Sangam Literature: UPSC Ancient Indian History

MACSA Digest

History, Tamil Nadu

Sangam Era

  • The Tamil Sangam was an academy of poets and bards
  • flourished in three different periods and in different places under the patronage of the Pandyan kings
  • Head SangamMiddle Sangamand Last Sangam
  • Historians use the term Sangam period to refer the last of these, with the first two being legendary. So it is also called Last Sangam period


Period of Sangam literature:

  • The earliest script that the Tamils used was the Brahmi script.
  • It was only from the late ancient and early medieval period, that they started evolving a new angular script, called the Grantha script, from which the modern Tamil is derived.
  • So most of the Sangam literature also must have been produced during this period( 3rdBC-3rd cent. AD)
  • The Sangam literature was finally compiled in its present form in circa A.D. 300-600.


  • The ancient Tamil literature consists of the great grammatical work Tolkappiyam, the ten anthologies Patthupattu, the eight anthologies Ettuttogai, the eighteen minor works Pathinenkeelkanaku and the five great epics, Silappadikaram, Manimegalai, Sivaga-Cindamani, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi.
  • Tolkappiyam is the oldest extant Tamil grammar written by Tolkkappiyar (one of the 12 disciples of Saint Agastya.)


The poetry in the Pattupattu was divided into two main groups: Aham (deals with matters strictly limited to one aspect of subjective experience viz., love) and Puram (deals with matters ca­pable of externalization or objectification).

  • Murugarruppadai (by Nakkirar),
  • Sirupanarruppadai (by Nattattanar),
  • Perumbanarruppadai, Maduraikkanji (by Mangudi Marudam),
  • Pattinappalai (by Kannan)

Eight Anthologies Ettutogai: 

  1. Aingurunuru, compiled by Gudalur Kilar, consists of 500 erotic poems.
  2. Agananuru, compiled by Rudrasarman, consists of love poems.
  3. Narrinai comprises 400 short poems on love.
  4. Kurunttogai has 400 love poems.
  5. Purananuru consists of 400 poems in praise of kings. The Nandas and Mauryas are referred in one of the poems.
  6. Kalittogai comprises love poems.
  7. Paripadal has 24 poems in praise of gods.
  8. Padirrupattu is a short collection of 8 poems in praise of the Chera Kings.
  • The eight anthologies (Ettutogai) also are in two groups, the Aham and the Puram.

Eighteen Minor Works Padinenkilkanakku:

  • These works are called ‘minor works’ because the poems in these are shorter in form than those in the Ettutogai and Pattuppattu.
  • The most important among these -Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar (known as the Bible of Tamil Land’, it is a compound of the Dharmasastra, the Arthasastra and the Kamasutra),

The Epics:

  • The epics Silappadikaram (The Jewelled Anklet) and Manimekalai belong to the early centuries of the Christian era.

1. Silappadikaram

written by Ilango Adigal (grandson of Karikala, the great Chola King) in the second century A.D.

It is a tragic story of a merchant, Kovalan of Puhar who falls in love with a dancer Madhavi, neglecting his own wife, Kannagi, who in the end revenges the death of her husband at the hands of the Pandyan King and becomes a goddess.

It marks the beginning of the Kannagi cult or Pattini cult which is worship of Kannagi as the ideal wife.

There is also a reference to the Ceylonese king Gajabahu being present on the occasion of the installation of a Kannagi temple, the Goddess of Chastity, by Chera king Senguttuvan.

2. Manimekalai

  • Written by poet Sattanar.
  • It is the story of Manimekalai, the daughter of Kovalan, and Madhavi of the earlier epic.
  • The main aim of this epic seems to be to expound the excellence of the Buddhist religion through the medium of the travails of Manimekalai consequent on the loss of the city of Puhar when the sea eroded into the coast.
  • This epic is the only important ancient work which gives glimpse of the development of the fine arts in the Sangam age.

3. Sivaga Sindamani

  • Written by Tiruttakkadevar a Jaina ascetic
  • The story of Sivaga or Jivaka

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