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Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years 200 BCE and 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems written by 473 poets, some 102 of whom are anonymous authors. The period during which these poems were written is commonly referred to as the 'Sangam' age, referring to the prevalent Sangam legends claiming literary academies lasting thousands of years, giving the name to the corpus of literature. Sangam literature is primarily secular dealing with everyday themes in a South Indian context.
The poems belonging to the Sangam literature was composed by Tamil poets, both men and women, from various professions and classes of society. These poems were later collected into various anthologies, edited and had colophons added by anthologists and annotators around 1000 CE. Sangam literature fell out of popular memory soon thereafter, until they were rediscovered in the 19th century by scholars such as S. V. Damodaram Pillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer.
 Sangam literature
Sangam literature deals with emotional and material topics such as love, war, governance, trade, and bereavement. Much of the Tamil literature believed to have been written in the Sangam period is lost to us, though detailed lists of works known to the 10th century compilers have survived.
 Compilation of literature
The available literature from this period was categorized and compiled in the 10th century into two categories based roughly on chronology. The categories are: The Major Eighteen Anthology Series (பதினெண்மேல்கணக்கு) comprising The Eight Anthologies (எட்டுத்தொகை) and the Ten Idylls (பத்துப்பாட்டு) and The Minor Eighteen Anthology Series (பதினெண்கீழ்கணக்கு)
The 'inner field' topics refer to personal or human aspects, such as love and sexual relationships, and are dealt with in a metaphorical and abstract manner. The 'outer field' topics discuss all other aspects of human experience such as heroism, valour, ethics, benevolence, philanthropy, social life, and customs.
The division into akam and puram is not rigid, but depends upon the interpretation used in a specific context.
 Environmental classifications
Sangam literature illustrates the thematic classification scheme first described in the Tolkappiyam. The classification ties the emotions involved in agam poetry to a specific landscape. These landscapes are called thinai (திணை). These are: kurinji (குறிஞ்சி), mountainous regions; mullai (முல்லை), forests; marutham (மருதம்), agricultural land; neithal (நெய்தல்) coastal regions; paalai (பாலை) deserts. In addition to the landscape based thinais, kaikkiLai and perunthinai are used for unsolicited love and unsuited love respectively.
Similar thinais pertain to puram poems as well, though these categories are based on activity rather than landscape: vetchi, 'karanthai, vanchi, kanchi, umignai, nochchi, thumbai, 'vaagai, paataan, and pothuviyal.
 Tamil Sangams
According to the compilers of the Sangam works such as Nakkeeran, the Tamil Sangams were academies, where Tamil poets and authors are said to have gathered periodically to publish their works. The legends claim that the Pandya rulers of the mythical cities of 'South' Madurai, Kapatapuram and Madurai to have patronized the three Sangams. The word "Sangam" is probably of Indo-Aryan origin, coming from "Sangha", the Buddhist and Jain term for an assembly of monks.
While these claims of the Sangams and the description of sunken land masses have not been largely accepted by the historian and scientific community "Sangam literature" is still the preferred term for referring to the collection of Tamil works from the period 200 BCE to 200CE. Noted historians like Kamil Zvelebil have stressed that the use of 'Sangam literature' to describe this corupus of literature is a misnomer and Classical literature should be used instead.
The works of Sangam literature were lost and forgotten for several centuries before they were brought to light by several Tamil Scholars such as S. V. Damodaram Pillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer. They painstakingly collected and catalogued numerous manuscripts in various stages of deterioration. They printed and published Tholkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar urai (1895), Tholkappiyam Senavariyar urai, (1868), Manimekalai (1898), Cilappatikaram (1889), Pattupattu (1889), and Purananuru (1894), all with scholarly commentaries. Damodaram Pillai and Swaminatha Iyer published more 100 works in all, including minor poems.
- ^ Kamil Veith Zvelebil, Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature, pp12
- ^ See K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, A History of South India, OUP (1955) pp 105
- ^ George L. Hart III, The Poems of Ancient Tamil, University of California Press, 1975
- ^ Irayanaar Agapporul dated to c 750CE first mentioned the Sangam legends. An inscription of the early tenth century CE mentions the achievements of the early Pandya kings of establishing a Sangam in Madurai. See K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, A History of South India, OUP (1955) pp 105
- ^ 'The latest limit of Ettutokai and Pattupattu may be placed around 700 AD...' - Vaiyapuri Pillai, History of Tamil language and literature pp 38.
- ^ '...the Tamil language of these brief records achieved a flowering during the first centuries of the Common Era, culminating in the emergence of a poetic corpus of very high quality [...] To this corpus the name sangam poetry was added soon afterwards...' Burton Stein, A History of India (1998), Blackwell Publishing pp90.
- ^ The only religious poems among the shorter poems occur in paripatal. The rest of the corpus of Sangam literature deals with human relationship and emotions. See K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, OUP (1955) pp 330 - 335
- ^ http://www.hindu.com/br/2005/08/16/stories/2005081600681500.htm
- ^ Kamil Zvelebil., The Smile of Murugan
- Minatchisuntharan, T.P. History of Tamil Literature. Annamalai University Publications in linguistics, 3. Annamalai University, 1965
- Krishnamurti , C.R., Thamizh Literature Through the Ages, Vancouver, B.C. Canada http://www.tamilnation.org/literature/krishnamurti/02sangam.htm