In this article we will discuss about the history of South India based on Sangama literature.
Political Condition of South India:
Whatever has been referred to in the Sangama literature indicates that, probably, the Tamil states of the South were oligarchies in the beginning wherein all members of the ruling family participated in the administration of the state. However, gradually these were converted to hereditary kingships wherein kings became all-powerful. But the rulers did not become despots.
The powers of the king, in practice, was limited by traditions and the advice given by his ministers and scholars at his court. The king was expected to observe a strict code of morality. It was expected of him that he would treat his subjects as his own offspring, provide them justice and encourage the growth of religion, fine arts and literature. The king was also expected to engage himself in wars for conquest. It has been referred to in the Sangama literature that several kings aspired and attempted to become Chakravartin Samrats.
The village-administration was mostly looked after by village Panchayats called Manrums. By a gradual process, these Manrums assumed the role of local self-governments during the rule of the Chola-rulers which has received widespread acclamation by modern scholars. The primary sources of the income of the state were the revenue and taxes on internal and foreign trade.
Spoils of war was also a good source of income to the state. The Sangama literature describes a large number of cases of cattle-lifting and thefts. These activities were done by tribal communities there and were regarded a normal behaviour on their part. Probably, theft and plunder in the neighbouring kingdom was accepted as normal behaviour. The king kept a permanent army which consisted of the cavalry , the infantary. the chariots and war-elephants.
The sword, bow and arrows, shield, armour, javelin etc. were the main weapons of war in which the king also participated actively. The Sangama literature has described many instances of destruction of agricultural fields of the enemy-states which gives us an impression that Tamil soldiers observed no moral code during the course of war.
However, it was believed that whosoever would die in the battlefield would go to heaven. Wealth was concentrated in the hands of the king and his nobles who lived a luxurious life while the masses had only minimum necessities of life for their existence.
Social Condition of South India:
The Sangama literature provides sufficient proof that cultures of the South and the North were fairly integrated in the far South. The caste-system was not fully accepted and social divisions were primarily based on the basis of different professions of individuals.
Yet, the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas and the castes who had adopted fighting as their profession enjoyed better status in society. The ruling-class had virtually acquired the status of the Kshatriyas and adopted the practice of donating lands and other presents to the Brahamanas to keep them appeased.
Eight types of marriages were also accepted in the Tamil Pradesh and marriage was regarded as a religious institution. The position of women was better as compared to the North and they were employed even as bodyguards by kings, nobles and other rich people.
However, there are certain references to the practice of Sati which means that, because of the influence of the Vedic culture, deterioration in the status of women had started and the family was gradually becoming patriarchal. There were no untouchables in the society but the status of the poor people had worsened.
Economic Condition of South India:
The description in the Sangama literature indicates that the contemporary far South India was extremely prosperous. The fact is corroborated by other literary and archaeological evidences.
The land was very fertile and many poets praised its fertility in their poems. Therefore, it is believed that agriculture was the primary source of the prosperity of the people inhabiting this territory Several kings took measures for improving the means of irrigation and increasing the area of cultivable land.
That helped in increasing the prosperity of the people. A large variety of herbs, good variety of wood and other articles were procured from forests. A good variety of pearls were obtained from the sea. These helped in enriching the people. Besides, foreign trade was also largely responsible for the prosperity of the far South. The people maintained a favourable trade with the Roman empire up to the 2nd century A.D.
The Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandvas also maintained trade relations with Egypt and Arabia in the West and China in the East as well as with all countries of South-east Asia. There were a large number of ports both on the east and the west sea-coast, most prominent among them being Kaveripattinam, Arikaedu and Vasavasamudra. The main items of export were medicinal herbs, pearls, ivory and black pepper while the primary items of import were gold, good wine and horses.
The foreign trade was in favour of the Indians which helped in enriching the people here. A text titled Periplus of the Aretheyam Sea, written by an unknown author, has described in detail the foreign trade carried on by these states.
This text was written in the first century B.C. It has described that India had close trade relations with the Roman empire; Naura, Tondi, Mushiri and Nelsinda were big ports on the western sea- coast; and India exported spices, ivory, pearls, cotton and silken cloth and different precious stones, etc. to foreign countries.
Internal trade was also carried on briskly and that also helped in enhancing the living standards of the people. However, the advantage of the economic prosperity was mostly derived by ruling classes and traders. The common people received only minimum necessities of life.
These states in the far South enjoyed economic prosperity till the 3rd century A.D. After that, their foreign trade declined which affected their prosperity adversely which also became one of the causes of their decline.
Religious Condition of South India:
The people in the far South accepted the Vedic religion of the Aryans. According to a widely accepted legend, sage Augustya initially propagated the Vedic religion in the South. Many stories refer to his exploits of forcing the Vindyas to submit, killing the demons. Ilbala and Vatapi, drinking the entire water of the sea and killing all demons who had found shelter beneath the sea.
It is also believed that sage Augustya was responsible for the birth of Tamil literature and grammar. The name of another sage, Kaudinya is also popular in this regard. He was also largely responsible for the propagation of the Vedic religion and Brahamanistn in the far South. Many stone and copper inscriptions have referred to the grant of land and other articles to the Brahmanas of Kaudinva’s gotra by several rulers.
The people in the far South accepted the rituals and the Yajnas of the Vedic religion as part of their religious ceremonies. But the Brahmanism here accepted many religious traditions of the people of the South as well within its fold The worship of God Muiugana or Murukana is very popular in the South from very ancient times.
He was, later on, accepted as the representative of God Kartikeva. Besides this, the worship of Siva, Krishna, Balrama, Vishnu, Indra etc. also started in the South. The practice of sacrifices in Yajnas was also accepted in the South though it blended the Vedic rituals with traditions of the South.
Jainism and Buddhism were also accepted by the people in the far South. Buddhism, probably, became popular in the South during the reign of Emperor Asoka. Several stupas, Dharamchakra, etc. of Buddhism have been found at different places in the South. Later on, Nagarjunakonda and Kanchipuram became the centres of learning of Buddhism.
Jainism also reached the far South during the period of the Maurvas. Probably, it was first propagated by Bhadrabahu who migrated to the South with his disciples when a widespread famine occurred in Magadha two hundred years after the death of Mahavira.
Thus, the Sangama literature provides us useful knowledge concerning the history of the far South till the 3rd century A.D. though, of course, we have to take help from other sources as well.