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The Sangam Period (1st-3rd Century AD)

Three Early Kingdoms

KingdomEmblemCapitalFirst RulerFamous Ruler
The CheraBowVanjji/KarayurUdiyangeralSenguttuvan(Red Chera)
The CholaTigerUraiaurElaraKarikala
The PandyaFishMaduraiMudukudumiNendujeliyan

The Chera

  • The Chera country occupied the portion of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
  • The Capital of Cheras was Vajji.
  • Its main ports were Muzris and Tondi.
  • The Romans set up two regiments at Muzris (identical with Cranganore) in Chera country. They also built a temple of Augustus at Muzris.
  • One of the earliest and better known among Chera ruler was Udiyangeral. It is said that he fed both the armies of Kuruskshetra war and so earned the title Udiyangeral.
  • The Greatest of Chera king, however, was Senguttuvan or Red Chera. It is said that he invaded the North and even crossed the Ganges.
  • He was also the founder of the famous Pattini cult related to worship of Goddess of Chastity-Kannagi.

The Chola

  • The Chola Kingdom called as Cholamandalm was situated to the North-East of Pandya Kingdom between Pennar and Vellar River.
  • The Chola Kingdom corresponded to the modern Tanjore and Tiruchchirappalli districts.
  • Its inland Capital was Uraiyaur,a place famous for cotton trade. One of the main sources of wealth for Cholas was trade in cotton cloth.
  • Puhari identical with Kaveripattanam was the main port of Cholas and served as alternative capital of Cholas.
  • The earliest known Chola king was Elara who conquered Sri Lanka and ruled over it for nearly 50 years.
  • Their greatest king was Karikala (man with charred leg) who founded Puhar (Kaveripattanam) and constructed 160 km of embankment along the Kaveri River with the help of 12000 Sri Lankan slaves.
  • They maintained an efficient slave.
  • The Cholas were wiped out in the attack of Pallavas from the North.

The Pandyas

  • The Pandyas were first mentioned by Megasthanese, who said their Kingdom was famous for pearls.
  • The Pandya territory included modern districts of Triunelvelli, Ramand and Madurai in Tamil Nadu.It had its capital at Madhurai, situated on the banks of Vaigai River.
  • The Pandya king mention in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
  • The earliest known Pandyan ruler was Mudukudumi.
  • The greatest Pandya King, Nendujelian, accused Kovalan of theft. As a result, the city of Madurai was laid under a curse by Kannagi (Kovalan’s Wife).

Sangam Administration

  • During the Sangam period hereditary monarchy was the form of government.
  • Each of the dynasties of Sangam age had a royal emblem – tiger for the Cholas, carp/Fish for the Pandyas, and bow for the Cheras.
  • The king was assisted by a wide body of officials who were categorised into five councils.
  • They were ministers (amaichar), priests (anthanar), envoys (thuthar), military commanders (senapathi), and spies (orrar).
  • The military administration was efficiently organized and a regular army was associated with each ruler.
  • The chief source of state’s income was land revenue while a custom duty was also imposed on foreign trade. Major source of fulfilling the royal treasury was the booty captured in wars.
  • The roads and highways were maintained and guarded to prevent robbery and smuggling.

Sangam Literature

The Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and two epics named – Silappathikaram and Manimegalai.

  • Tolkappiyam was authored by Tolkappiyar and is considered the earliest of Tamil literary work. Though it is a work on Tamil grammar but it also provides insights on the political and socio-economic conditions of the time.
  • Ettutogai (Eight Anthologies) consist of eight works – Aingurunooru, Narrinai, Aganaooru, Purananooru, Kuruntogai, Kalittogai, Paripadal and Padirruppatu.
  • The Pattuppattu (Ten Idylls) consists of ten works – Thirumurugarruppadai, Porunararruppadai, Sirupanarruppadai, Perumpanarruppadai, Mullaippattu, Nedunalvadai, Maduraikkanji, Kurinjippatttu, Pattinappalai and Malaipadukadam.
  • Pathinenkilkanakku contains eighteen works about ethics and morals. The most important among these works is Tirukkural authored by Thiruvalluvar, the tamil great poet and philosopher.
  • The two epics Silappathikaram is written by Elango Adigal and Manimegalai by Sittalai Sattanar. They also provide valuable details about the Sangam society and polity.
SI. NO.VenueChairmanSurviving TextPatron(Pandya ruler)
1st SangamTen-MaduraiAgastasya 89
2nd SangamKapatapuram/AlvaiAgastasya and TolakapiyyarOnly Tolkappiyam59
3rd SangamNorth MaduraiNakkirarEttutogai,Pattu-pattu,Patineki-lakanakku etc.49


  • The primary deity of the Sangam period was Murugan, who is hailed as Tamil God.
  • The worship of Murugan was having an ancient origin and the festivals relating to God Murugan was mentioned in the Sangam literature.
  • Murugan was honoured with six abodes known as Arupadai Veedu.Other gods worshipped during the Sangam period were Mayon (Vishnu), Vendan (Indiran), Varunan and Korravai.
  • The Hero Stone or Nadu Kal worship was significant in the Sangam period and was erected in memory of the bravery shown by the warriors in the battle.

Position of Women during Sangam Age

  • A lot of information is available in the Sangam literature to understand the position of women during the Sangam age.
  • Women had respect and were allowed intellectual pursuits. There were women poets like Avvaiyar, Nachchellaiyar, and Kakkaipadiniyar who flourished and contributed to Tamil literature.
  • Women were allowed to choose their life partners. But life of widows was miserable. There is also a mention about the practice of Sati being prevalent in the higher strata of society.

Economy of the Sangam Age

  • Agriculture was the chief occupation where rice was the most common crop.
  • The handicraft included weaving, metal works and carpentry, ship building and making of ornaments using beads, stones and ivory.
  • These were in great demand in the internal and external trade that was at its peak during the Sangam period.
  • A high expertise was attained in spinning and weaving of cotton and silk clothes. These were in great demand in the western world especially for the cotton clothes woven at Uraiyur.
  • The port city of Puhar became an important place of foreign trade, as big ships entered this port containing precious goods.
  • Other significant ports of commercial activity were Tondi, Musiri, Korkai, Arikkamedu and Marakkanam.
  • Many gold and silver coins that were issued by the Roman Emperors like Augustus, Tiberius and Nero have been found in all parts of Tamil Nadu indicating flourishing trade.
  • Major exports of the Sangam age were cotton fabrics and spices like pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric along with ivory products, pearls and precious stones.
  • Major imports for the traders were horses, gold, and sweet wine.

End of Sangam Age

  • The Sangam period slowly witnessed its decline towards the end of the 3rd century A.D.
  • The Kalabhras occupied the Tamil country post-Sangam period between 300 AD to 600 AD, whose period was called an interregnum or ‘dark age’ by earlier historians.