Sangam Literature

A text in Ancient Tamil Script, Thanjvur Temple
Sangam literature is the ancient Tamil literature that came into the existence during Sangam period (300 BC -- 300 AD). Though, there is a massive debate among the scholars on the timeline of the Sangam literature. These works were mostly compiled during Sangam assemblies. Historically, there were three Sangam assemblies. With the works of the first two assemblies being lost in time. The most of available Sangam literature comes from the Third Sangam assembly.

The Sangam literature consists of Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku and the two epics Silappathigaram and Manimegalai.

Tolkappiyam is a work on Tamil language grammar. It is said to be written by Tholkappiyar, a disciple of Vedic sage Agastya.

There are 8 anthologies commonly known as Ettuthogai. These 8 anthologies are 1. Aingkurnuru, 2. Agananuru, 3. Puranaanuru, 4. Kaliththogai, 5. Kurunthogai, 6. Nattrinai, 7. Paripaatal, and 8. Pathitruppaththu. The subject matter of these anthologies are virtue (aram), material wealth (porul), joy (inbam), and salvation (veechu). These anthologies has a collection of 2381 poems written by 473 poets which include 30 poetess and 102 poems written by anonymous poets/poetess. There are 33,204 lines of poetry. The 16 poets are responsible for half of the total production (1177 out of the 2279 non-anonymous poems). These 16 poets are Ammoovanar, Avvaiyar, Kapilar, Kayamanar, Mamoolanar, Maruthan Ilanakanar, Nallanthuvanar, Nakkeerar, Orampokiyar, Othalanthaiyar, Paranar, Palai Padiya Perunkadunko, Perunkundrur Kilar, Perisathanar, Peyanar and Ulochanar. Some of the famous Sangam poetess are Avvaiyar, Ponmudiyar, and Velliveedhiyar.

Then, there are 10 long songs, also known as Pattuppattu, an anthology of ten mid size books. They were lost for quite some time, but unearthed by the efforts of Tamil Scholar U. V. Swaminatha Iyer. The subject matter of Pattuppattu is Tamil country life. The ten books are 1. Tirumurukarruppatai, 2. Kuriñcippattu, 3. Malaipatukatam, 4. Maturaikkanci, 5. Mullaippattu, 6. Netunalvatai, 7. Pattiṉappalai, 8. Perumpaṇarruppatai, 9. Poruṇararruppatai, and 10. Cirupaṇarruppatai.

Ettutogai and Pattuppattu are collectively known as Patinenmelkanakku and they are divided into two main groups – Aham (love) and Puram (valour).

There are also 18 post-Sangam poetic works. These works are collectively known as Pathinenkilkanakku. The subject matter of these work is morality, ethics, and human values. These are 1. Nalatiyar, 2. Nanmanikkatikai, 3. Inna Narpatu, 4. Iniyavai Narpatu, 5. Kar Narpatu, 6. Kalavali Narpatu, 7. Aintinai Aimpatu, 8. Tinaimoli Aimpatu, 9. Aintinai Elupatu, 10. Tinaimalai Nurru Aimpatu, 11. Tirukkural, 12. Tirikatukam, 13. Acarakkovai, 14. Palamoli Nanuru, 15. Cirupancamulam, 16. Mutumolikkanci, 17. Elati, and 18. Kainnilai.

The most important among Pathinenkilkanakku is Tirukkural. It was written by Thiruvalluvar. It is also known as Kural. It consists 1,330 couplets or Kurals which talks about the everyday virtues of an individual.

The Silappathigaram by Elango Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattnar also belong to post-Sangam period. These works provide valuable information on the Sangam polity and society.