The conference of wise and learned people is known as ‘sangam’ in Tamil. Poets and scholars met periodically in Madurai to deliberate on their scholarly work. According to Tamil legends, there were three sangams called ‘mudhal sangam’, ‘idai sangam’ and kadai sangam. The works of the first sangam are not available because the city where the conferences were held was submerged by floods or rising sea levels. The ‘kadai sangam’ produced a rich source of Tamil literature: ‘patthuppattu’, ‘etthutthogai’ and ‘pathinenkiizhkkanakku’. The period between 400 a. C. and 500 d. C. is considered Sangam period. It covered all of southern India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, part of Andhra Pradesh, and part of Karnataka. It was ruled by three kingdoms called Chera, Chozha, and Pandiya. They were known as moovendhargal (Three great kings). Senguttuvan was the greatest king of Cheras, Karikaal Chozhan was the greatest king of Chozhas, and Nedunchezhiyan was the greatest king of Pandyas. In the sangam era, the land was divided into five regions based on landscape, season, and mood. They were called aynthinaigal, the five kudis or clans: Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham, Neithal and Palai. The people of these five regions were generally called malavars (who gather products from the hills), kadambars (who thrive in the forest), mallars (farmers), nagars (city guards), and thiraiyars (seafarers) according to with their way of life.

Kurinji: includes mountains, mountain valleys, and mountainous plains. Kurinji is the name of a flower found in the Western Ghats. According to a legend, it blooms once every 12 years. People in the land of Kurinji worshiped the mother goddess, ‘Kottravai’ and a male deity called ‘Sevvael’ or ‘Karthikeyan’ (Lord Murugan). Its main economic activity is the collection of mountain products for its own use and for trade with neighbors. The people of this region also practiced different professions viz. poruppas (soldiers), verpans (weapon-ists), silamban (martial arts masters), kuravars (hunters and gatherers) and kanavares (mountain forest people).

Mullai: Includes the forests at the foot of the hills. The people of this region worshiped ‘Thirumaal’. The economic activities of the people consisted of collecting forest products, cultivating land where possible, and raising livestock. People known for their professions are kurumporai nadan-kizhathis (landowners), thonral-manaivi (ministers and noble couples), idaiyars (milkmaids), and aiyars (ranchers).

Marutham: It is the land of the plains. They worshiped a male deity called ‘Vaendan’. The main activity of these people was agriculture. There were also merchants and merchants. People known for their professions were mallar (farmers), pallar (warriors), uraans (small landowners), magizhans (small farmers), uzhavars (agricultural workers), and kadaiyars (merchants).

Neithal: It is the land of the coastal region. They adored Kadalon. The people who lived in this region were generally called “thiraiyans” (sailors). People known for their professions were the saerppans (seafood sellers), pulampans (people who trade in palm products), paravas (warriors of the sea), nulaiyars (wealthy fishermen) and alavars (salt farmers).

Palai: It is the land of the desert or dry land. The people who lived in this region are known as eyinars or eyitriyars (thieves).

Social life: people believed in God (Adi Bagawan, Kadavul and Irraivan). They worshiped the mother goddess ‘Kottravai’ and a male deity ‘Murugan’. But we don’t know if they followed a particular religion or they followed Hinduism in the modern sense. Buddhists and Jains who came from North India were accepted by the local population. They even contributed to Tamil literature, especially the Jains. They probably didn’t know the breed. They were known by their names and professions and not by the name of their caste. They led a secular life and gave more importance to ethics, politics and love life. Women were actively involved in politics, education, and economic life.

Musicians and dancers entertained the king and the common people. The musical instruments they knew were thudi (a small percussion instrument), maylam (drum), muzhavu (wind instrument), kadambarai (a large bass-like drum), kuzhal (similar to nagasuram), and yazh (string instrument ). They enjoyed kootthu, a stage drama in the form of dance. Parayan (drum), muzhavan (muzhavu), kadamban (kadambarai), and paanan (yazh) were the musicians known for their expertise in a particular musical instrument.

Literature: The literary works composed at the first conference held in South Madurai under the presidency of Agastiyar are not available. Except for Tholkappiyam, a grammar book, written by Tholkappiyar, who chaired the second conference held in Kapaadapuram, all other scholarly works are not available. At the third conference convened in Madurai, 473 poets, men and women, composed around 2,381 poems. No other Tamil literary work, in the last 2,000 years of Tamil history, has exceeded the classical standard for poems composed by the poets of the third lecture. The poems mainly had two themes called ‘agam’ (interior) and ‘puram’ (exterior). While ‘agam’ deals with the personal and human aspects, ‘puram’ deals with heroism, courage, ethics, benevolence, philanthropy, social life and customs. The most popular literary work ‘Thirukkural’ written by the poet Thiruvalluvar belongs to the third lecture. It contains 1,330 two-line poems, the first line with 4 words and the second line with 3 words throughout.

Commerce: Agriculture, weaving, pearl fishing, manufacturing and construction were the main economic activities in this period. They grew rice, pepper, millet, grams and sugar cane. Rice was their staple food. They made cotton and wood fiber cloth. They exported cotton, pearl, ivory, and pepper cloth to Egypt and Rome and imported luxury items such as glass, coral, wine, and topaz. Madurai and Urayur were important textile centers. The pearl trade flourished in Korkai. Muziris, Thondi and Kaverippattanam were the other important commercial centers. Archaeological evidence shows that they probably used Roman coins as a means of exchange for exports and imports. The Kallanai built by King Karikal Chozhan is one of the oldest water regulation structures in the world. Remain in working condition.

Most of Sangam Age Tamilagam was in the rain shadow region. Since the southwest monsoon brought no rain to the rain-shadow region, they relied on irrigation from the rivers. The western region received abundant rains but did not have plains. The Western Ghats were both a gift and a curse. Nature probably expected people to be interdependent. Tamilagam had no desert. But, in the region of the shadow of the rain, the vast expanse of plains that could not be irrigated was generally dry. However, people lived in this dry land (eyinars and eyitriyars). Perhaps these people did not find enough opportunities in other lands. Otherwise, society in general was egalitarian. Women were treated with respect and dignity. Apart from chivalry, chastity was among the glorified virtues. Merchants could travel freely to any of the three kingdoms. One of the main duties of the king was to protect the merchants. Foreign travelers noted that Tamilagam was richer than Rome.

It is important to note that even after 2000 years, the language is still in active use, although the language has undergone many changes (the change is mainly due to the absorption of words from other languages). For example, the word ‘sangam’ is not a Tamil word. Probably Jain scholars must have introduced it to Tamil. The current form of the language is more flexible. One reason could be the focus on contextual meaning rather than phonemes. For example, if you ask a Tamil shop owner, “Give me a palam”, the shop owner will correctly give you a pazham (banana). The phrase, “give me a palam”, does not produce any other meaning in that context.

Another interesting point to keep in mind here was its shipbuilding and shipbuilding capabilities. The Kallanai (stone dam) built by King Karikal Chozhan continues in use.

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