Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature 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 Tamil context.
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 CE. Sangam literature fell out of popular memory soon thereafter, until they were rediscovered in the 19th century by scholars such as C. W. Thamotharampillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer.
|Topics in Sangam literature|
|Iṉṉā Nāṟpatu||Iṉiyavai Nāṟpatu|
|Kār Nāṟpatu||Kaḷavaḻi Nāṟpatu|
|Aintiṇai Aimpatu||Tiṉaimoḻi Aimpatu|
|Aintinai Eḻupatu||Tiṉaimoḻi Nūṟṟu Aimpatu|
|Tamil history from Sangam literature||Tamil literature|
|Ancient Tamil music||Sangam society|
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 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".
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, the Tolkappiyam. Agam word is also referred to very ancient Jain literature composed by indigenous dravids.
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, 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 Tolkappiyam. 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.
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 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 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 BCE to 200CE. 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 S. V. Damodaram Pillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer. They painstakingly collected and catalogued numerous manuscripts in various stages of deterioration. They printed and published Tholkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar urai (1895), Tholkappiyam Senavariyar urai, (1868), Manimekalai (1898), Cilappatikaram (1889), Pattupattu (1889), and Purananuru (1894), all with scholarly commentaries. Damodaram Pillai and Swaminatha Iyer published more 100 works in all, including minor poems.