The Megalithic Background
- Kaveri delta was inhabited by people who are called megalith builders. They are known not from their actual settlements which are rare, but from their graves.
- These graves are called megaliths because they were encircled by big pieces of stone.
- They contain skeletons, pottery and iron objects of people who were buried there.
- The practice of burying goods in the graves with the dead bodies was based on the belief that the dead would need all these in the next world.
- Tridents have also been found in the megaliths.
- However, compared to the number of agricultural tools that were buried, those meant for fighting and hunting are large in number.
- The megaliths are found in all upland areas of the peninsula, but their concentration seems to be in eastern Andhra and in Tamil Nadu.
- The beginnings of the megahthic 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
- The cultural and economic contacts between the north and the deep South is known as Tamizhakam. The route to the south was called the Dakshinapatha.
- The Pandya country was known to Megasthenes who lived in Pataliputra.
- The earlier Sangam texts are familiar with the rivers Ganga and Son and also with Pataliputra which was the capital of the Magadhan empire.
- The Ashokan inscriptions mention the Cholas, Pandyas, Keralaputras and Satyaputras living on the borders of the empire; of these only the Satyaputras are not clearly identified. Tamrapamis or the people of Sri Lanka are also mentioned.
- These southern kingdom would not have developed without the spread of iron technology which promoted forest clearing and plough cultivation.
- Flourishing trade with the Roman Empire contributed to the formation of thethree 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.
Three Early Kingdoms
- The southern end of the Indian peninsula situated south of the Krishna R0iver was divided into three kingdoms - Chola, Pandya and Chera.
- The Pandyas are first mentioned by Megasthenes, who says that their kingdom celebrated for pearls.
- He also speaks of 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 it roughly included the modem districts of Tirunelveli, Ramnada and Madurai in Tamil Nadu. It had its capital at Madurai.
- 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) in early medieval times, was situated to the north-east of the territory of the Pandyas, between the Pennar and the Velar Rivers.
- We have some idea of the political history of the Cholas from the Sangam texts.
- Their chief centre of political power was Uraiyur, a place famous for cotton trade,
- In the middle of the second century B.C., a Chola king named Elara conquered Sri Lanka and ruled over it for nearly 50 years.
- A former history of the Cholas begins in the second century A.D. with their famous king He founded Puhar and constructed 160 km of embankment along the Kave
- This was built by 12,000 slaves who were brought as captives from Sri Lanka.
- Puhar is identical with Kaveripattanam, which was the Chola capital.
- It was a great centre of trade and commerce, and excavations show that it had a large dock. One of the main sources of the wealth of the Cholas was trade in cotton clolth 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.
- In the early centuries of the Christian era, the Chera country was as important as the country of the Cholas and the Pandyas.
- The Romans set up two regiments at Muziris identical with Cranganore in the Chera country to protect their interests. It is said that they also built there a temple of Augustus.
- According to the Chera poets their greatest king was Senguttuvan, the Red or Good Chera. It is said that he invaded the north and crossed the Ganga.
- These kingdoms were fairly rich. They grew spices, especially pepper, which was great demand in the western world. Their elephants supplied ivory, which was high valued in the West.
- The sea yielded pearls and their mines produced precious stones, and both these were sent to the West in good quantity. In addition to this they produced muslin and silk. We hear of cotton cloth as thin as the slough of a snake.
- The early Tamil poems also mention the weaving of complex patterns on silk.
- Uraiyur was noted for its cotton trade.
- In ancient times the Tamils traded with the Greek or Hellenistic kingdom of Egypt and Arabia on the one side, and with the Malay archipelago and from there with China.
- Thus for the first two and a half centuries A.D. the southern kingdoms carried on lucrative trade with the Romans.
- With the decline of this trade, these kingdoms also began to decay
The Purse and the Sword
- It was said of the Kaveri delta that the space in which an elephant could lie down produced enough to feed seven persons.
- In addition to this, the Tamil region produced grains, fruit, pepper and turmeric. It seems that the king had a share in all this produce.
- Apparently, out of the taxes collected from the peasantry, the state maintained a rudimentary army. Horses were imported by sea into the Pandyan kingdom.
Rise of Social Classes
- The brahmanas first appear in the Tamil land in the Sangam age. An ideal king was one who never hurt the brahmanas. Many brahmanas functioned as people, and in this role they were generously rewarded by the king. The Tamil brahmanas took meat and wine.
- Captains of the army were invested with the title of enadi at a formal ceremony.
- Civil and military offices were held under both the Cholas and the Pandyas by vellalas or rich peasants. The ruling class was called arasar.
- Agricultural operations were generally carried on by members of the lowest class (kadaisiyar). The pariyars were agricultural labourers who also worked in animal skins and used them as mats. We notice sharp social inequalities in the age of the Sangam.
Beginnings of Brahmanism
- The state and society that were formed in the Tamil land in the early centuries of the Christian era developed under the impact of brahmanism. The kings performed Vedic sacrifices.
- The chief local god worshipped by the people of the hilly region was Murugan, who came to be called Subramaniya in early medieval times.
Tamil Language and Sangam Literature
- The Sangam was a college or assembly of Tamil poets held probably under chiefly or royal patronage. But we do not know the number of Sangams or the period for which they were held.
- It is stated in a Tamil commentary of the middle of the eight century A.D. that three Sangams lasted for 9990 years. They were attended by 8598 poets, and had 197 Pandya kings as patrons.
- All that can be said is that a 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. But parts of this literature look back to at least the 200 A.D.
- 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 narrative Sangam texts also give some idea of the state formation in which the army consisted of groups of warriors, and the taxation system and judiciary appeared in rudimentary state.
- The texts also tell us about trade, merchants, craftsmen and farmers.
- They speak of several towns such as Kanchi, Korkai, Madurai, Puhar and Uraiyur.
- Of them Puhar or Kaveripattanam was the most important.
- Tolkkappiyam - This text deals with grammar and poetics.
- Tirukkural is an important Tamil text deals with philosophy and wise maxims.
- In addition to this we have the twin Tamil epics of Silappadikaram and Manimekala
- The two were composed around the sixth century A.D.
- The Silappadikaram is considered to be the brightest gem of early Tamil literature.
- It deals with a love story in which a dignitary called Kovalan prefers a courtesan calle Madhavi of Kaveripattanam to his noble wedded wife Kannagi.
- The author apparently seems to be a Jaina and tries to locate the scenes of the story in all the kingdoms of the Tamil country.
- The other epic Manimekalai was written by a grain merchant of Madurai.
- It deals with the adventures of the daughter born of the union of Kovalan and Madhavi though this epic is of more religious than literary interes.
- The art of writing was doubtless known to the Tamils before the beginning of the Christian era. More than 75 short inscriptions in the Brahmi script have been found natural caves, mainly in the Madurai region.
- It is therefore no wonder that considerable Sangam literature was produced in the early centuries of the Christian era, although it was finally compiled by A.D. 600.