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Chapter: 11th Political Science : Tamil Nadu Political Thought

Historical Background of Tamil Nadu Political

The 'Classical Tamil homeland (Tamizhagam) is called as Tamil Nadu besides some parts of kerala, Andhra and Karnataka; Strabo (63 BC(BCE) to c. AD(CE) 24), a famous Greek geographer and historian observed the early diplomatic history of ancient Tamil Kingdom of Pandiyas.

Tamil Nadu Political Thought

Historical Background

The 'Classical Tamil homeland (Tamizhagam) is called as Tamil Nadu besides some parts of kerala, Andhra and Karnataka; Strabo (63 BC(BCE) to c. AD(CE) 24), a famous Greek geographer and historian observed the early diplomatic history of ancient Tamil Kingdom of Pandiyas. Naval expeditions of Cheras, Cholas, Pandiyas and Pallavas inform early maritime power and influence of Tamils. Ports in the coast of Tamil Nadu were important centres of trade between India and the Mediterranean, and India and southeast Asia, in the period. 200 BC(BCE) to 300 AD(CE). The ancient ports of Korkai, Poompuhar, Vasavasamudram, Perimula, Arikamedu, Alagankulam, Mamallapuram reveal the active trade, commerce and cultural exchanges with the Southeast Asian countries, Sri Lanka, China, Egypt, Greece and Rome. An established tradition of shipbuilding combined with rich maritime heritage of ancient Tamils are definite indicators of the foundations of influential polity, society, culture, trade and commercial ties with the outside world.

Sangam literature dated approximately 300 BC(BCE) to 300 AD(CE) is another valuable literary source(s) that reflects society, economy, culture and politics. The classification of Sangam poetry into akam (on love) and puram (on war, good and evil, community, justice and kingdom) is a revelation of the Tamil polity. The Sangam literary works have been grouped into eight anthologies (Ettuthogai):

(1) Natrinai,(2)Kuruntogai,(3)Aingurunooru, (4) Paditruppattu, (5) Paripadal, (6) Kalittogai, (7)Agananooru, and (8) Purananooru; and there is a ninth group of poems called the Patthupattu (Ten Idylls).The early part of the first two books of Tholkappiyam, a work on Tamil grammar, belongs to the same period.

The famous post-Sangam literature which was collected later as an anthology is known as the Kilkkanakku. There are 18 works as part of this collection and the most famous is Silappadikaram, Manimekalai and Eighteen Minor Works (Pathinen kilkkanakku, which includes the Thirukkural) were written during this period. Prabandha literature consists of poetry of various forms: kovai, in which the verses are arranged according to a particular theme (usually about love), and kalambakam, in which the end of one stanza/line formed the beginning of the next (usually about kings and bravery) and parani. The best illustrations of this tradition are the Pantikkovai, Nandikkalambakam, and Kalingattup-parani.

The ancient Tamil literature of Sangam age, Thirukkural, Silapathikaram, Manimegalai etc provide deep insights into the nature of polity, society and culture. Tamil language formed the core and essence of Tamil identity, culture, customs and traditions. Despite the diversity of land, geography, rulers and chieftains spread across the Tamil speaking areas the idea of Tamil country and confederation of Tamil speaking areas did exist. This literary finding(s) is also substantiated by a stone inscription of Kalinga King Kharavela (BC(BCE) 165), who claims to have destroyed a ‘Tamil federation’ which existed for 132 years. Similarly such a Tamil federation of kings to fight foreign invasion is also mentioned in ‘Agananooru’, a sangam literature. Hence the idea and prevalence of Tamil nationalism is not simply a consequence of colonialism. The roots of Tamil nationalism are linked to the historical role and significance of Tamil language and culture in defining politics that could be traced even in the Sangam age.

The concept of State and the idea king coincided with the territorial emphasis of polity as the Greek city-state. The classical Tamil country known as Tamizhagam covered areas south of Tirupati hills up to the tip of the Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari). The land was traditionally classified according to its nature into five geographical regions (tinai): the mountainous region (kurinji), the forest areas(mullai), fertile plains (marudam), coastal region (neidhal) and arid region (palai).

Tamil speaking areas were divided between the principalities of the Cholas (its capital at Uraiyur), the Pandyas (Madurai as capital), the Cheras in most of present Kongunadu (and Kerala) and the Pallavas (Kanchipuram as capital). Tamil country included several kingdoms ruled by kings (vendhar), major and minor chieftains (vel/ velar) who was less powerful than the crowned kings. The Sangam poets sang songs of praise about the velirs, especially the Seven Patrons, for their generosity towards the poets. Kapilar and Avvaiyar mention chieftains like, Aay, Pari, Ori, Malayan, Elini, Pegan and Nalli..

The virtues of king did include the ideals of Just Ruler with qualities of kindness towards the subjects and bravery in the battlefield against enemies. The sabhai or mandram was the highest court of justice presided by the king himself. Every village had its own mandram which met at a common public place and was involved in organizing village and community activities. Warriors were respected, and a man who died in battle would have memorial stones erected in his honour and be worshipped in death. Even if a warrior dies in battle field with a wound in his back, it is considered derogatory in ‘Sangam’ traditions.

Lots of good practices of war find its mention in sangam literature. Purananooru, a sangam literature, hails the Pandyan king who announces all the women, children, sick and elderly people, cattles, to move to safety zone before invading a country. The idea of justice formed the conscience of State and king. Justice is an essential element in a king’s rule. A good king should never sacrifice justice. Just rule and good deeds always will bring everlasting fame to the king. 

An important political principle that prevailed was that (Despite the nature of political system being monarchy) the legitimacy of the king rests with the consent of the people as long as he enjoys people’s support and he loses legitimacy if he loses their support. Sangam literature (Pattinappaalai) speaks about different types of taxations like customs duty, income tax, toll tax etc as specific source of revenue to the State. Tamil kings and chieftains ruled the land with simple administrative structure of council of ministers, subordinates and administrative officers. There were officers to deal with foreign trade and customs revenue which was an important part of the budget. Pandya inscriptions mention about officers for pearl fisheries (kalatika) and the chief scribes (kanatikan). In flags and coins, the Cholas were represented by the tiger, the Cheras by the bow and arrow the Pandyas by the fish and the Pallavas by the lion.

The institution of ‘spy’ was considered as a necessary institution and the maintenance of peace and stability in the kingdom depended on the effectiveness of this institution. Though slavery as a form of institution was absent yet capturing of slaves after invasions, and slave trade or exchange for gifts did remain as practice among the rulers to undertake construction and building works.

The practice of caste system or jati was unknown among ancient Tamils. The idea and concept of class with differences in status based on professional distinctions did prevail. The caste system was alien and unknown to Sangam society. The division of society based on class has been revealed by the Sangam poets who mention about social categories (kudi): tudiyan, panan, and kadamban; or arasar (rulers), vaishyar (traders), and velalar (farmers). Differences in status were accepted as inevitable, yet varna in the form of caste or jati seems to be little known to Sangam society.

Though social stratification did prevail yet legitimization of Manusmiriti or Aryan-Brahminical interpretation of caste as divine arrangement was not integral to the cultural universe or worldview of the ancient Tamils. The beginnings and early inroads of the Aryan-Brahminical account of caste could be traced to later period of Sangam era. The ancient religion of Tamils was based on folk traditions. The worship of nature and natural elements were more common. The worship of Murugan among the tribes of Tamil Nadu and the cult worship of Murugan as the warrior God was based on folk culture. An earthly composition of God is rooted in the Tamil – Dravidian traditions. It was only after the sixth century AD(CE), inscriptions were written in Tamil as well as Sanskrit. Sanskritisation gradually spread to public space with the evoking of the doctrines of benevolence to Brahmin(s) and divine blessings to the king .

The seeking of blessings from the Brahmin soon became a source of legitimacy for the Tamil king after this period. Along with the Sanskritisation, Vedic rituals, worship and orientation to social (caste) system as advocated in Manusmiriti found their passage to transform the professionally stratified class structure of Dravidian society into a hierarchically classified social (caste) system with Vedic divine sanctions.

The State and king were being seen as one and the same. The hereditary principle and evoking of divine rights with earthly symbols were prevalent among the Tamil kings. The idea of territorial State provided inherent reconciliation to the changing dynasties and geographical changes as boundaries of principalities were drawn and redrawn. The governing principles of power and location of monarchy also moved from culture specific to power centric based on authority. Thus in later period, during the post-Sangam era, the king gradually became the sole source of authority.

The Pallavas maintained that as they were the descendants of Brahma, the kingship was of divine origin and was hereditary. The Pallava period witnessed the penetration of the Aryan culture of North India into the South as well as the assimilation of some of the patterns, ideas and institutions and rejection or modification of certain other aspects. Tamil devotional culture was one of the results of this interaction as revealed by the themes and dedication of deity at temples.

Women were highly respected and performed a variety of jobs and duties including as bodyguards to the kings, yet power and authority rested with men. Women participated in public assemblies but rulers and administrators were mostly men. Women formed significant part of social rituals and functioned as pivots of the family despite the inheritance rights and formal authority remained with men.

In narrating the role and status of women in Tamil society we need to mention about the tradition of Avvaiyar (meaning respectable women). More than a name, this was a title, literary canon, given to distinguished women who made contributions to Tamil literature. There were as many as four to six women who held this Tamil literary canon title at different times based on different sources.

Avvaiyars of Sangam age and Cholas age are best known for their extraordinary influence upon literature, culture, moral universe, nature of polity, war, peace and the art of diplomacy. Sangam age Avvaiyar lived during the 1st and 2nd century AD(CE). King Athiyaman Neduman Anchi of the Velir Dynasty was her chief patron and considered as contemporary of literary legends Thiruvalluvar and Kabilar with notable contribution of verses in Natrinai, Kuruntogai, Akananooru and Purananooru. She is also credited as the most gracious and scholarly diplomat who undertook diplomatic missions for King Adhiyaman Neduman Anchi. Avvaiyar, a poetess and friend of King Adhiyaman, ruler of Tagadur, is supposed to have helped in avoiding war between two kingdom states.

King Thondaiman, ruler of Kanchipuram, had sent him a note declaring his intention to attack Thagadur Avvaiyar spoke “Oh Thondiaman, how different indeed are your clean and shiny weapons from those of Adiyaman, always stained with blood and under repair.” Thondaiman had far less experience in war and was unlikely to win — she was making this clear under the guise of praise. Another famous Avvaiyar was from the Cholas age, around 10thCentury AD(CE), who wrote moral universe for children and advocated ethical principles for all. Whilst her works Aathichoodi and Konraiventhan were written for young children, Mooturai and Nalvazhi were written for older children.


All these classical works not only reveal the cultural and literary traditions of the ancient Tamils. They also serve as historical testimony to the nature of Tamil society, socio-cultural and religious beliefs, livelihood, vocations, professions, role and status of women, marriage, gender, class structure, origins of caste system, kinship, polity, governance, ideas of justice, wars, peace, diplomacy, naval warfare, maritime traditions, trade, commerce, shipbuilding and seafaring skills, economy, land, water systems, agriculture, art, dance, poetry, music, architecture and relationship with the neighbouring countries and far away places.


Politics intends to create change-oriented awareness in the society. It is not necessary to adopt and follow the existing social system which the present politics do. This awareness can be initiated by ideas and ideologies of society-laden thinkers.

With the advancement of civilization to the next stage through socio- economic and technocratic developments, emerging new ideas got stumbled by the existing belief system and functions followed until now. Albeit of these stumbling blocks, the constructive impact made by the thinkers and thinking is ever-lasting on the basis of mind-capturing of the people. Ideas are dangerous than the technocratic revolution, positively.Quite apart, pen is more powerful than sword.

In your note draw three columns as given in the text book

The definite part of thinkers is as follows:

v    Being the basis for the social changes and subsequent events including the change in the public minds;

v    Having taken political decisions which had an impact on social turning points;

v    Serving as best brains behind the major political decisions which has benefitted the diversified communities.

v    To convert social ideas into common which assisted people’s advancement belonging to various communities

New political ideas are supported by the activities of the political thinkers which kindles interest and rational thinking of the common people. The interaction of those thinkers with the contemporary society makes a new framework for the entire system.New political decisions which intend to create great changes for the emerging generations were undertaken.The day-to-day life of common people may be engulfed with many changes by the political decision of the thinkers.At world level these kind of thinkers made changes in the socio-political systems. Such great thinkers made their extra-ordinary presence throughout the past centuries in India in general and Tamilnadu in particular.

National political thinkers, Tamil political thinkers, Socialist thinkers, Thinkers of social justice are the different parts of modern categorization. In this part we can discuss about different political thinkers of Tamilnadu who made out-standing contribution for the social changes.

Political ideologies in Tamilnadu is rich with ideas, beliefs, opinions and attitudes towards society, polity and economy. This is evident from the ancient political ideas of Thiruvalluvar, where as Bharathiyar is a nationalist and Singaravelar is a communist. According to periyar, Dravidian ideology focuses on social justice. The political ideologies in Tamil Nadu are a combination of all three left, Right and centre ideologies.


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