From what has been said above it is clear that any definite knowledge of South India does not reach back beyond the Mauryan period. What we do learn from the scanty sources of information accessible to us gives us but a glimpse into the political condition of India in the age of the Mauryas. Such glimpses as we get warrant the presumption that the states of the south must have had an anterior history of some length. Our knowledge of that history however does not carry us back beyond the period of the Mauryas. Thus the Buddhist chronicles of Ceylon which pretend to carry us back to the age of the Buddha himself are so meagre in point of that history before the age of Asoka that the conclusion seems inevitable that there was in Ceylon itself no real knowledge of its history anterior to the age of the great Buddhist emperor. We shall presently see that such information as we get from Tamil Literature does not take us any further back than this, and we are driven round again to the same conclusion that our knowledge of the history of the south dates back to the age of the Mauryas and no farther, although absence of information available to us does not inevitably mean absence of history in the region concerned.

The Main Source of Information, Tamil Literature.

The main source of information for the period previous to the rise of the Pallavas into importance is Tamil Literature, of which we have a body with a character all its own. This body of works is known among Tamil Scholars by the collective designation, "Sangam works." This designation assumes the existence of a body 2 or an academy of scholars and critics, whose imprimatur was necessary for the publication of any work of literature in Tamil. The Tamil word "Sangam' is the Sanskrit "Sangha" and means ordinarily no more than an assembly. In this particular application, however it means a body of scholars, of recognised worth and standing in the world of letters, who were maintained by the contemporary kings and constituted themselves a board before whom every work seeking recognition had to be read. It is only when this body as a whole signified its approval that the work could go forth into the world as a Sangam work. It does not, however, mean that other works were not written and published. There are some which have come down to us, which do not appear to have gone before the Sangam. The function of this body seems therefore to be merely to set up a standard of excellence for works which aspire to the dignity of Sangam works. Tamil Scholars recognise a body of works that are acknowledged to have passed this gauntlet of criticism among the Sangam works. Some others also are included in this group apparently as belonging to the same age and partaking of the same character. This is not done by scholars of today, nor is it a matter purely of present-day opinion. The commentators who lived five or six centuries before us, and more, also make this classification and treat the works accordingly. It is the tradition of the commentators that has come down to us and the whole position in respect of this classification rests upon the authority generally of these commentators.

Of these Sangams, tradition knows of three. The numbers of scholars in the first and the second, and the numbers of Pandya kings that took an active part in the work of these bodies, were according to this tradition very large. Although some of the works referred to as belonging to these Sangams, and mentioned as such, have come down to us in isolated quotations the actual existence of these bodies as stated in tradition would be difficult to postulate with the evidence accessible to us. It rather seems to be that this body of scholars was a permanently existing body, and did exist for a certain number of centuries continuously. In the work of these bodies there were periods of great output and periods of comparative barrenness. We have no means of ascertaining what exactly might have been the cause of this alternation. But such brilliant periods seem marked as the period of the first Sangam and of the second Sangam, not very far behind their historical successor, the third Sangam. What actually does make the tradition look very suspicious, is the extraordinary length of time that is given to each one of these periods. It is this impossible longevity in the traditional account that stamps the whole tradition connected with these two bodies as entirely false in the estimation of modern scholarship. The third Sangam counts among its scholar members 49, and 3 Pandya rulers, who bore an honourable part in the work of the academy. The bulk of the works that have come down to us may be ascribed actually to this body, in our present state of knowledge of these three academies, as a whole. It would perhaps be better to assume that they refer to three brilliant epochs in the active work of a single academy which might have existed for a number of centuries. This body of antique literature contains embedded in it various details reminiscent of what to them must have been contemporary or other history, as also a considerable amount of information very interesting to us in regard to their own times.