Who is the father of Sangam literature? History and Literature of Sangam Literature , Sangam literature, one of the oldest known literatures in India, is a treasured corpus of Tamil poetry. This remarkable literature, dating from the early centuries of the Common Era, provides a vivid snapshot of the ancient Tamil society, its beliefs, and customs. Often, when discussing Sangam literature, one name consistently emerges as its founding pillar: Agastya. Agastya, sometimes referred to as the ‘father’ of Sangam literature, played an instrumental role in its development.
1. Who was Agastya?
Agastya is a revered Vedic sage, traditionally associated with the Tamil region’s cultural and linguistic evolution. Myths and legends surround this sage, with texts such as the Puranas attributing several miracles to him. One such legend is his role in stabilizing the Vindhyas, a mountain range, by asking it to cease its growth. While Agastya’s historicity might be clouded in myth, his influence on the Tamil literary and linguistic landscape is undeniable. Who is the father of Sangam literature? History and Literature of Sangam Literature
Reference: Mahabharata, Ramayana, various Puranas.
Sangam Literature Language
Sangam Literature, often hailed as the epitome of ancient Tamil literary tradition, encapsulates the richness and diversity of the Tamil language in its classical form. As one navigates through the verses of Sangam texts, they not only unravel the poetic brilliance of the time but also the linguistic intricacies that set the foundation for the modern Tamil language. This piece seeks to provide an understanding of the language of Sangam Literature.
The language used in Sangam Literature is Classical Tamil or ‘Sen-Tamil’. This form of Tamil predates the current modern standard version and boasts unique grammatical and literary structures. It provides a significant contrast to the later medieval and modern Tamil both in terms of vocabulary and syntax.
Tolkappiyam, the oldest extant Tamil grammar, lays the foundation for the language of Sangam Literature. This treatise, attributed to the sage Tolkappiyar, provides exhaustive rules that governed the language’s morphology, phonology, and syntax during the Sangam period.
A unique feature of Sangam Literature is the concept of ‘Tinai’, which associates particular landscapes with specific emotions or themes. The language, in its descriptions and metaphors, is tailored to fit these landscapes. For instance, ‘Kurinji’ (mountainous terrain) is often linked with clandestine love, and the vocabulary used resonates with this setting, encompassing the flora, fauna, and ethos of the mountains.
Agattinai and Purattinai:
The Sangam language often fluctuated between ‘Agattinai’ (inner field, dealing with personal emotions and relationships) and ‘Purattinai’ (outer field, focusing on valor, ethics, and societal aspects). The diction used would be attuned to the theme being discussed.
The Sangam-era Tamil had a rich lexicon, drawing from nature, society, and the experiences of daily life. There was an abundance of synonyms, allowing poets to pick words with precision to suit the rhythm, context, and emotion.
2. Agastya and the Tamil Language
Agastya is often credited with standardizing the Tamil language. The tale goes that Lord Shiva, noticing that Sanskrit was becoming predominant, instructed Agastya to descend to the south and create a grammar for the Tamil people. This grammar, named ‘Agattiyam,’ became a seminal work, laying the foundation for Tamil literature. While the actual text of Agattiyam has been lost to history, its influence remains in the subsequent grammatical texts.
Reference: Tamil tradition, accounts from Tholkappiyam (the oldest surviving Tamil grammar).
3. The Sangam Assemblies
The term ‘Sangam’ refers to the poetic academies sponsored by the ancient Tamil kings. According to traditional accounts, there were three Sangams. Agastya played a pivotal role in the first Sangam. This assembly of poets and scholars, under Agastya’s guidance, crafted the linguistic and literary conventions of Tamil poetry. In the tapestry of Tamil history, few elements shine as brightly as the Sangam Assemblies. Often evoked to exemplify the zenith of ancient Tamil literary and scholarly pursuits, the Sangam Assemblies (or Sangams) represent a convergence of artistic, linguistic, and intellectual fervor. The word “Sangam” is derived from the Tamil word “Sanga,” which means “group” or “assembly.” These were gatherings or academies of poets and scholars that came together under the patronage of the ancient Tamil kings.
First Sangam (Mutaṭṭāṉ Sangam): Legend has it that this Sangam was held in the city of Thenmadurai, which was later submerged by the sea. It’s believed that Agastya, the legendary Vedic sage, presided over this assembly. This Sangam lasted for 4,440 years and saw the participation of 549 poets, producing a staggering 4449 works. However, none of these compositions have survived to the modern day.
Second Sangam (Idaikkaṭṭāṉ Sangam): Hosted in the city of Kapatapuram, this Sangam too faced a similar fate to its predecessor with its city being swallowed by the sea. Lasting for 3,700 years, this assembly had 59 members who produced around 3,700 poems. From this extensive body of work, only the ‘Tolkappiyam’, a treatise on grammar and poetics, survives today.
Third Sangam (Kaḍai Sangam): Located in the present-day city of Madurai, this Sangam thrived for 1,850 years. This period was immensely fruitful, producing much of the extant Sangam literature we revere today, including masterpieces like the Ettuthogai (Eight Anthologies) and Pattuppāṭṭu (Ten Idylls).
Reference: Iraiyanar Akapporul, an ancient Tamil text.
4. Characteristics of Sangam Literature
Sangam literature’s beauty lies in its rich tapestry of themes and emotions. These poems can be broadly classified into two categories: ‘Aham’ (love) and ‘Puram’ (war and society). The landscape, or ‘Tinai,’ plays a crucial role, with each setting having specific emotions associated with it. This deep intertwining of nature with human emotion is a defining feature of Sangam poetry.
Reference: Tholkappiyam, Kuruntokai, and other Sangam texts.
5. Sangam Literature’s Significance
Beyond just poetic beauty, Sangam literature is a window into ancient Tamil society. It presents a society that valued honor, love, and bravery. The detailed descriptions of daily life, the flora and fauna, trade activities, and the social and political hierarchy provide invaluable information about a civilization that existed over two millennia ago.
The title ‘Ainkurunuru’ can be broken down into ‘Ain’ (meaning five), ‘Kurunuru’ (meaning a collection of 100). This anthology consists of 500 short poems, each exploring the theme of love in its various forms and nuances. The poems in Ainkurunuru are structured around the traditional five Tamil landscapes or ‘Tinais’. Each landscape, be it the mountains, forests, agricultural lands, seashores, or the desert, is paired with a particular facet of love, ranging from new-found affection to lamentation over separation.
6. Legacy and Influence
The Sangam era’s literary conventions laid the foundation for subsequent Tamil literature. Even today, modern Tamil poets often draw inspiration from Sangam themes and styles. Moreover, the Sangam age is often romanticized in contemporary Tamil culture, and its ideals are viewed as a gold standard for societal values and literary excellence.
Reference: Later Tamil literary works like Silappatikaram, Manimekalai.
Sangam Literature texts
1. Ettuthogai (The Eight Anthologies)
- Ainkurunuru: A collection of 500 short poems dealing with the five Tinai (landscapes) that define the various moods of love.
- Kuruntokai: Featuring 400 poems, it provides a comprehensive view of love in various situations.
- Nariviruttam: A sequence of 100 poems that celebrate the love between a man and woman.
- Paripāṭal: It contains 70 poems, some of which praise the goddess Vaikai and the city of Madurai, while others describe the love between men and women.
- Akananuru: Focused mainly on ‘Puram’ (exterior) themes, it contains 400 poems largely centered on war, valor, and ethics.
- Kalittokai: It stands out for its unique form of ‘Akaval’ meter and deals with the darker shades of love.
- Purananuru: This anthology of 400 poems celebrates the valour of kings and chieftains and provides a detailed picture of the socio-political climate of ancient Tamilakam.
- Padirruppattu: Also known as the ‘Ten Tens’, this anthology praises various kings and their magnanimity.
2. Pattuppāṭṭu (The Ten Idylls)
- Tirumurugarruppatai: One of the most famous, this idyll is a guide to the six abodes of Murugan, a popular deity in Tamil tradition.
- Porunararruppatai: This focuses on the life of the wandering bard and gives a rich portrayal of the life of various sections of ancient Tamil society.
- Sirupanarruppatai: Celebrates the chieftain Nalli and provides a detailed view of the poet’s journeys.
The other idylls in this collection further explore themes of valor, love, and the natural landscapes of Tamilakam.
3. Pathinenkilkanakku (The Eighteen Minor Texts)
- Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar: Often considered the jewel of Tamil literature, this text offers guidance on virtue, wealth, and love in 1330 couplets.
- Nalatiyar: Comprising 400 verses, this text imparts moral lessons using metaphors from daily life.
Agastya’s role in shaping Sangam literature is both symbolic and substantive. While the actual historical details may be obscured by myth, what remains clear is that Sangam literature, with its evocative poetry and detailed social commentary, is a testament to the rich literary tradition of ancient Tamil society. Agastya, as the ‘father’ of this literature, remains an enduring symbol of this legacy. Who is the father of Sangam literature? History and Literature of Sangam Literature