Sangam Literature - UPSC Ancient Indian History (Art & Culture)

Sangam literature is the name given to the earliest available Tamil literature. The Sangam age roughly extends between 300 BC and 300 AD*, although most of the work is believed to have been composed between 100 CE and 250 CE.

The word ‘Sangam’ literally means association. Here, it implies an association of Tamil poets that flourished in ancient southern India. The Ancient Tamil Siddhar Agastyar is traditionally believed to have chaired the first Tamil Sangam in Madurai. This period is known as the Sangam Period. The three chief Tamil kingdoms of this period were the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas.

The term Sangam was coined by later scholars. In this article, you can read relevant information about Sangam Literature for the IAS Exam. In total, there are about 2300 poems that are attributable to 473 poets.

Sangam Literature – UPSC Ancient Indian History Notes (Art & Culture):-  Download PDF Here

Get crisp and to-the-point answers to various questions about Sangam Literature and Sangam Age by referring to the links given below:

Sangam Literature Classification

There were mainly three Sangams called Muchchangam. The chief sources of information for this age are archaeological sources, literary sources and foreign accounts.

Sangam Literature Classification
Based on Period of Composition Details of Sangam Literature
  1. Works composed between 200 BCE to 100 BCE
  2. Oldest surviving Tamil poetry
  1. Works composed between 100 CE and 500 CE
  2. Collection of 18 poetry compositions
  3. Mostly composed before the age of the Pallavas
  4. Chief works include Thirukkural, Palamoli, Naladiyar, etc.
Based on the Context and Interpretation Details of Sangam Literature
Aham (Inner) Abstract discussion on human aspects such as love, sexual relations, etc.
Puram (outer) Human experiences such as heroism, customs, social life, ethics, philanthropy, etc.

Sangam Literature – Three Sangams

As mentioned before, Tamil legends talk about three Sangams:

  1. Madurai
  2. Kapadapuram
  3. Thenmadurai


All the works of the first two Sangams except Tolkappiyam (2nd Sangam work) are lost. Only the works of the third Sangam survives.

Sangam Literature – Tolkappiyam

  • Composed by Tolkappiyar.
  • Oldest extant Tamil work till date.
  • Dated between 4th and 5th century CE.
  • Offers information on social life, human psychology, political and economic conditions during the Sangam Age.
  • Also discusses Tamil grammar.
  • The work is divided into three sections, each section further divided into nine chapters.
  • Contains a total of 1612 sutras which are extensive in their range.
  • Sanskrit influence on this work is peripheral and very little.

Third Tamil Sangam

The compositions of the third Sangam are classified into eight anthologies known as Ettuttokoi/Ettuthokai and ten idylls known as Pattuppattu.


It consists of the following works:

  1. Natrinai
  2. Kuruntogai
  3. Ainkurunuru (composed by Gudalur Mar)
  4. Pathitrupathu
  5. Paripadal
  6. Kalittogai
  7. Ahanuru (compiled by Rudrasarman)
  8. Purananuru


It consists of the following works:

  1. ThiruMurugatrupadai (composed by Nakkirar)
  2. Sirupanarruppadai
  3. Perumbanarruppadai
  4. Pattinappalai
  5. Maduraikkanji
  6. Porunararrupadai
  7. Kurinchippattu
  8. Nedunalvadai
  9. Malaipadukadam
  10. Mullaippattu

The third Sangam saw the Patinenkilkanakku. They mainly deal with moral values. The most important among them is the Thirukkural, also simply called the Kural. Other important works are Palamoli (by Munrurai Araiyar) and Acharakkovai (contains a description of the daily life of an orthodox Hindu, shows the influence of the Sanskrit Shastras).

Sangam & Thirukkural

  • First Dravidian work for ethics.
  • Comprises of 1330 couplets.
  • It has been translated into many languages including foreign languages.
  • It discusses epics, love, and polity and governance.
  • Authored by Thiruvalluvar.

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Post-Sangam Period

This period lasted from 200 to 600 CE. This age saw the composition of five great epics in Tamil:

  • Silappadikaram
  • Manimekalai
  • Jivaka Chintamani
  • Valaiyapati and
  • Kundalakesi.

There are also five minor works authored by Jain writers.

Sangam & Silappadikaram

  • Composed by Ilango Adigal.
  • The story revolves around an anklet. The name literally means the tale of an anklet.
  • Author Ilango Adikal is supposed to be an ascetic-prince and the younger brother of Cheran king Senguttuvan.
  • A chief character is Kannagi, who seeks revenge on the Pandya kingdom for her husband who was wrongly put to death.
  • The poem gives a lot of insight into contemporary Tamil society, polity, values and social life of the people.

Sangam & Manimekalai

  • Composed by Chithalai Chathanar, also spelt Sattanar.
  • It is a sequel to Silappadikaram.
  • The author’s aim was to propagate Buddhism in South India as the work espouses the values of Buddhism over other religions of the time.

To know the political history of the Sangam Period, aspirants can follow the linked article.

Important Facts about Sangam Age for UPSC

There are important facts stated in Tamil Nadu state board books of class 11th & 12th which aspirants sometimes miss. Read the table below to get those facts:

In which Sangam work, is there a mention of the enormous wealth of Nandas? The Sangam work Ahananuru written by the poet Mamulanar mentions Nandas’ wealth
Does Sangam Literature have any mention of Mauryas? Yes, the Sangam literature talks about the Mauryan invasion of the far south
What is Sangam popularly known as? Muchchangam
Under whose patronage did the Sangam flourish? Under the patronage of famous south Indian kingdom known as Pandyas
Which is the earliest of Tamil literature? Tolkappiyam written by Tolkappiyar
Who is the primary deity of the Sangam period? Seyon or Murugan is told to be the chief deity

There are a few topics important from ancient Indian history perspective, which are linked in the table below:

Prehistoric period Indus Valley Civilization Mauryan empire
Gupta Empire Types of Vedas Coinage of India

Frequently Asked Questions on Sangam Literature


Q 1. What are the types of Sangam literature?

Ans. Sangam literature includes Tolkappiyam, Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, Pathinenkilkanakku, and two epics named – Silappathikaram and Manimegalai.

Q 2. What is Sangam Literature?

Ans. The Sangam literature was historically known as ‘the poetry of the noble ones’. In literal terms, Sangam means ‘association’ and the literature that connotes ancient Tamil literature is known as Sangam literature. It is South India’s earliest known literature.

Q 3. When was Sangam literature composed?

Ans. Sangam literature is believed to be compiled between 400 BC and 300 BC. Tolkappiyam is said to be the oldest extant Tamil work till date.

Q 4. How is Sangam literature important?

Ans. Sangam literature is one of the main sources used for documenting the early history of the ancient Tamil country, be it the kings, rulers, poets, etc.

Related Links:

Documents Required for UPSC Exam Language Papers in UPSC – Tips to Study UPSC Admit Card
UPSC 2023 Calendar Time Table for UPSC Preparation Ancient Indian History Notes
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