Here is your short essay on the Sangam Society


K. A. Nilakanta Shastri refers to the “composite character of Sangam society, the “unmistakable blend of two originally distinct cultures, best described as Tamilian and Aryan”, while regretting that “it is by no means easy to distinguish the original elements in their purity.”

M. G. S. Narayanan however tried to show that in south “there is only one culture, the Vedic-Puranic- Sastraic culture, which exhibits a southward movement through migration of Brahmin-Jain- Buddhist missionaries through Mauryan conquest, and the opening up of trade routes.”

However, Narayanan recognizes that when we isolate the so called Aryan element from the Sangam anthologies what is reflected is only the element of a tribal or semi-tribal Dravidian ethnic-geographical base.


And in more recent time’s historian have tried to filter those original elements from the Sangam texts. Adopting an integrated approach they have reached at quite different conclusions regarding the complexity of the Sangam society.

The stratification in Tamil Sangam society was primarily confined to the binary between the vyarntor (the high born) and ilipirappalar (the low born), primarily differentiating the Brahmanas and patrons from the clansfolk. Though the beginnings of caste system can be made out as implicit within the social nexus of Brahmana households, the larger society remained casteless.

N. Subrahmanian in his discussion of social life mentions the Tolkappiyam list of four categories (castes): Andanar (Brahmanas), Arasar (kings), Vaisiyar (traders) and Velalar (farmers), ignoring mosl of the others names of the peoples. These references in the Tolkappiyam obviously show influence of the Sanskritic social ideal.

In the Sangam period the idea of ritual pollution was present, and some groups had their own hamlets. One problem with SubrahmanianTs analysis is that he does not often distinguish the evidence of Sangam literature from that of the epics which are early medieval in date.


The most relevant socio-economic aspect of the anthologies is their concept of tinai according to which Tamilakam consisted of five tinais or physiographical divisions viz., kurinji (hilly backwoods), palai (parched zones), mullai (pastoral tract), marutam (wet land), and neital (littoral).

Whatever be its simiological implications as a poetic concept of oral literature, the existing geographical setting of the region proves it a reflection of reality.

The poems describe the mode of human adaption in each tinai and the various social groups there: the kanavar, kuravar and vetar or Kadar were the inhabitants of the kurinji-tinai and hunting and gathering their form of subsistence. In the palai- tinai, the inhabitants were kalavar, eyinar and maravar living by plunder and cattle lifting.

In the mullai-tinai the inhabitants were ayar and idaiyar subsisting on shifting agriculture and animal husbandry. Marutam-tinai was inhabited by ulavar and toluvar subsisting on plough agriculture. And finally, neital-tinai was inhabited by paratavar, valavar and minavar dependent on fishing and salt extraction.


We get a total of eight social groups, viz., kuravar (shifting agriculturists), vetar (hunters and food gatherers), idaiyar (cattle-keepers), kallar (plundering cattle-lifting people), ulavar (plough agriculturists), paratavar (fisherman), umnar (salt manufacturers) and panar (wandering bards associated with all the tinais).

The poems follow a further grouping of the tinais on the basis of the nature of production, according to which the plough agriculture zone (marutam) was called menpulam and the rest, excluding neital, were collectively called vanpulam. Menpulam produced paddy and sugarcane and vanpulam grew pulses and dryland grains.

Apart from the above mentioned social groups, we have references to some full-time craft specialists such as pon-kolavan (goldsmith), kolavan (blacksmith) and kuyavam or kalace-kovan (potter) in the poems.

The basis of production relations was kinship, signified by ilaiyarum mutiyarum kilaiyutan tuvunri, which is a stock expression in the poems referring to the labour processes in any tinai. Illiyar means youngsters, mutiyar means elders and Kilai means agnatic kin. The term kilai stands as the Tamil counterpart of jati. Even in plough agriculture, kinship w to the organization of the labour processes precluded any system of evolved social divi labour.


Clothing usually comprised two piecesft Women in high society used corsets and hair Ornaments were worn by both sexes the of pearls on the chest and kataka on the are specially alluded to the children necklace of tiger teeth.

Grain, flesh and fish the chief articles of food, with vegetables, n£ milk products. Grain was husked in hollows in the ground (nila-ural), and converted into (aval). Appam (apupa) or rice-cake soaked i was a luxury, so too was the flesh of tortoi: of pigs. The cooked aral fish when piping equally valued.

Among the fine arts, there is clear me mural paintings (ovaikkalai). Music and d filled a good part of the spare time of women. Travelling troops of dances carri yal (lute), padalai (one-sided drum), and stringed percussion instruments in specially bags. The dances of viralis (professional di girls) took place at night. Different kind’s ol like periyal, palai-yal and sengottiyal are de in detail in different contexts.

The flute is called “a tube with dark holes made by red There is a full length description of a pa singing woman of the panar community (in the Perunanuruppadai in which Karikal hi is described as a master of the seven not music).


Woman enjoyed much freedom of moving in society and the number of women poets age is a sufficient indication that they werd excluded from the best education then avai Sati (tippaidal-falling into flames) was compulsory particularly among the higher martial classe” the ideal wife was considered to be one mounted the funeral pyre of her husband no more concern than if she was entering a of cool water for a bath. Some historians that such references belong to quite a later.

The worship of Kannagi or Pattini (‘the Chaste Lady’) was perhaps a very early institution and was but an extension of the worship of the Goddess of Chastity. But this seems to have become popular with Senaguttuvans’s worship of Kannagi and spread to distant places like Sri Lanka in the South and Malva in the North.

The images of the Pattini Devi were preserved in Tamil temples till recently. The courtesans are mentioned at many places in the places in the texts, especially in Aham literature they are called parattaiyar or kanigaiyar.

We have very little information about the institution of marriage. Later works like the Tolkappiyam and the Kalaviyal say that the Aryans introduced the rituals and ceremonies of marriage {karanam).

These works also mention the spontaneous coming together of the sexes (kamak- kuttam), they distinguish secret marriage (kalavu) from the open alliance contracted with the consent of parents (karpu)\ last they refer to the eight forms of marriage known to the Sanskrit Dharmasashtra and show great ingenuity in fitting them into framework of the Tamil scheme.

Though the gandharva form of marriage is easily equated to ualavu (later known as yalor system), the other Aryan forms do not fall in line so easily. And we have no data to decide how far these developments may be assigned to the earlier period, i.e. the Sangam age proper with which we are concerned in this chapter.

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