Sangam Literature

The scientific analysis of the Sangam literature says that this work was composed in 120-150 years and most of the literature was composed from 100 AD to 250 AD. This is entire different from what has been mentioned in the Iraiyanar Akapporul and Sangam legend. There are 2289 poems available under Sangam Literature now; many of them are very short having only 3-5 verses. 102 of them are anonymous. The number of poets estimated is 473.

Earliest Extant Tamil Work: Tolkāppiyam

Tolkāppiyam is a work of Tamil Grammar, which is said to be the earliest extant work of Tamil Literature. There are three books in Tolkāppiyam viz. Ezhuttadikaram, Solladikaram and Poruladikaram, and each of them are composed of nine chapters. This work has divided the Tamil Language into two types’ viz. Sentamil (Classical Tamil) and Kotuntamil (Spoken Tamil). Sentamil is used in almost all literary works of the Tamil Language.

Earliest Tamil Work: Agattiyam

However, the first work on Tamil Grammar, which is not extant and is lost irretrievably, is Agattiyam. Rishi Agastya wrote it. Tolakappiar who wrote the above-mentioned Tolkāppiyam is said to be a disciple of Rishi Agastya. As per the Tamil traditions, Rishi Agasyta invented the Tamil Language and brought its syntax from the lord Shiva.

Themes of Sangam Literature

On the basis of interpretation and context, the Sangam literature can be described into two types viz. Agam (inner) and Puram (outer). The topics of Agam are related to personal and human aspects such as love and sexual things. The topics of Puram are related to human experiences and emotions such as Heroism, Valor, Ethics and Philanthropy. The poems have also been classified on nature themes which are known as Thinai. The themes are as follows:

  • Kurinji (Mountianous Theme).
  • Mullai (Forests Theme)
  • Marutham (Agricultural Land Theme)
  • Neithal (Coastal Theme)
  • Paalai (Desert Theme)

The literature was lost and forgotten. The Tamil Scholars S V Damodaram Pillai and U V Swamitha Iyer brought it into light. They printed and published different works such as Tholkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar urai, Tholkappiyam Senavariyar urai, Manimekalai, Cilappatikaram, Pattupattu, and Purananuru in different parts of the 19th century, all with commentaries.

Classification of Sangam Literature

Broadly, we can divide the Sangam literature in 2 parts viz. Patinenmēlkanakku and Patinenkīlkanakku. Out of them, the Patinenmēlkanakku refers to the oldest surviving Tamil Poetry of the Sangam Age, dating back to 200 BC to 100 BC while the Patinenkīlkanakku refers to the collection of 18 poetic works, which belongs to Post Sangam period, and date back to 100 AD to 500 AD. This classification has been further summarized as follows:

[table id=48 /]


This is the collection of the Sangam Period works. Ettutokai is a large volume of the poems which is consisting of more than 2000 poems. These works, which are called “The Eight Anthologies”, are on deferent themes such as Narrinai on love, Kuruntokai on love, Aiankurunuru on erotic love etc. So most works of Ettukottai are of Agam style. Most works of Pattuppāttu are of Puram context and they have works on seasons and picturesque nature of Tamil Country. They are based upon the themes of the nature.


Patinenkīlkanakku is the post Sangam work that is of Agam as well as Puram context. Some important points of some of these works is as follows:

  • Naaladiyar was composed by Jain monks and the theme is the transient nature of life and youth. It was work of Nalatiyar.
  • Nanmanikkatiga is the collection of 100 songs of Vilambi Naganaar and deals conditions / emotions of 4 types of people who cannot sleep in the night and they are thief, lovelorn, after money, and worrying about losing money.
  • Inna Narpathu describes the things which should be avoided by the people. It deals with the things that bring unhappiness such as beautiful but disloyal wife, wealth of a miser, life under a tyrant and a beautiful flower without fragrance.
  • Iniyavai Narpathu deals with the things which should not be avoided by a person and seek even in adverse situations such as learning even by begging, advice of learned persons, healthy children, and not coveting other’s spouse.
  • Kalavazhi Narpathu deals with war and politics.
  • Ainthinai Aimpathu deals with human emotions, love, separation, lovers’ quarrels.
  • Thinaimozhi Aimpathu also deals with the Agam subjects such as love, seperation, lover fights etc.
  • Same is with Ainthinai Ezhupathu.
  • Same is with Thinaimalai Nurru Aimpathu .
  • Thirukkural is the first work in all of the Dravidian literature which deals with the ehics. It was authored by Thiruvalluvar. It is also known as Kural and is a collection of 1330 couplets.
  • Thirikatukam deals with herbal medicines.
  • Acharakkovai deals with the personal behavior and correct methods to follow.
  • Pazhamozhi Nanuru deals with the character of the person.
  • Siruppanchamulam deals with the nature and combines the benevolent humans with benevolent neighbors.
  • Muthumozhikkanch deals with the right behavior and chastity.
  • Elathi deals with human qualities and also narrates some herbal medicines.
  • Kainnilai deals with the agam concepts.

Impact of Sanskrit on Tamil Literature

The Tamil language and literature did not flourish in isolation and was influenced by Sanskrit. The Aryans had penetrated the whole of the Tamil Land by 6th century AD and Post Sangam literature contains some traces of Aryan Culture. Influence of Sanskrit is more on the five epics of Tamil Literature, which were written between 1st century AD to 9th century AD. Out of them Silappatikaram, which was written by Ilango Adigal, brother of Senguvattan, a Chera King and who was a Jain monk is a highly regarded epic. The other four epics are

  • Manimegalai which is a Buddhist Religious Work
  • Civaka Chintamani which is a Jain Religious work
  • Valayapathi which is also a Jain work of 9th Century
  • Kundalkesi which is a Buddhist work of 5th century by Nagasena.



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