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Classical Literature of Tamil Nadu

Classical Literature

Sangam Literature is divided into Epics and other Literature. Epics that are prominent in Sanga Ilakkiyam: 1. Silappathigaram and 2. Manimekalai.

Elango Adigal authored the epic Silappathigaram. Seethalai Sathanaar authored the Epic Manimekalai. Sangam Literature includes: Pathupattu, Ettuthogai, Pathinenkilkanakku & Tolkappiyam.

Two Main Topics in Sangam Literature

• Agattiyam

1. The heritage and tradition the Tamil language possesses is more than two thousand five hundred years old. The first recognized period of the Tamil literature has been distinguished as the Sangam Age of Tamil literature.

2. The original text of Agattiyam has been composed by Agastyamuni.

• Tholkappiyam

1. Tholkappiyam, a grammatical treatise in Tamil is the most ancient one, the age of which is considered by most as the fifth or sixth century BCE.

2. The prefatory verse of Tholkappiam:

i. Denotes the southern boundary of Tamil land was ‘Kumari’ which actually represents the Kumari hills. In those days, the Tamil land existed between the Venkatam hills and Kumari hills. Before the advent of Tholkappiam, the land in the south had been further

extended largely and was close to the Australian continent.

ii. Deals with the written and spoken Tamil versions that prevailed in Tamil land.

iii. Three-fold dealing with the alphabets, words, content and form.

iv. Tholkappiar had referred to the ancient Tamil works and collected all appropriate materials of his age and anthologized into an impeccable dissertation.

v. Presented before the learned audience of the Pandya king named Nilamtharu thiruvil Pandian.

vi. Tholkappiar had mastery over the Indhra Vyakarna

vii. The author of Tholkappiam is Tholkappiar, which is his peoper name, and the work by him is named with that.

3. The Indus Valley civilization is of the ancient Tamil speaking people, and the script found here, clearly shows the identity with the Tamil existing script. Tholkappiar speaks of the script form of certain letters and they are developed from the Indus Valley script.

4. Tholkappiam is a grammatical work and it is composed of three major divisions:

i. Eluththu Athikaram – the chapter on alphabets

ii. Col Athikaram – the chapter on the words; Tholkappiar tells about 4 types of words: a. used in native Tamil land b. synonyms and homonyms c. dialect in usage in the 12 parts of Tamil land d. the words of northern land.

iii. Porul Athikaram – the chapter on the content and form

The Popular Sangam Literature:

• Tolkaapiyam was written by Tolkaapiyar. Though considered as grammar, it encompasses the political and socio-economic scenario of that age.

• Ettuthokai (Eight Anthologies)

Eighteen Greater Texts (Pathinenmelkanakku) comprise of eight anthologies and ten idylls. eight anthologies are:

• Ainkurunuru was compiled by Pulathurai Mutriya Kudalur Kizaar. Consisting of 500 lines, it covers the 5 types of the thinais. Each thinai is dedicated with 100 poems speaks about Pandya Kings of Sangam Age.

• Akananuru consists of 400 poems of the emotion based inner subjects. Pandya King Ukkira Peruvazudi got this compilation made. References on Mauriya’s Invasion, Thondai Nadu, Sangam Period local administration, marriage customs are available in this.

• Purananuru gives information on the Sanga Period Kings and rulers. This exhibits the warfare skills, charity qualities of that Age. It also brings the picture of domination of Aryas in Tamil Nadu.

• Kalittokai was composed by 5 poets consisting of 250 poems giving a glimpse of the love and emotional life of 5 thinais. (land styles)

• Kurunthokai was compiled by Purikko. This contains 402 lines covering the life and habits of Samanas.

• Natrinai: Consists of 400 poems narrating the rulers of the Smaller Kingdoms such as Omu, Pamu, Athigan, Ninnan, Malayan, and Panan. It mentions important places such as Thondi, Korkai, Maruthurpattinam, Punalvayil, Irappaiyur, and Kudanthai. It also presents the lifestyle and social beliefs, food habits and also dressing habits of the people living in

the 5 different Thinai (Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham, Neithal and Paalai)

• Paripatal is a resource to understand the Religious life of Sangam Age.

• Patitrruppattu is a compilation of poems on the Chera Kings. It also brings out the economic and social status of the Sangam Period

Pathupattu (Ten Idylls) contains ten different literary works:

• Tirumurugatrupatai was composed by Nakkeeran. This is in praise of Lord Muruga.

• Kurinchipattu deals with the life style and people of Kurinji

• Malaipatukatam is composed to bringout the akam aspects of life.

• Maaturaikkanci describes the Kingdom of Madurai and the lifestyles. It also gives an account of the Warfare of Pandya King, Thalaiyalangaanathu Cheruvenra Pandiyan.

• Mullaippattu, composed by Nipputhanaar deals with more of Mullai landscape and the people living in that landscape.

• Netunalvatai, authored by Nakkeeran, deals with the Outer Factors such as Valour, Policies, Qualities and life in the Pandyan Kingdom led by Neduncheziyan.

• Pattinappalai deals with the life and people of Paalai landscape.

• Perumpaanatruppatai was composed by Nallur Kadiyalur Uruthirankannar. This Literature informs on Kanchi King Thondaiman and also description of the sanga period instrument Yal.(musical instrument)

• Pournaratruppatai: was composed by Mudaththaama Kanniyaar. The Literature deals with Scholars getting rewards from the Kings or Philontraphists for their works. Motivating other Scholars to approach the same Kings for their rewards. More information on King Karikala Chola is discussed in this.

• Sirupanatruppatai, composed by Nallur Naththathanaar, discusses the Charitable Provincial Chieftains holding the title of “Kadai Ezu Vallalgal” Many of the poems are consider older than Sangam Age and consist of 269 lines. Pathinenkilkanakku comprises of eighteen works about ethics and morals.

18 Lesser Texts:

• Naladiyaar

• Nanmanikkatikai

• Inna Narpatu

• Iniyavai Narpatu

• Kar Narpatu

• Kalavali Narpatu

• Aintinai Aimpatu

• Tinaimoli Aimpatu

• Ainthinai Elupatu

• Tinaimalai Nutru Aimpatu

• Tirukkural

• Trikatukam

• Acharakkovai

• Palamoli Nanuru

• Sirupangamulam

• Mutumolikkanchi

• Elathi

• Kainnila

Sangam Literature and Foreign Relations

The Sangam literatures mentions Tamil region had carried on an extensive trade with foreign countries. The Greeks and Romans had commercial contacts with the Tamil country from about the Third century B.C. These trade relations had lasted throughout the Sangam period. We have plenty of sources to study the maritime activities during the Sangam Age.

The Sangam literature refers to the Greeks and Romans as Yavanas. The Sangam poems describe the trading activities of Greek and Roman merchants in the Tamil country. They mention the important seaports and also about the exports and imports. Similarly, the Greek and Roman writers of that period mention the details of the commercial contacts between their countries and South India. Particularly, the writers like Pliny, Ptolemy. Plutarch and the author of the Periplus had described the condition of trade in the First and Second centuries A.D.

The archaeological evidences have further supplemented literary sources relating to the foreign trade, The Arikkamedu excavations remain as the important evidence for die Greek and Roman trade in the Tamil country. The place Arikkamedu, near Pondicherry had remained an important centre of trade for Greets and Romans, The Greek writers had referred to this place as Poduke, There was a great Roman Factory at Arikkamedu. Many articles such as coins, porcelain, jars and tubs for the purpose of dyeing clothes have also been found there. Further, Roman coins, pottery and other articles have been found in other parts of Tamil Nadu. Excavations have also been conducted at Puhar, Kanchipuram, Alagankulam, Madurai, Kodumanal and other places. Greek and Roman coins and other articles have been found in these places confirming the foreign trade during the Sangam Age.

Plenty of Roman coins have been found all over Tamil Nadu, particularly in the coastal areas. From these coins we come to know that the Roman emperors like Augustus Caesar, Tiberius and Nero had issued them. Since they lived in the First and Second centuries A.D., it may be said that the Sangam Tamils had trade relations with the Roman Empire.

The Greeks were the first to enter into trade contacts with the Tamil region in about Third century B.C. The Greeks had adopted and mentioned several Tamil names for the commodities that were available in the Tamil country. For example, they had adopted the Tamil word Ansi (rice) and mentioned it as Oriza in the Greek language. The Greeks had paid much attention on the West coast. The seaport Musiri had remained their important trading centre. The Greeks provided an important link between Tamil country and the West, via Egypt.

The Tamil region exported a variety of goods to Greece and Rome during the Sangam Age. The most important of them were spices like pepper, cardamom, cloves and ginger. The other items of export include sandal paste, flowers, scents, aromatic wood like Ahil, ivory, pearls, corals, medicinal plants, banana and rice. There was also a great demand in the west for the cotton

clothes manufactured in the Tamil country. The Sangam literature reveals that fine varieties of clothes had been exported to the West. Further, varieties of beads, diamonds, sapphire, topaz, emerald, tortoise shells were bought by the Romans, The pearls of the Pandyan kingdom and the cotton clothes of Uraiyur had been largely exported. The imports into the Tamil region had almost remained less than its exports. The imported goods include sweet wine, gold coins and ornaments, glass, copper and other articles. The horses for the Pandyan and other kingdoms of South India were brought in ships from foreign countries.

The development of overseas trade was made easy by the seaports situated on the coasts of the Tamil country. There were several seaports in the Tamil country during the Sangam period. The most important seaports on the eastern coast were Mamallapuram, Poduke, Puhar Poraiyaru, Korkai and Kumari. The Sangam literature, Pattinappalai provides the details of the Puhar harbour and its activities. The port-town Korkai had remained famous for its pearls. It was the primary port of the Pandyan kingdom. On the West coast, Musiri and Thondi were the two important seaports. Warehouses for storing the goods were built along the coasts. The chief ports had their lighthouses, which were called in the Tamil literature as Kalangarai Ilangu Sudar. Facilities were also made in the seaports for repairing the ships. The arrival and stay of foreign merchants in port towns were common during the Sangam period. People from various countries had also lived in port towns and this paved the way for the development of cosmopolitan civic system in these towns. Thus, throughout the Sangam period, the Tamil country had maintained commercial and other contacts with Greece and Rome.


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