This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
The bulk of this body of works in Tamil partakes of the character of heroic pieces celebrating incidents in the lives of particular patrons, or illustrative of various modes of composition according to the canons of Tamil rhetoric. Several of these fugitive pieces are like the heroic tales from out of which sprang
Homer's Iliad, and, according to modern criticism, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata of our own country. As such therefore they are of great value historically. Most of these are short poems relating to some particular kind of emotion, or to the exploits of an individual hero, and fall into two classes which might be labelled for convenience "erotic" and "heroic." As a rule these are short poems in various styles of composition, and should have been collected and thrown into the form in which they have come down to us, at a particular period. In collecting them, this classification into two is the main principle of division. There are various cross divisions which are of minor importance for our purposes. The feature that makes them all common to a particular period of activity of this body of learned men, is that a very large number of these collections receives poems in invocation from one poet Perum-Devanar who is distinguished from others of the name by the qualifying designation "who rendered the Bharata in Tamil." There are 4 celebrities of this name Perum-Devanar, in Tamil literature and the attribute is absolutely necessary to mark out the particular individual. The Bharatam that he composed in Tamil has not come down to us, and is quite different from the portion of the Tamil Bharata that is available as the work of another Perurm-Devan. The rendering of the Bharatam in Tamil, the establishment of the Sangam in Madura and the winning of a victory over the forces of the other Tamil kings and chiefs at a place called Talai-Alanganam are described as the achievements of an ancient Pandyan in the Sinnamanur-grant of the 10th century.1 This ancient Pandya is treated as distinct from and as having preceded by a stretch of time, the dynasty to which the donor of the Velvikudi-grant, who is the seventh in succession from the first member of this particular dynasty, belonged according to the genealogy of the Pandyas accepted by the Epigraphists.
One of the most important of these collections which is known to Tamil scholars under two names Ahananuru, which means the 400 relating to "erotics," or Nedum-togai, meaning collection of longer poems, was made by a Brahman Rudrasarman, the son of Uppurikudi-Kilan of Madura at the instance of the Pandyan Ugrapperuvaludi. This by itself would not lead us very far; but this Budrasarman comes in contact with a well known poet and president of the Sangam by name Narkirar who wrote the accepted commentary on an abridged work on the vast department of rhetoric relative to this particular section of Tamil poetry. This poet Narkirar was the contemporary of the Pandyan victor at Talai-Alanganam. Hence this great Pandyan, Narkirar, Rudras'arman, and Perurii-Devan all belonged apparently to the same generation, and that is the generation when the Sangam activity was at its height under this Pandya, and Narkirar, when the Bharata was rendered into Tamil verse by Perurh-Devanar and the Ahananuru was collected into its present form by Rudrasarman. The works therefore which are thus collected relate to the generations preceding, several of them proximate, some of them, it might even be remote. It would be impossible in this context, to deal in sufficient fulness with all the arguments that would enable us to fix the age of this Sangam activity. But some of the more salient arguments that lead to the conclusion that the age of the Sangam is the first and the second century of the Christian era may be indicated:-
1 Madras Epigraphist's Report, 1907, pp. 62-67.
(1) The whole body of the Sangam works taken collectively give us a picture of the Tamil country in a period of great prosperity.
(2) There are a considerable number of references direct and indirect to active trade both internal and oversea.
(3) This commercial prosperity and the prevalence of comparative peace is reflected in the writings of the classical authors from whom we gain a considerable amount of knowledge of the commercial prosperity of the land.
(4) There is no indication in this vast body of literature of the existence of various dynasties of the Pallavas known to history. The rulers of Kanchi appear as viceroys of the Cholas, and oftentimes princes of the blood-royal of the Cholas. The only chieftain who is called in Tamil "Ton-daman" is "Tondaman Ilam-Tirayan " said to be the son of a Chola ruler by a Naga princess. His designation Ilam-Tirayan presumes another Tirayan, and there is one such not associated necessarily with Kanchi. The name Tondiayar is given to the people inhabiting the country round Kanchi; and the hill of Tirupati, the northern limit of the Tamil country, is said to have been in the country of Tondiayar or the Pallavas, thus establishing the equation that the people called Tondiayar in Tamil are the Pallavas of Sanskrit.1
The inference is clear that the age of the Sangam activity must be regarded pre-Pallava in character.
(5) An epic work composed of the twin kavya Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai, not a Sangam work in the sense that it received the Sangam imprimatur, is the work of two authors. The first was written by a Chera prince, a younger brother of the great Chera ruler Sem-Kuttuvan, who adopted the life of an ascetic; and the second by his friend Sittalai-Sattan of Madura, who was one among the 49 who composed the third Sangam and a friend both of the King Sem-Kuttuvan and his ascetic brother Ilamko-Adikal. Sem-Kuttuvan undoubtedly was a Sangam celebrity having been celebrated in several poems by poets like Pa ranar, which poems are found in the collections known as the Sangam collection. Without going into fuller detail we might say at once that he was the exact contemporary of Gajabahu of Ceylon, undoubtedly the earlier of the two Gajabahus in the Ceylon list.
1 Old poem quoted by Nachchinarkiniyai- in his comment on Sutra 54 of Poruladhikaram.
The name Gajabahu occurs as among those who congratulated Sem-Kuttuvan on the successful celebration of the establishment of the temple to the goddess Pattini (chaste-lady) in his capital of Vanji. Attempts have been made to get round this by saying that this reference occurs outside the body of the work and by arguments based thereon. Except betraying the ignorance which often adds emphasis to an opinion, the objection is not worth consideration. It may be pointed out that this reference to Gajabahu among those that were present, occurs in the body of the poem in line 160 of canto thirty, not in the epilogue that comes at the end of it; although the statement in regard to the establishment of a temple to this same goddess in Ceylon by this Gajabahu occurs in the 3 prologue which might be the composition of another author and possibly of a later time even. Without labouring the point further it is clear that this particular period of activity of the Sangam must be referred to the second century A.D. The works collected during this period have undoubtedly a range of a few generations which may amount at least to a century, possibly to a period much longer.
This body of literature relating to the two sections already indicated contain embedded in them many expressions by way of compliment or some otherwise to actual patrons. They give a number of ethnographical and geographical details of an important character relating to various parts of the country, and various other details from which important inferences could be drawn if they should be sorted and arranged with sufficient knowledge of the general background in which to set these small details. In dealing with the whole matter the classical grammarians recognise two modes which, for convenience, may be described as the conventional and the real. The first of these they call nadaha valakku (the dramatic usage) in which it is open to them to introduce creations of pure imagination. It seems nevertheless to be an understanding that as the purpose of these works is the general impression that these produce upon the people for didactic purposes, they must still have a realistic colour. To achieve this they make use of even real historical material somewhat idealised to produce the correct impression according to their notions. This mode is applicable generally to subjects that come under the classification "erotics." In regard to the really dramatic part of the subjects treated, viz., those which relate to action, the mode adopted is that of what actually obtained in the world around them, ulak-iyal-valakku (the usage of actual life). This section having mainly to do with the doings of kings and chiefs, both principal and subsidiary, are admittedly of a historical character.1 In the use, therefore, of the mass of material which, with labour, one could collect from this literature, a considerable degree of discrimination and judgment is required. Carefully studied and properly selected one could obtain a very considerable knowledge of the history of the times to which this body of literature relates.
For an examination of this literature the standard work of grammar and rhetoric is the Tolkappiyam though its original, Agattiyam comes in for large application, though the work itself is not extant. The traditional belief among Pandits is that the text of the Tolkappiyam, as we have it at present, is anterior to the great bulk of this class of literature now extant. Reading through the various commentators on this vast grammatical work one often comes across statements which would imply the existence of a body of this kind of literature before a systematic work like the Tolkappiyam could have been written. That, however, is matter which it is hardly necessary to labour in this connection. What is to the point here is that the literature available contains a considerable mass of material which with judgment could be made to yield very good material for history. Such as it is, it does not take us back beyond Mauryan times.
1 Tolkappiyam Porul 58 and comment thereon by NachchinSrkkiniyar and I lam Puranar.