The Sangam period is the period in the history of ancient southern India (known as the Tamilakam) spanning from c. 300 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems in Tamil composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous. The period during which these poems were composed is called 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 context.
- Compilation of literature
- Environmental classifications
- Tamil Sangams
The poems belonging to Sangam literature were composed by 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 and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer.
Sangam literature deals with emotional and material topics such as love, war, governance, trade and bereavement. Some of the greatest Tamil scholars, like Thiruvalluvar, who wrote on ethics, and on the various issues of life like virtue, wealth and love, or the Tamil poet Mamulanar, who explored historical incidents that happened in India, lived during the Sangam period.
The Indologist Kamil Zvelebil quotes A. K. Ramanujan: "In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quiet 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."
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 patiṉeṇmēlkaṇakku ("the Major Eighteen Anthology Series") comprising ettuthogai ("the Eight Anthologies") and the pattuppāṭṭu ("ten Idylls") and patiṉeṇkīḻkaṇakku ("the Minor Eighteen Anthology Series").
Sangam poems falls into two categories: the "inner field" (akam – அகம்), and the "outer field" (puṟam – புறம்) as described even in the first available Tamil grammar, the Tolkāppiyam.
The "inner field" topics refer to personal or human aspects, such as love and intimate 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, courage, ethics, benevolence, philanthropy, social life, and customs.
The division into agam and puram is not rigid, but depends upon the interpretation used in a specific context.
Sangam literature illustrates the thematic classification scheme first described in the Tolkāppiyam. The classification ties the emotions involved in akam poetry to a specific landscape. These landscapes are called tiṇai (திணை). These are: kuṟiñci (குறிஞ்சி), mountainous regions; mullai (முல்லை), forests; marutam (மருதம்), agricultural land; neytal (நெய்தல்) coastal regions; pālai (பாலை) deserts. In addition to the landscape based tiṇais, kaikkiLai and perunthinai are used for unsolicited love and unsuited love respectively.
Similar tiṇais pertain to puram poems as well, though these categories are based on activity rather than landscape: vetchi, karanthai, vanchi, kanchi, uzhignai, nochchi, thumbai, vaagai, paataan, and pothuviyal.
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 Pandyan dynasty of the mythical cities of "South Madurai", Kapatapuram, and Madurai, 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 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.
The works of Sangam literature were lost and forgotten for several centuries before they were brought to light by several Tamil scholars, such as Arumuka Navalar, C. W. Thamotharampillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer. They painstakingly collected and catalogued numerous manuscripts in various stages of deterioration. Navalar and Pillai hailed from Jaffna. Navalar brought the first Sangam text into print; this was the Thirumurukaattuppadai of Pattupattu (one of The Ten Idylls), in 1851. Pillai brought out the first of the Eight Anthologies (Ettuththokai) of the Sangam classics, the Kaliththokai, in 1887. Swaminathaiyar published his first print of Paththupattu in 1889. Together, these scholars printed and published Tholkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar urai (1895), Tholkappiyam Senavariyar urai, (1868), Manimekalai (1898), Silappatikaram (1889), Pattuppāṭṭu (1889), and Purananuru (1894), all with scholarly commentaries. They published more than 100 works in all, including minor poems. J V Chellaiah of Jaffna College did the entire translation of the Pattuppāṭṭu in English in 1945.