tondi, Musiri, Korkai, Arikamedu, and Marakkanam.

    Numerous gold and silver coins issued by Roman emperors such as Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero have been found in all parts of Tamil Nadu indicating flourishing trade.

    The major exports of the Sangam age were ivory products, pearls, and precious stones, along with cotton cloth and spices such as pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric.

    The major imports for the merchants were horses, gold, and sweet wine.

End of the confluence age

   The signs of decline began to appear in the Sangam period towards the end of the 3rd century AD.

   Between 300 AD and 600 AD, the Kalabhras took control of the Tamil country after the fall of the Sangam period, this period has been termed by historians as the ‘dark age’.

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