Tamil is the oldest among the spoken literary languages of South India. The earliest known phase of this literature is usually designated the Sangam literature for the reason that the anthologies of odes, lyrics and idylls that form the bulk of that literature were composed by a body of Tamil scholars or poets in three successive literary akademies called ‘Sangam’. These akademies were established by the Pandyan kings.
The term ‘Sangam’ in the sense of ‘academy of poets’ is a late currency. It was first referred to by Tirunavukkarasu Nayanar (Appar), the Shiva or Saiva saint belonging to the early seventh century in the Tripputtur Tiruttanndaham. The next reference is to be found in the commentary to the Iraiyanar Ahappiorul belonging to the ninth century AD.
This text talks about three successive Sangams, i.e. first Sangam or Talai Sangam, the middle Sangam or Idai Sangam and the last Sangam or Kadai Sangam. In the traditional accounts, the first Sangam was constituted at the first Pandyan capital at Ten-Madurai.
On the occasion of a ‘deluge’, the Pandyan capital and the Sangam was shifted to Kapatapuram, which was also engulfed by sea, and the capital as well as the Sangam were again shifted to Madurai, an inland city. On these occasions of deluge, many texts were lost. Silappadikaram and Kalittogai refer to the “loss of territory by deluge”.
Before the seventh century AD the alternative term for Sangam was Avaiyam or Kudal or its variant Kuttu or Punarkuttu or even Togai.