Tamil had become a fully developed language with its own system of writing in the third century “if not earlier. This is evident from the Tamil Brahmi Buddhist and Jaina cave inscriptions from the Tamil Brahmi hills.
The major centres of such inscription” are Arittapatti (Madurai), Azakarmalai (Madurai), Karungalakuti (Madurai), etc., which are dated between 200 BC-300 AD.
The Tamil literary tradition is independent o| the Sanskrit literary tradition, representing a parall tradition in relation to Sanskrit. However, a language does not develop in isolation, and there are influences of Sanskrit on Tamil.
The influences are more pronounced in the context of Vedic rituals because some of the poets like Gautamanar, Kapilar and Puranar were Brahmans themselves who equated puranic deities to their Tamil counterparts such as Krishna to the black god Mayon.
The original aspects of Tamil language and literature do not owe anythin to Sanskrit, but its development toward linguistic and literary perfection certainly does.
Literature relating to ancient South India is referred to as ‘Sangam literature’ and the period is called the ‘Sangam Age’.
K.A. Nilakanta Sastri says in a chapter on South India in A Comprehensive History of India, Volume II that “the relative chronology of the poets is not clear, but the whole body of Sangam literature clearly belongs to the first three centuries of the Christian era”.
These texts refer to a period “three to five centuries later than the age of the Mauryas”. According to scholars, the available Sangam literature was, in fact, compiled in circa 300-600 AD, The earliest references to the ‘Sangam’ can be had from the introduction to the commentary on the Iraiyanar Agaporul.
The Sangam was a college or assembly of Tamil poets held under royal patronage. According to traditions, there were three Sangam which lasted for 9,900 years. They were held at Then Madurai, Kapatpuram, and Madurai.
These assemblies were attended by 8,598 dynasties or powerful clans and families under the patronage of approximately 197 Pandyaji kings. It is believed that the first of the three Sangam was attended by the Gods and legendary sages.
Unfortunately, works belonging to the I Sangam have been lost. Works belonging to the II and III Sangam are, however, available.
Archaeologists are of the opinion that iron was used after stone in the South of India. Unlike the North, there was no copper or bronze phase in those areas. Thus, it is believed that the early settlers in Deep South were rural communities who practised agriculture with the help of iron.
Their chief cultivation was sowing and transplantation of paddy. Deep South was also known as Tamilham or Tamizhakam (Tamil realm) i.e., the region from the Tirupati (or Venkatam) Hills to Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari).
It contains modern Tamil Nadu and Kerala. From a very early period, people of the North and the South were in regular contact.
The route to the South, Dakshinapatha, was valued greatly by the people of the North, because through this route they transported gold, pearls, and precious stones.