The Sangam Age
The Sangam Age or the Early Historic period is an
important phase in the history of South India. This period is marked out from
prehistory, because of the availability of textual sources, namely Sangam
literature and Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions. Sangam text is a vast corpus of
literature that serves as an important source for the study of the people and
society of the relevant period.
There is considerable debate among scholars about
the age and chronology of Sangam society. The Sangam texts are generally dated
to between third century BCE and the third century CE. The references in
Greco-Roman texts, Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and the references to the Cheras,
Cholas and the Pandyas in the Ashokan
inscription corroborate this date. It is generally agreed that the Sangam poems
were composed in the early part of the historical period, but were compiled
into anthologies in the later period.
Ashokan Brahmi - the script used in Ashokan edicts or
The concept of Thinai
is presented in the Tamil Grammar work of Tholkappiyam
and this concept is essential to understand the classical Tamil poems. Thinai is a poetic theme, which means a
class or category and refers to a habitat or eco-zone with specific
physiographical characteristics. Sangam poems are set in these specific
eco-zones and reveal that human life has deep relationships with nature.
The themes of the poems are broadly defined as akam (interior) and puram (exterior) . Akathinai refers
to various situations of love and
family life, while Purathinai is concerned with all others aspects of life and
deals particularly with war and heroism.
Ainthinai: The Five Thinais or landscapes.
Tamilagam was divided into five landscapes. Each region
had distinct characteristics – a presiding deity, occupation, people and
cultural life according to its specific environmental conditions. This
classification has been interpreted by scholars to reflect real life situations
in these landscapes.
Kurunji refers to the hilly and mountainous region.
Mullai is forested and pastoral region.
Marutham is the fertile riverine valley.
Neythal is coastal region.
Paalai is sandy desert region.