It was the common belief that the original inhabitants of India were the Dravidians and the primitive tribals who lived in hills and forest. It was also the general belief that the Aryans entered into India at a much later date.
The new comers first settled in the Punjab and gradually spread over the Indo-Gangetic Valley. The archeological excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro proved that the cultures of the Dravidians and the Aryans were different in many respect.
But the cosmopolitan Aryans adopted many aspects of the Dravidian religious beliefs and social systems.
A long process of cultural assimilation resulted in the amalgamation of the two great races of the Indian Subcontinent so much so that it became difficult to distinguish the difference between the two. In course of time there began the Aryan advent into the South. According to some eminent scholars, the epic Ramayana of Valmiki, which describes the entry of Rama into the South and his invasion of Sri Lanka to destroy demon king Ravana, was indicative of the Aryan entry into the Southern peninsula. Yet, some of the Tamil Kings thought of bringing the whole of India under one administrative umbrella.
It is also known from the Sangam classics that the Tamil people thought of India as their common mother land. The puranic account describe of the sage Agasthya’s crossing over the insurmountable Vindhyan mountain which separated the North from the South. These accounts again indicate the Aryan movement into the Dravidian landscape.
A unique example in the world history, which is seen at no other place on earth, was that the whole subcontinent of Bharatvarsha was conceived of as one motherland for all the . children of the land, irrespective of ethnic, racial, linguistic and social differences. Common beliefs, common God and Goddesses, common modes of worship and common faith in the sanctity of the land of birth, united all varieties of people in a bond of commonness and brotherhood. In such an environment, the Aryan accepted the Dravidian deities as there own and vice-versa.
When diverse faiths got united into one, other differences were allowed to continue under an atmosphere of tolerance. The numerous modes of life and existence in extensive territories of a vast landmass developed a cultural synthesis through ages. In this process of assimilation, the major or even the minor languages of the people, retained their individual identity. The Dravido-Aryan amalgam rather encouraged such distinctive separations and encouraged their growth. This phenomenon resulted in an interchange of ideas, philosophies, thought and creativity for the benefit of all the people.
Needless to say that Dravidian group of languages and literature were very old and extremely rich. The southern people were fond of their languages and proud of their mother-tongue. Yet, early in the first millennium before Christ, the Sanskrit language of the Aryans entered into the South and enriched the existing Southern literature. It is said that the disciples of sage Agastya composed the first Tamil Grammer known as the Tolkappiyam. The Northern literary influence on the South can be traced to another forceful religious factor.
With the rise of Buddhism in sixth century B.C., that religion began to spread all over India in due course of time, particularly from the Mauryan period Buddism being a missionary religion tried to reach the people in their own languages. Inscriptions in Brahmi scripts appear in the Southern Kingdoms from second century B.C. and came to be known as the Tamil Brahmi. These epigraphic evidences, coupled with the enormous sangam literature, throw much light on the history of the South Indian kingdoms.
The Dravidian groups of languages contained several languages. But the four major languages among them were the Telgu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam. These languages are spoken in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. Evidences show that in remote antiquity, the Dravidian languages were used in the North, though they became the languages of the south later on.
Infact, the people of Tamil Nadu venerated the Ramayana as their own epic. It is understood for the Sangam literature that the authors of that age were well versed with the stories of that great epic.
The most significant contribution of the Sangam literature to the religious-cultural development of India was the role it played for the emotional integration of the Indian people. Apart from adopting the great Northern Indian epics as their own, the southern literature also embraced the doctrines of Buddhism and Jainism with veneration. Though Buddhism and Jainism originated in the North, yet both those religions ‘Swept like great social forces’ over the Tamil Country.
Much before the emergence of Buddhism and Jainism as reform movements, the south had adopted the Vedic religion as its own. The sway of Brahmanic Hinduism from the Himalayas to the Cape Camorin was an acknowledged fact of the ancient Indian history. As a result, the religious rituals, customs, ceremonies and social divisions became a common phenomenon all over India. What is surprising is that eleven when the Vedic sacrifices disappeared from North India, some of the more famous Tamil kings performed those sacrifices to proclaim their supremacy.
The Sangam literatures speak of the worship of Vishnu, Siva and Indra; of common religious customs such as taking bath in the river Ganga and other holy rivers; of funeral system; of common feasts and festivals- ; of marriage rituals; and of various value-systems which were common both in North and the South.
In the words of a famous authority on South Indian History, “any student of Tamil literature can state categorically that the Tamil mind had always been at one with the Indian mind. It may be asserted with pardonable pride, however, that while Tamilian was an Indian, his catholicity of outlook, breadth of vision and capacity to accept and absorb good ideas and values were unmatched. To him every place was his own; every person was next of kin.” .
The history of Tamil literature began with the so called ‘Sangams’ or congregation of learned men where the work of different scholars on diverse subjects were presented. The word Sangam is the Tamil version of the Sanskrit word “Sangha” which means a college or assembly. The Sangam epoch is said to have lasted for about a thousand years, roughly from 500 BC to 500 A.D. Sangam was a college or Assembly of Tamil poets held under royal patronage.
The achievements of three powerful kingdoms were praised in the Sangam works. Those were Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas who patronised the scholars of different branches of literature. It may be presumed that the Cheras were the earliest, though the beginnings of the Sough Indian political history lies in obscurity. As such, it is difficult to determine the chronology of the Chera dynasty.
The earliest ruler of Chera kingdom about whom we have any historical information was Udayan Cheraladana. He was a great warrior who defeated the Satavahanas. Kadalapirakottiya Chenkuttuvan was the greatest Chera king who patronised the Sangam literature. The Prasasti of his court and his achievements were written by Paranar, the court poet, who described that the Cheras ensured political stability in the south and contributed to the rapid growth of literature and art.
The next patrons of the Sangam literature were the Cholas. The greatest Chola king Karikalan Chola encourged the Sangam literature. Under his leadership the Cholas became the leading power of the south. He defeated Cheras and Pandyas. He is equally credited for promoting art, industry and trade.
The Pandays of Madurai and Tinnelvelly had an ancient past. Nedumchezhiyan of Talaiyalanganam was the greatest Pandya king, who patronised the Sangam literature. He was a gfeat patron of art, architecture and of Tamil poetrv. The last Pandya king Kanapperkadanda Ugrapperuvaludi was a poet and patron of literature.
A considerable part of the Sangam literature was produced in the early centuries of the Christian era. There were three Sangams which created a literary movement in the history of the Tamil South. The first two are associated west north Indian Sage Agastya whose Agastyam (Akattiyam) is supposed to have consisted of 1000 Sutras or aphorisms. The Agastya tradition probably symbolised some literary movement aiming at the cultural development of the Country. None of the original works of the first Sangam are available. The most memorable work of the second Sangam was Tolkappiyam. This great grammatical work is encyclopaedic in range and has been annotated by many scholars. It is divided into three volumes, edited and written by Tolkpiar.
The third Sangam included many scholars and their works. The principal works of the third Sangam played an important role in the socio-cultural life of the people. These works constitute the greatest elements in the Tamil literature. The memorable works of that period are Patthupattu, (Ten Idylls or poetries), Ettuthokai (The eight Anthologies), Padinenkilkanakkyu (The Eight Minor Didactic Poems), the Rural and Jivaka Chintamani etc. The Patthupattu or Ten idylls is a collection of ten long poems. It was composed in the first century of the Christian era by the famous poet Nakkiar. This literary work constitute a socio-cultural heritage of high order and faithful depiction of human feelings.
The Ettuthokai and Padinenkilkanakku are also milestones of Sangam age which glorified the Tamil literature. These works constitute an ideal source of Tamil social history. The five major epics of Sangam literature are Silappadikaram, Manimekhalai, Jivakachintamani, Valayapati, and Kundalakesi. Of these great epics, only the first three are available.
The Tamil Epics Silappadikaran and Manimekhalai are compared with the Greek Epics Iliad and the Odyssey. Silappadikaran is an indigineous epic which records the moving story of Kovalan and Kanaki. Kovalan suffered forture, being infatuated with the courtesan Madhavi, and Kanki sacrifices herself as a mark of chastity and devotion to her lord, despite his lapses. The Manimekhalai is the sequal of the Silappadikaran.
In it, the daughter of Korlan by Madhavi but spiritually accepted by Kanaki, sees through the limitations of human love and concentrates herself to the service of the Buddhist Trinity. Jivakachintamani was written by a Jaina ascetic. Valuvar was a great scholar of Sangam age. He composed the Kural in which a vivid description was given of Kingship, polity and morals. Many scholars, thinkers and poets flourished in the Sangam age who presented a cultural picture through their literary contributions. Their works reflected the spirit of humanity, kindness and cultural integration.