Megalithic Culture and the Pre-Sangam Era
The Neolithic-Chalcolithic amalgam which seems to have been round about 2000 B.C. continued upto about the middle of the ﬁrst millennium B.C. It was then overlapped by the Megalithic culture inhabited by the megaliths builder. They are known not from their actual settlement which is rare but from their graves, these are called megaliths because they were encircled by big pieces of stones. About the beginning of the Christian era the Megalith culture in South India was overlapped by what has been called ‘Andhra culture’ on account of the occurrence of Andhra coins. This is the time when south India had a large volume of trade with Roman world. Again the culture and economic contacts between the north and the south paved the way for the introduction of material culture brought from the north to the Deep South by traders, conquerors, Jainas, Buddhist and some Brahaman missionaries. The Vindhya Range was recognized as the southern limit of the Aryan land. Manu states distinctly that the country between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas and between the eastern and western oceans comprised Aryavarta, the abode of the Aryans.
- The Suttanipatta of the Buddhist canon records that teacher Bavari left Kosala and settled in a village on the Godavari in the Assaka country in Dakshinapatha.
- His pupils are said to have gone north to meet Buddha and their route lay through Patitthana (Paithan) in the Mulaka country, Mahishmati (Mandhata) on the Narmada, and Ujjain. Bavari is said to have been learned in the Vedas and performed Vedic sacriﬁces.
- Kautilya speaks of the pearls and muslins of the Pandyan country. The name of the Pandyan capital Madura recalls Mathura of the North, and Greek accounts, as we have seen, narrate the story of Herakles (in the context, Krishna) setting his daughter Pandaia to rule over the kingdom bordering on the southern sea.
- In the Mahabharata, the story of Rishi Agastya’s connection with South India comes into prominence.
- In later Tamil tradition, Agastya’s southerly march is accounted for by the interesting legend that on the occasion of Shiva’s marriage with Paravati, Agastya had to be sent to the South to redress the balance of the earth which had been rudely disturbed by the assemblage of all the gods and sages in the North.
- In the Ramayana, as they are on their way to Agastya’s ashrama, Rama tells his brother Lakshmana how Agastya intent upon the good of the world, overpowered deadly demon, thereby rendered the earth habitable.
- A beam of Indian cedar found in the place of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.), the teak logs found in the temple of the Moon God at Ur at levels belonging to about the same age or a little later, and the Baveru Jataka which relates the adventures of certain Indian merchants who took the ﬁrst peacock by sea to Babylon, all conﬁrm the existence of active maritime intercourse between South India and its western neighbours.
- The Assyrian and Babylonian empires traded with India by sea from their ports on the Persian Gulf and continued to receive gold, spices and fragrant woods from India.
- In Chinese history, there are many references to maritime traders bringing typical Indian products to China as far back as the seventh century B.C.
- The Arthashastra of Kautilya gives some information of value about the trade between the North and the South in the age of the early Mauryan Empire.
- The kingdoms of South India, together with Ceylon, are mentioned in the second and thirteenth rock edicts of Ashoka. The list in the second edict is the more complete and includes the names of Chola, Pandya, Satiyaputa, Keralputa and Tambapanni (Ceylon).
- The short Damili inscriptions found in the natural rock caverns of the South have many features in common with the similar but more numerous records of Sri Lanka and are among the earliest monuments of the Tamil country to which we may assign a date with some conﬁdence.
- The stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were well-known to the Tamil poets, and episodes from them are frequently mentioned.
- The Tolkappiyam states that marriage as a sacrament attended with ritual was established in the Tamil country by the Aryans.
- India & World Geography
- Art & Culture
- History of India
- Environment & Ecology
- Indian Economy
- Science & Technology
- Indian Polity
8.1 Sangam States
1. Chera Kingdom
The monarchies of the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas were believed, at least in subsequent ages, to be of immemorial antiquity, and the poems of the Sangam attest the anxiety of all of them to connect themselves with the events of the Great War between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The ﬁrst Chera monarch we hear of is Udiyanjeral (AD 130) who is said to have fed sumptuously both the armies of Kurukshetra, and thereby earned for himself the title ‘Udiyanjeral of the great feeding’.
The son of Udiyanjeral was Nedunjeral Adan who won a naval victory against some local enemy on the Malabar cost, and took captive several Yavana trad- ers whom for some time he subjected to harsh treat- ment, for reasons that are not clear, but subsequently released after obtaining a heavy ransom. He is said to have fought many wars and spent many years in camp with his armies. He won victories against seven crowned kings, and thus reached the superior rank of an Adhiraja. He was called Imayavramban –‘He who had the Himalaya for his boundary’- a title explained by the claim that he conquered all India and carved the Chera emblem of the bow on the face of the great mountain- an instance of poetic exaggeration not uncommon in these poems. His capital is called Marandai. He fought a war with the contemporary Chola king in which both the monarchs lost their lives and their queens performed Sati.
Adan’s younger brother was ‘Kuttuvan of many elephants’ who conquered Kongu and apparently extended the Chera power from the Western to the Eastern Sea for a time. Adan had two sons by different queens. One of them was known as ‘the Chera with the Kalangay festoon and the ﬁbre crown’, the crown he wore at his coronation is said to have been made of Palmyra ﬁbre and the festoon on it contained Kalangay, a small black berry. It was not altogether to be despised for the crown had a golden frame and festoons of precious pearls, but why the king had to wear such an extraordinary tiara is not explained anywhere. He is said to have won successes against the contemporary Adigaiman chieftain Anji of Tagaddur and to have led an expedition against Nannan whose territory lay to the North of Malabar, in the Tulu country. He too was an Adhiraja wearing a garland of seven crowns.
The other son of Adan was Senguttuvan, ‘the Righteous Kuttuva, celebrated in song by Paranar, one of the most famous and longest lived poets of the Sangam Age. Senguttuvan’s life and achievements have been embellished by legends of a later time of which there are no traces in the two strictly contemporary poems, both by Paranar – the decade on the king in the ‘Ten Tens’, and a song in the Purananuru. The only material achievement they celebrate is a victorious war against the chieftain of Mohur. Paranar also says that Senguttuvan exerted himself greatly on the sea, but gives no details. He was given a title for driving back the sea, and this is taken to mean that he destroyed the efﬁciency of the sea as a protection to his enemies who relied on it. If this is correct, he must have maintained a ﬂeet. For the rest, we only learn that he was a skilled rider on horse and elephant, wore a garland of seven crowns as Adhiraja, and was adept in besieging fortresses, besides being a great warrior and a liberal patron of the arts.
The epilogue to the decade adds a number of new articulars, the most important bearing on the establishment of the Pattini Cult, i.e., the worship of Kannagi as the ideal wife. The stone for making the image of Pattini, the Divine chaste wife, was obtained after a ﬁght with an Aryan chieftain and bathed in the Ganges before being brought to the Chera country. All these events are narrated with numerous embellishments and in epic detail in the Silappadikaram, though whether this poem derives from the epilogue to decade, or the epilogue from the epic, is more than we can say. The antiquity and popularity of the story of Kannagi and Kovalan and the probable existence of other and earlier versions of the Kannagisaga which preceded the Silappadikaram are fairly well-attested, and it is not unlikely that Senguttuvan took the lead in organizing the cult of Pattini, and was supported in his effort by the con- temporary rulers of the Pandya and Chola countries and of Ceylon as the Silappadikaram says.
Altogether ﬁve monarchs of the line of Udiyanjeral belonging to three generations are mentioned in the Padirruppattu, the number of years they are said to have ruled totals 201, while another three monarchs of the collateral line are said to have reigned for a further 58 years in all. Their reigns surely cannot have been successive, and we must therefore postulate a very considerable degree of overlapping. The Chera Kingdom must have been a sort of family estate in which all the grown-up males had a share and interest what Kautilya calls kula-sangha, a family group, and considers a very efﬁcient form of state organization.
A similar clan-rule might also have prevailed in Chola and Pandya kingdoms in this period. Such an assumption for the Cholas would be the best means of explaining Senguttuvan’s interference in a war of succession in which nine Chola princes lost their lives, it would also furnish a natural explanation for the occurrence in the Sangam poems of so many royal names, all to be accommodated within four or ﬁve generations.
Contemporary Chera Rulers
The heroes of the last three decades of the ‘Ten Tens’ and their ancestors must be taken to have ruled contemporaneously with the kings of the house of Udiyanjeral, The ﬁrst to be heard of among them are Anduvan and his son Selvakkadungo Vali Adan, both praised by the poets in general terms for their valour and liberality, the father is said to have been a well-read scholar and the son performed many Vedic sacriﬁces. Famous among the minor chieftains who were their contemporaries were Ay and Pari, both celebrated in several poems by a number of poets. Ay was the patron of a Brahmin poet from Uraiyur, and Pari befriended and patronized another Brahmin, Kapilar, who repaired to the Chera court only after Pari’s death. There he was welcomed by Anduvan’s son whom he praised in the seventh decade of the ‘Ten of Tens’.
8.2 Chola Rulers
Among the Cholas, Karikala (A.D. 190) stands out pre-eminent. He is described in a poem as the descendant of a king (not named) who compelled the wind to serve his purposes when he sailed his ships on the wide ocean-possibly a reference to the early maritime enterprise of the Cholas. Karikala’s father was Ilanjetceni ‘of many beautiful chariots’, a brave king and a hard ﬁghter. Karikala means ‘the man with the charred leg’, a reference to an accident by ﬁre, which befell the prince early in life. Other explanations for the name were invented in later times, however, and it has also been taken to be a compound word in Sanskrit meaning either ‘death to kali’ or ‘death to (enemy) elephant’. Early in life he was deposed and imprisoned.
The plucky war in which Karikala escaped and re-established himself on the throne is well portrayed by the author of Pattinappalai, a long poem on the Chola capital Kaveri-Pattinam, in the Pattuppattu (Ten Idylls). One of his early achievements was the victory in a great battle at Venni, modern Kovil Venni, and 15 miles to the east of Tanjore. This battle is referred to in many poems by different authors. Eleven rulers, velir and kings, lost their drums in the ﬁeld, the Pandya and the Chera lost their glory. The Pandyan ruler was wounded severely on his back which was the greatest humiliation for a warrior, and from a sense of pro- found shame he sat facing the north, sword in hand, and starved himself to death. Venni, thus, marked a turning point in the career of Karikala. His victory meant the breaking up of a widespread confederacy that had been formed against him. Another important battle he fought was at Vahaip- parandalai, ‘the ﬁeld of vahai trees’, where nine minor enemy chieftains lost their umbrellas and had to submit.
As a result of his victorious campaigns, says the poet of Pattinappalai ‘the numerous Oliyar submitted to him, the ancient Aruvalar carried out his behests, the Northerners lost splendour, and the Westerners were depressed conscious of the might of his large army ready to shatter the fortresses of enemy kings, Karikala turned his ﬂushed look of anger against the Pandya, whose strength gave way the line of low herdsmen, was brought to an end, and the family of Irungovel was uprooted’.
The Aruvalar were the people of Aruvanad, the lower valley of the Pennar, to the North of the Kaveri delta. Karikala is said to have prevented the migration of people from his land to other regions evidently by offering them inducements to stay.
Karikala’s wars thus resulted in his establishing a sort of hegemony among the ‘crowned kings’ of the Tamil country and in some extension of the territory under his direct rule. The description of Kaveri-pat- tinam and its foreshore, which takes up so much of the Pattinappalai, gives a vivid idea of the state of industry and commerce at this time. Karikala also promoted the reclamation and settlement of forest- land, and added to the prosperity of the country by multiplying its irrigation tanks. The poems also bear evidence that the king, who was a follower of the Vedic religion, performed sacriﬁces and lived well, enjoying life to the full.
In later times, Karikala became the centre of many legends found in the Silappadikaram and in inscriptions and literary works of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They attribute to him the conquest of whole of India upto the Himalayas and the construction with the aid of his feudatories of the ﬂood banks of the Kaveri. The famous scholar Naccinarkkiniyar probably follows a correct tradi- tion when he says that Karikala married a Velier girl from Nangur, a place celebrated in the hymns of Tirumnagai Alvar for the heroism of its warriors. More open to suspicion is the story in the Silappa- dikaram about a supposed daughter of Karikala’s, named Adi Mandi, and her husband, a Chera prince called Attan Atti. Earlier poems which mention their names and some of the incidents attest only the relation between Adi Mandi and Atti, but not that between her and Karikala, nor the Chera descent of Atti. Both husband and wife were, according to the early testimony, professional dancers.
There is no hint anywhere of his being related to Karikala or of his political subordination to the Chola power. Nor is it clear whether it was to him or to some other member of his line that Auviaiyar went as Adigaiman’s ambassador. Ilandiraiyan was himself a poet, and there are four extant songs by him, one of them on the importance of the personal character of the monarch in the promotion of good rule.
This understanding of the political conditions of the Sangam age may not be closed without the mention of two other Chola rulers, both opponents of the Cheras in war. One was Ilanjetceni of Neyda- langanal who captured two fortresses from the Ch- eras known by the names of Seruppali and Pamalur. Another was Senganan, the Chola monarch famed in legend for his devotion to Shiva, ﬁgures as the victor in the battle of Por against the Chera Kanaik- kal Irumporai. The Chera was taken prisoner, asked for drinking water when he was in prison, got it rather late, and then, without drinking it, confessed the shame of his position in a song. Subsequently, Poyagaiyar, a friend of the Chera monarch, is said to have secured his release from the Chola prisons by celebrating the victory of Senganan in a poem of forty stanzas the Kalavali. According to this poem, the battle was fought at Kalumalam, near Karuvur, the Chera capital. Senganan became the subject of many pious legends in later times. It is possible that this monarch, who, according to Tirumangai, built 70 ﬁne temples of Shiva, lived somewhat later, say in the fourth or ﬁfth century A.D.
8.3 Pandyan Kings
The Pandya king Nedunjeliyan distinguished by the title ‘he who won the battle at Talaiyalanganam’ may be taken to have ruled about A.D. 210. This ruler was celebrated by two great poets Mangudi Marudan alias Mangudi Kilar and Nakkirar, each contributing a poem on the monarch to the ‘Ten Idylls’ (Pattuppattu) besides minor pieces in the Puram and Abham collections.
From the Maduraikkanji of Mangudi Marudan and elsewhere, we learn something of three of Nedunjeliyan’s predecessors on the Pandyan throne. The ﬁrst is an almost mythical ﬁgure called Nediyon (‘the tall one’), whose achievements ﬁnd a place in the ‘Sacred Sports’ of Shiva at Madura and among the traditions of the Pandyas enumerated in the Velvikudi and Sinnamanur plates. He is said to have brought the Pahruli River into existence and organized the worship of the sea.
The next is Palsalai Mudukuduni; doubtless the same as the earliest Pandya king named in the Velvi- kudi grant and about whom there are several poems. He is a more life like ﬁgure than Nediyon, and is said to have treated conquered territory harshly.
He also performed many sacriﬁces, whence he derived his title Palsalai meaning ‘of the many (sacriﬁcial) halls’. It is not possible to say what distance in time separated these two kings from each other or from their successors.
The third ruler mentioned in the Madduraikkanji was another Nedunjeliyan, distinguished by the title ‘he who won a victory against an Aryan (i.e., North Indian) army’. The tragedy of Kovalan’s death at Madura occurred in his reign, which according to the Silappadi-karam caused the king to die of a broken heart. A short poem ascribed to this king puts learning above birth and caste.
Nedunjeliyan of Talaiyalangam came to the throne as a youth and soon after his accession, he proved himself more than equal to a hostile combination of his two neighbouring monarchs and ﬁve minor chieftains. There exists a simple poem of great force and beauty in which the youthful monarch swears an oath of heroism and victory in the ensuing ﬁght. Despising his tender years and hoping for an easy victory and large boot, his enemies invaded the king- dom and penetrated to the heart of it, but, nothing daunted, Nedunjeliyan readily took the ﬁeld, pursued the invading forces across his frontier into the Chola country and inﬂicted a crushing defeat on them at Talaiya-langanam, about eight miles North- West of Tiruvalur in theTanjore district. It was in this battle that the Chera king ‘Sey of the elephant eye’ was taken captive and thrown into a Pandyan prison. By his victory Nedunjeliyan not only made himself secure on his ancestral throne, but also gained a primacy over the entire state system of the Tamil country. He also conquered the two divisions (Kurram) of Milalai and Mutturu from Evvi and a Velier chieftain and annexed them to his kingdom.
The Madduraikkanji contains a full-length de- scription of Madura and the Pandyan country under Nedunjeliyan’s rule. The poet gives expression to his wish that his patron should spread the beneﬁts of his good rule all over India. He makes particular mention of the farmers and traders of a place called Muduvellilai (unidentiﬁed) as among his most loyal subjects for many generations. He also refers to the battle of Alanganam, calls his patron Lord of Korkai and the warlord of the Southern Paradavar hinting that the people of the pearl- ﬁshery coast formed an important section of his army.
Passing over the many contemporaries of Ne- dunjeliyan-Pandya and Chola princes and the poets who mention them and their achievements, we must now notice a rather protracted civil war in the Chola kingdom mentioned by Kovur Kilar and other poets. This war was between Nalangilli (also called Sectcenni) and Nedungilli. The latter shut himself up at Avur, which was being besieged by Mavalattan, the younger brother of Nalangilli. In one poem, Kovur Kilar says that if he claimed to be virtuous, Nedungilli should open the gates of the fort or if he claimed to be brave, he should come into the open and ﬁght. He did nei- ther, but caused untold misery to the people of his beleagured city by shuting himself up in a coward manner. Another poem dealing with the siege of Uraiyur by Nalangilli himself, once more Nedungilli being the besieged, is more considerate and impartial, it is addressed to both princes and exhorts them to stop the destructive war, as whoever loses would be a Chola, and a war to the ﬁnish must necessarily end in the defeat of one party. A third poem relates to a somewhat piquant situation.
A poet, Ilandattan by name, who went into Urai- yur from Nalangilli, was suspected by Nedungilli of spying. As he was about to be killed, Kovur Kilar interceded with his song on the harmless and up- right nature of poets and thus saved him. Another poem hints at internal dissensions in the royal family at Uraiyur, which induced Nalangilli’s soldiers to rush to war in utter disregard of women. Civil war seems, indeed, to have been the bane of the Chola kingdom in this age: Senguttuvan, as we have seen, was called upon to intervene in another war at an earlier time.
A thorough change in the political map of South India and the deﬁnite close of an epoch seem to be clearly implied in the Sirupan-arruppadai by Nattat- tanar, one of the Pattupattu (‘Ten Idylls’). The poem has Nalliyakkodan for its hero and he may be taken to stand right a territory, which included Gidangil, a village near Tindivanam. We may assign to him a date about A.D. 275, and in his day the poet says that charity had dried up in the capitals of the three Tamil kingdoms, and all ancient patrons of learn- ing and the arts were no more! There may well be some exaggeration here, but clearly Vanji, Uraiyur and Madura must have passed the meridian of their prosperity and entered on a period of decline.
8.4 Sangam Polity
Hereditary Monarchy: Hereditary monarchy was the prevailing form of government. Disputed suc- cessions and civil wars were not unknown, as we have seen, and sometimes caused grave misery to the people. The king was in all essential respects an autocrat whose autocracy, however, was tempered by the maxims of the wise and the occasional intercession of a minister, a poet or a friend. The sphere of the state’s activity was, however, limited, and in a soci- ety where respect for custom was deep-rooted, even the most perverse of autocrats could not have done much harm, indeed it must be said that the general impression left on the mind by the literature of the age is one of containment of the part of the people who were proud of their kings and loyal to them.
As the people took the king for their model, it was his duty to set up a high moral standard by his personal conduct. In many poems he was exhorted to keep a strict mastery over his passions in order to rule successfully. He was to be liberal in his patron- age of religion, arts, and letters. He was to show paternal care for his subjects and to be impartial as among different sections of them. He held a daily durbar (nalavai) at which he heard and set right all complaints. The onerous character of the royal task is emphasized by a poet who compares a king to a strong bull, which drags a cart laden with salt from the plains to the uplands, another afﬁrms that the king, much more than rice or water, is the life of the people.
Brahmins were assigned an important role in the state. They were the foremost among those (surram) on whose assistance the king relied in his daily work, and the highest praise of a monarch was to say that he did nothing, which pained the Brahmins. Agriculture was the mainstay of polity and the basis of war, and a good king was believed to be able to command the course of the seasons. The ideal of the ‘conquering king’ (vijigishu) was accepted and acted on. Victory against seven kings meant a superior status, which the victor marked by wearing a garland made out of the crowns of the seven vanquished rulers.
The most powerful kings were expected to under- take a digvijaya, which was a conquering expedition in a clockwise direction over the whole of India. The idea of a Chakravarti, ‘wheel-king’, whose digvijaya was led by the march of a mysterious wheel of gold and gems through the air, is mentioned in one of the poems in the Purananuru. Another poem in the same collection mentions the companions of a king who committed suicide when the king died-an early anticipation of what later became a widespread insti- tution under such names as Companions of Honour (Abu Zayd), velaikkarar, garudas, sahavasis, and apattudavigal and so on.
General Administration: The Sabha or Manram of the king in the capital was the highest court of justice. The sons of Malaiyaman were tried and sentenced, and later released by the intercession of Kovur Kilar, in the Manram of Uraiyur, and Pottiyar, after the death of his friend Kopperunjolan, could not bear the sight of the same Manram bereft of him. The elders were doubtless expected to have laid aside their personal quarrels when they attended the sabha to help in the adjudication of disputes. We may infer that the assembly was used by the king for purposes of general consultation as well. The Kural, clearly a post Sangam work, deﬁnitely regards the Sabha as a general assembly dealing with all affairs. Even less specialized, and more entangled in the social and religious complex of village life was the Manram. Each village had its common place of meeting, generally under the shade of a big tree, where men, women and children met for all the common activities of the village, including sports and pastimes. There may also have been a political side to these rural gatherings, the germ out of which grew the highly organized system of village government, which func- tioned, so admirably in later Chola times.
- India & World Geography
- Art & Culture
- History of India
- Environment & Ecology
- Indian Economy
- Science & Technology
- Indian Polity
Revenue System: Land and trade were the chief sources of the royal revenue. The Ma and Veli as measures of land were already known. Foreign trade was important and customs revenue occupied a high place on the receipts side of the budget. The Pattinappalai gives a vivid account of the activity of customs ofﬁcials in Puhar (Kaveri-Pattinam). Internal transit duties on merchandise moving from place to place were another source of revenue, and the roads were guarded night and day by soldiers to prevent smuggling. Moderation in taxation, however, was impressed on the rulers by many wise saying of the poets. If their word may be trusted, booty captured in war was no inconsiderable part of royal resources. The king’s share of the produce of agriculture is nowhere precisely stated.
War Policy: The streets of the capital cities were patrolled at nights by watchmen bearing torches, and the prison formed part of the system of administra- tion. Each ruler maintained an army of well-equipped professional soldiers who no doubt found frequent employment in those bellicose times. Captains of the army were distinguished by the title of Enadi con- ferred at a formal ceremony of investiture where the king presented the chosen commander with a ring and other insignia of high military rank.
The army comprised the traditional four arms- chariots (drawn by oxen), elephants, cavalry and infantry. Swords, bows and arrows, armour made of tiger skins, javelins, spears and shields (including a protective cover for the forearm) are among the weapons of offence and defence speciﬁcally men- tioned. The drum and the conch were employed on the ﬁeld for signaling and the former to summon soldiers to arms. Each ruler and chieftain certainly had a war drum among his insignia. Not only was it carefully guarded, but also it was bathed periodically and worshipped with loud mantras. The occasions for war were numerous, but we need not suppose that the refusal of one king to give his daughter in marriage to another was as a frequent cause of the war as capturing enemy’s cattle. Brahmin messen- ger might be sent with a formal declaration before hostilities started.
The military camp was often an elaborate affair, with streets and roads and a separate section for the king guarded by armed women. In this camp the hours of day and night were announced by watchers of water clocks, the gnomon was employed to indicate midday and a drum beaten early morning. Campﬁres kept off the cold when necessary, and there were towers at important points from which a regular watch was maintained against surprise from the enemy.
Death in battle was welcome to the soldier and even to his mother, for it was held to lead him straight to heaven. To the warrior, a peaceful death in bed was looked upon as a disgrace, and in the families of ruling chieftains the body of a man who died oth- erwise than in war was cut with the sword, and laid on darbha grass, and mantras were chanted to secure him a place in the warriors, heaven (virasvarga).
Soldiers who fell in war were commemorated by hero-stone which bore inscriptions detailing their names and achievement, these stones were often worshipped as godlings. Wounded soldiers were carefully attended to, their wounds being cleaned and stitched where necessary.
Kings often took the ﬁeld in person and delighted to rejoice with the common soldiers in their successes. On the other hand, if a king was killed or even seri- ously wounded in the midst of the ﬁght, his army gave up the struggle and accepted defeat. The conquered country was at times ruthlessly laid waste, even cornﬁelds not being spared.
The Kalavali is one of the most detailed descriptions we possess of a battleﬁeld in the Tamil country, and the poem supplies in a casual way much interesting information of military affairs. The soldiers, infan- try and cavalry alike wore leather sandals for the protection of their feet. The nobles and princes rode on elephants, and the commanders drove in pennon chariots. The poet says that women whose husbands were killed bewailed their loss on the ﬁeld of Kalum- alam, unless this is more rhetoric, we must suppose that women, at least of the higher orders, sometimes accompanied their husbands to the ﬁelds.
Cultural Fusion: The most striking feature of this age was its composite character, it is the unmistakable result of the blend of two originally distinct cultures, best described as Tamilian and Aryan, but it is by no means easy now to distinguish the original elements in their purity. Some of them may be recognized, however, to have clearly originated in Northern India and made their way into the South during the period of its Aryanization and later.
It is doubtless that there was a profound fusion or cultural synthesis between the Sanskritic culture of the North and the Tamil Culture of the South in this period. The contemporary literature affords unmistakable evidence of the friendliest reception accorded in the Tamil country to the rich and var- ied culture of the North. The fertility of the lands watered by the river Cauvery is a recurring theme in the Tamil poetry.
The literary text ‘Purananooru’ retains the trace of the society before it was aryanized. It says that there were no other Kudis (Tribes) than the four viz., Tudiyan, Panan, Paraiyan and Kadamban, and no God worthy of worship with the offering of paddy.
The stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were well-known to the Tamil poets and episodes from them are frequently mentioned. The claim of each of the three Tamil kings to feed the opposing forces on the eve of the Great Battle has been noted already. The destruction of the three metallic forts of the Asuras (Tripura) by Shiva, King Sibi giving away the ﬂesh of his body to save a dove that was pursued by a vulture, and the struggle between Krishna and the Asuras for the possession of the Sun are among other legends alluded to by the authors. The presence of a great ﬁre underneath the ocean, Uttara-Kuru (the Northern country) as a land of perpetual enjoyment, Arundhati as the ideal of chastity, the conception of the threefold debt- Rinatraya with which every man is born, the beliefs that the cakora bird feeds only on raindrops and that raindrops turn into pearls in particular circumstances, are instances of other Sanskritic ideas taken over bodily into the literature of the Sangam period. The Tolkappiyam is said to have been modelled on the Sanskrit grammar of the Aindra School.
Forms of Marriage: The Tolkappiyam states that marriage as a sacrament attended with ritual was established in the Tamil country by the Aryans. It is well-known that the earliest Dharmashastras mention eight forms of marriage as part of the Aryan code itself, the result of a blend between Aryan and pre- Aryan forms that prevailed in the North. These eight forms are mentioned in the Tolkappiyam and other works and much ingenuity is spending in accommodat- ing them to Tamil forms.
The Tamils had a relatively simple conception of marriage; they recognized the natural coming together of man and woman, and the natural differences in the manifestations of love, possibly due ultimately to differences in the physical conditions of the dif- ferent parts of the country. Natural love between a man and women, along with its different forms of expression was designated as the ﬁve tinais. They had also names for unilateral love, Kaikkilai and improper love, perundinai. Although the people of South India were fully acquainted with eight forms of marriage, yet they did not paid special attention to Vedic rituals and sacrements. Monogamy was the approved form that a common man had to follow. However, persons of prosperous status could marry and keep more than one wife. Tamil damsels enjoyed the liberty to marry persons of their choice.
Social Groups: Differences in status and economic conditions were accepted by all as part of the es- tablished order, and there is little evidence of any tendency to protest or revolt against them. The poets describe with equally intimate touches the unlettered Malavar who thrive on robbery in the Northern frontier of the Tamil land, the hunters (eniyar) with their huts full of bows and shields, the homes of shepherds who produced full quantities of curds and ghee for sale, and those of learned Brahmins versed in the Vedas and performing their daily ritual duties, including the entertainment of guests.
Apparently, Brahmins ate meat and drank toddy without incurring reproach. One poem in the Purananuru afﬁrms that there are only four castes (kudi), viz. tudiyan, panan, paraiyan and kadamban, and only one god worthy of being worshipped with paddy strewn before him, namely the hero-stone recalling the fall of a brave warrior in battle. These castes and this worship were of very great antiquity, perhaps survivals from pre-Aryan times. The practice of erecting hero-stones and of offering regular wor- ship to them continued throughout the Sangam Age and many centuries after. Foreigners (Yavanas) were numerous in the ports on the seacoast like Tondi, Mu- siri and Puhar (Kaveri-pattinam), which they visited for trade. Although unable to speak Tamil, they were employed as palace-guards in Madura and on police duty in the streets. Curiously, wrought lamps and wine in bottles ﬁgure prominently among the articles of trade brought to India by the Yavanas.
Position of Widows: Women are said to have given up eating greens and bathing in cold water when their husbands fell in battle. The lot of wid- ows was a hard one; they had to cut off their hair, discard all ornaments, and only eat the plainest food. No wonder, perhaps, that some wives preferred to die with their husbands and earn fame as satis. The tonsure of widows, it may be noted by the way, like the tying of the tali and the marriage ceremony, was obviously a pre-Aryan Tamil custom taken over and perpetuated into later times.
The heroism and devotion of the sati were doubt- less applauded by public opinion, but the practice was certainly not encouraged, much less enforced. The perfect wife was held to be one who, at the death of her husband, entered the burning pyre with as little concern as if she were entering cool water for a bath.
Other Social Activities: In the sphere of religion and ethics the inﬂuence of Northern ideas is most marked. The practice of walking some distance to escort a departing guest was observed by Karikala who went on foot for a distance of ‘seven steps’ (saptapadi) before requesting him to mount a chariot drawn by four milk-white steeds. The slaughter of a cow, the destruction of a foetus, and the killing of a Brahmin were accounted heinous offences, though ingratitude, according to the established code, was held to be even worse.
Life Style & Culture: The richer classes dwelt in houses of brick and mortar, the wall often bore paintings of divine ﬁgures and pictures of animal life. Royal palaces were surrounded by gardens taste- fully laid out. Houses and palaces were constructed according to rules laid down in the shastra, care being taken to start at an auspicious hour carefully determined before hand. The Nedunalvadai, one of the ‘Ten Idylls’, contains a detailed description of the women’s apartments in the palace of Nedunjeliyan, their walls and pillars and artistic lamps manufac- tured by the Yavanas. This is followed by an account of the equipment of the bedroom in the palace, its ivory bedsteads and superior cushions. High life even in those early days was thus no stranger to reﬁned luxuries. The wife was highly honoured and was held to be the light of the family. The common folk dwelt in humbler structures in the towns and villages, while outcastes and forest tribes lived in huts of sorts, which are also described in the poems. The making of rope charpoys by Pulaiyans and the use of animal skins as mats for lying on deserve to be noted. The Pattinappalai gives a vivid account of the life of the ﬁsher folk of Puhar, the Paradavar, including some of their holiday amusements.
Valuable hints on popular beliefs and customs are scattered among the poems. There was much faith in omens and astrology. One song mentions the portents, which preceded the death of ‘Sey of the elephant look’. A woman with disheveled hair was a bad omen. There were fortunetellers who plied a busy trade. Children were provided with amulets for warding off evil, and rites were practiced which were supposed to avert the mischief of demons (pey), to bring about rain, and produce other desired results.
The banyan tree was considered to be the abode of gods, while eclipses were held to be the result of snakes eating up the Sun and the Moon. Crows were believed to announce the arrival of guests, and particularly the return of the absent husband to his lonely wife, and were fed regularly in front of royal palaces, as well, perhaps, as in every household. Mass feeding of the poor was also known.
Trade & Commerce: Trade, both inland and foreign, was well organized and briskly carried on throughout the period; Tamil poems, classical authors and archaeological ﬁnds in South India all speak with one voice on this subject. The great port-cities were the emporia of foreign trade. Big ships, we are told, entered the port of Puhar without slacking sail, and poured out on the beach precious merchandise brought from overseas. The extensive bazaar of the great city was full of tall mansions of many apartments each with doorways, with verandahs and corridors.
The family life of the rich merchants was carried on in the upper ﬂoors, while the lower ones were set apart for business. Besides the ﬂags waving on the masts of ships in harbour, various other kinds of ﬂags advertised the different kinds of merchandise as well as the fashionable grog-shops. Saliyur in the Pandya country and Bandar in Chera are counted among the most important ports in the poems.
This trade increased in volume after Hippalus, an Egyptian pilot showed the possibility of large ships sailing with the monsoon straight across the ocean instead of small vessels hugging the coast and expos- ing themselves to many risks. Other ports of South India mentioned by the author in order are Balita (Varkalai), a village by the shore with a ﬁne harbour (Korkai) where were the pearl ﬁsheries of the Pandyan kingdom worked by condemned criminals; Camara (Kaveripattinam), Poduca (Pondi-cherry, Arikamedu) and Sopatma (Markanam).
There were three types of craft used on the east coast, ships of the country coasting along the shore, other large vessels made of single logs bound together, called sangara, and those which made the voyage to Chryse and to the Ganges which were called Colandia and were very large. He mentions Argaru (Uraiyur) as the place to which were sent all the pearls gathered on the coast and from which were exported muslins called Argaritic. About the ports on the east coast he adds: ‘There are imported into these places everything made in Damirica, and the greatest part of what is brought at any time from Egypt comes here.’ He notes further that a great quantity of muslins was made in the region of Masalia (Andhra country), and ivory was a special product of the country further North, Dosarene (i.e. Dasarna, Odisha).
The large quantities of gold and silver coins struck by all the Roman emperors down to Nero (A.D. 54-68) found in the interior of the Tamil land testify to the extent of the trade, the presence of Roman settlers in the Tamil country, and the periods of the rise and decay of this active commerce. Its beginnings may be traced to the reign of Augustus, if not to an earlier time, as a phenomenally large number bearing his stamps (and that of Tiberius) have been found.
Towards the end of the second century A.D. the direct trade between the Egyptian Greeks of the Ro- man Empire and India declined, the trafﬁc passing into the hands of the Arabians and, still more, the Auxumites of East Africa. A new era commenced with the rise of Constantinople in the fourth century A.D. Roman coins reappeared in South India, and embas- sies were received by Constantine from the people of the Maldives and Ceylon among others. Ceylon was becoming important in the trade of the Indian Ocean at this time, but the activities of the Byzantine period bear no comparison with those of the earlier age, which had drained the Roman Empire of much of its treasure and evoked protests from the ﬁnanciers of the empire as well as its moralists.
The trade of the early Roman Empire had wide ramiﬁcations and was bound up with much explo- ration and colonization on the part Greeco-Romans and Indians. When, after a long eclipse, the power of the Chola kings revived in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the seafaring instincts of the people had not deserted them and that, in the favourable con- ditions then obtaining, they attempted tasks more venturesome than anything they had achieved in the earlier age.
Internal trade was also brisk. Caravans of merchants with carts and pack animals carried their merchandise from place to place and from fair to fair. Salt was an important commodity of trade and salt merchants moved with their families in carts provided with spare axles against contingencies. Barter played a large part in all transactions.
Agriculture was the mainstay of the national economy, and most of its operations were carried on by women of the lowest class (kadaisiyar) whose status appears to have differed little from that of the slave. The bulk of the land was owned by Vellarar, the agriculturists par excellence, who commanded a high social rank. The richer among them did not plough the land themselves, but employed labourers to do it. Besides owning land, they held ofﬁcial posts in the civil and military administration, and the titles vel and arasu in the Chola country and Kavidi in the Pandya were applied to them. They not only enjoyed the jus connubi with royal families, but also shared with the king the duties of war and the pleasures of the chase and of the table. The poorer vellalars did not shun manual labour, but worked on their own small farms, as do the peasantry everywhere.
Spinning and weaving of cotton, and perhaps also of silk, had attained a high degree of perfection. Spin- ning was then, as always, the part-time occupation of women. The weaving of complex patterns on clothes and silk is often mentioned in literature and, accord- ing to the Periplus, Uraiyur was a great centre of the cotton trade. The poems mention cotton cloth as thin as the slough of the snake or a cloud of steam, so ﬁnely woven that the eye could not follow the course of the thread. Scissors and needles were known and employed in cutting hair and in dressmaking; a kind of hair pomade (tagaram) is mentioned also.