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Sangam Literature

Vedic culture in Tamil sangam literatures

Is the ancient Tamil culture of the Sangam period different from Hinduism and got corrupted by Aryan migration?

What are Sangam Literatures?

The Saṅgam age is the period in the history of ancient Tamil Nadu (the present Tamilnadu, Kerala, parts of Andhra Pradesh, parts of Karnataka, and northern Sri Lanka) spanning from 4th C.B.C to 2nd C.A.D. According to Tamil legends, there were three Saṅgam periods, viz., Thalai Saṅgam, Iḍai Saṅgam, and Kaḍai Saṅgam. However, the historians refer to only the Third Saṅgam or Kaḍai Saṅgam as the “Saṅgam period.”

Most of the available Saṅgam Literature is from the third Saṅgam period. This collection contains 2381 poems in Tamil composed by 473 poets, some 102 of whom remain anonymous. Now let’s discuss briefly abt Sangam literature.

(1) Tolkāppiyam: The author of this text is Tolkāppiyar (2ndB.C). This text contains about 1610 verses/sūtras. The text is divided into three sections viz., Eḻuttadhigāram with 480 verses, Solladhigāram with 465 verses, and Poruḷadhigāram with the remaining 665 verses.

  1. Pattuppāṭṭu (10 songs) : Tirumurugāṟṟppaḍai, Porunarāṟṟuppaḍai, Ciṟupāṇāṟṟuppaḍai, Perumpāṇā-ṟṟuppaḍai, Mullaipāṭṭu, Maduraikāñci, Neḍunalvāḍai, Kuruñjippāṭṭu, Paṭṭi-ṉappālai and Malaipaḍu-kaḍām (also known as Kūttarāṟṟuppaḍai)

Out of these, 5 are sung in the form of Āṟṟuppaḍai. This is a form of poetry where one poet suggests another poet, who he meets on the way to go to a certain nobleman & sing his poetry to get rewarded. Of these, the Thirumurugatrupadai (praising Murugan ) is an exception.

(3) Eṭṭuttogai: The Eṭṭuttogai texts are: Naṟṟiṇai, Kuṟunthogai, Aiṅkuṟunūṟu, Paripāḍal, Kalittogai, Aganāṉūṟu, Padiṟṟuppattu and Puṟanāṉūṟu. These texts are compilations of songs sung by different poets over a period of time in the Agam and Puṟam genres.

(4) Patinen-kil-kanaku : These are known as 18 lesser texts, mostly created during the post-Sangam period (100-500 CE). Among them the most famous one is TIRUKURAL.


Vedas in Sangam Literature

The ancient Tamils have always revered “Vedas” so much that you can literally see the importance given to it in many of the Sangam literature. Although it has been called by different names, one of the Sangam poems (Pura.224) quintessentially uses the word " Veda " in it. In another Sangam literature Maturaikkāñci, the word " Vedas " is used as such as it is in the verse 470 while referring to Hindu school. Note that there is also mention of Jain and Buddhist monastery in the same poem!

The four terms used in Sanskrit for Vedas are, " Vedas, chandhas, Aaamnaaya, and shruti " which were meaningfully tamilized as “pulam,marai,vaai mozhi and kelvi”. So the word “kelvi” is used in many places for vedas. Some eg., Patiṟṟuppattu(64) and Pura (361). In an interesting note, one of the literature Purananuru 166, it depicts the classification of “vedas” & “vedangas” into 4 and 6 types respectively. In Thirumurugatrupadai literature, there is mention of Brahmacharin who wore Yajnopavitha (sacred thread) made three strands of thread & He learned the Vedic studies for 48 yrs.

The culture of “Vānaprastha”-retiring to the forest is mentioned by the Poet Salliyankumaranār in " Natrinai " verse 141. In the Sangam literature, there r many places where Vedic rituals (yajnas) are, Pathitrupathu verse 21 by Pālai Gouthamanār. Also they r mentioned in so many places such as Pura (122), Pattinapālai (200), kalithogai (36,119), Thirumurugatrupadai (94-96). The famous Tamil kings that performed numerous Yajnas are " Kauniyan " " Mudukudumi-Peruvalutti " " Karikal Peruvalattan " " Selvakkadunkovaliyatan" etc. These are all mentioned in Purananuru in details.

Apart from these, there are many concepts of Vedic culture like Karma, birth & rebirth, sannyasi, etc mentioned in many different Sangam literatures. So in conclusion, one can say that the Ancient Tamil Sangam ppl (southern India) practiced the Vedic culture vehemently!