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  • 24 Dec 2022 GS Paper 1 Indian Heritage & Culture

    Day 40

    Question 1. What is meant by Sangam literature? Describe the social, economic and political conditions that this literature depicts. (250 Words)

    Question 2. What is meant by 'megalithic phase' in the history of southern India? Discuss the state formation and rise of civilization during this phase.

    Answer 1


    • Introduce briefly the Sangam literature.
    • Discuss the social, economic and political conditions that Sangam literature depicts.
    • Conclude suitably.


    • Sangam was a college or assembly of Tamil poets held probably under chiefly or royal patronage. It is stated in a Tamil commentary of the middle of the eight century A.D. that three Sangams lasted for 9,990 years. They were attended by 8,598 poets and had 197 Pandya kings as patrons. Sangam was held under royal patronage in Madurai.
      • The available Sangam literature, which was produced by these assemblies, was compiled in circa A.D. 300- 600.
    • The Sangam literature can roughly be divided into two groups, narrative and didactic. The narrative texts are called Melkannakku or Eighteen Major Works. They comprise eighteen major works consisting of eight anthologies and ten idylls. The didactic works are called Kilkanakku or Eighteen Minor Works.


    Social Evolution from Sangam Texts:

    • The didactic texts cover the early centuries of the Christian era and prescribe a code of conduct not only for the king and his court but also for various social groups and occupations.
    • Besides the Sangam texts, we have a text called Tolkappiyam, which deals with grammar and poetics. Another important Tamil text called Tirukkural, deals with philosophy and wise maxims.
      • The twin Tamil epics of Silappadikaram and Manimekalai.
    • The art of writing was doubtless known to the Tamils before the beginning of the Christian era. More than 75 shorts in the Brahmi script have been found in natural caves, mainly in the Madurai region. They provide the specimens of the earliest form of Tamil mixed with Prakrit words.


    • Traces of early megalithic life appear in the Sangam texts. The earliest megalithic people seem to be prima- hunters and fishermen although they also produce rice.
    • Hoes and sickles and other iron objects include wedges, flat celts, arrowheads, long swords and lances, spikes and spearheads, horse-bits, etc. These tools were meant mainly for war and hunting.
    • The texts also tell us about trade, merchants, craftsmen and farmers and several towns such as Kanchi, Korkai, Madurai, Puhar and Uraiyur.
    • The Sangam references to towns and economic activities are attested by Greek and Roman accounts, and by the excavation of the Sangam sites.


    • The narrative Sangam texts also give idea of the state formation in which the army consisted of groups of warriors, and the taxation system and judiciary appeared in a rudimentary state.
    • The narrative texts are considered works of heroic poetry in which heroes are glorified and perpetual wars and cattle raids frequently mentioned.
      • They show that the early Tamil people were primarily pastoral.
    • This has some parallels in the Sangam texts which speak of perpetual war and cattle raids. The texts suggest that war booty was an important source of livelihood. They also state that when a hero dies, he is reduced to a of stone like the circles of stone which were raised on the graves of the megalithic people.
      • It may have led to the later practice of raising hero stones called virarkal in honour of the heroes who died fighting for king and other objects.


    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.

    Answer 2


    • Introduce megalithic phase in the history of southern India.
    • Discus the state formation and rise of civilization during this phase.
    • Conclude Suitably.


    • Up to second century B.C. upland portions of the peninsula were inhabited by people who are called megalith builders or graves builders. These graves are called megaliths because they were encircled by big pieces of stone.
      • They contain skeletons of people who were buried and also pottery (black-and-red ware) and iron objects (like arrowheads, spearheads, sickles, and Tridents, all made of iron). They were burying goods in the graves with the dead bodies
    • Megalithic people were hunters because number of agricultural tools were less than those meant for fighting and hunting.
    • The concentration of megaliths was found in eastern Andhra and in Tamil Nadu. The beginnings of the megalithic culture can be traced to circa 1000 B.C.
    • The Cholas, Pandyas and Keralaputras (Cheras) mentioned in Ashokan inscriptions were probably in the late megalithic phase of material culture.


    State Formation and Rise of Civilization:

    • By the third century B.C., the megalithic people had moved from the uplands into fertile river basins and reclaimed marshy deltaic areas.
    • They came to practise wet paddy cultivation, founded numerous villages and towns, and came to have social classes.
    • Cultural and economic contacts between the north and the deep south known as Tamizhakam became extremely important from the fourth century B.C. The route to the south called the Dakshinapatha was valued by the northerners because the south supplied gold, pearls and various precious stones.
    • These southern kingdoms developed with the spread of iron technology which promoted forest clearing and plough cultivation. The distribution of the punch-marked coins of the janapada and of the Imperial Magadhan type show the development of north-south trade.
    • Flourishing trade with the Roman empire contributed to the formation of the three states respectively under the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas. From the first century A.D. onwards the rulers of these peoples derived benefit from the exports and imports that went on between the coastal parts of south India on the one hand and the eastern dominions of the Roman empire, especially Egypt, on the other.

    Early Kingdoms:

    • Indian peninsula, south of the Krishna River was divided into three kingdoms -Chola, Pandya and Chera or Kerala.


    • As per Megasthenes, Pandyas’ kingdom was celebrated for pearls and its being ruled by a woman, which may suggest some matriarchal influence in the Pandya society.
      • The Pandya territory occupied the southern-most and the south-eastern portion of the Indian peninsula, and with its capital at Madurai.
      • The literature compiled in the Tamil academies in the early centuries of the Christian era and called the Sangam literature refers to the Pandya rulers. The Pandya kings profited from trade with the Roman empire and sent embassies to the Roman emperor Augustus.
      • The brahmanas enjoyed considerable influence, and the Pandya king performed Vedic sacrifices in the early centuries of the Christian era.


    • The Chola kingdom, which came to be called Cholamandalam (Coromandel) was situated to the north-east of the territory of the Pandyas.
    • Their chief centre of political power lay at Uraiyur, a place famous for cotton trade. It seems that in the middle of the second century B.C.
    • Puhar is identical with Kaveripattanam, which was the Chola capital. It was a great centre of trade and commerce; it also had a large dock.
    • One of the main sources of the wealth of the Cholas was trade in cotton cloth. They maintained an efficient navy.


    • The Chera or the Kerala country was situated to the west and north of the land of the Pandyas. It included the narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains and covered portions of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
    • The history of the Cheras was marked by continuous fight with the Cholas and the Pandyas.
    • According to the Chera poets their greatest king was Senguttuvan, the Red or Good Chera. After the second century A.D. the Chera power declined, and we know nothing of its history until the eighth century A.D.


    In the peninsular India, the civilizational journey which had started from the megalithic culture evolved by the peninsular rulers and flourished in the greatest empire like Vijayanagar and Cholas of medieval India.

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