The Sangam literature are the source of information about the socio-economic life of the South Indian people.
It provides information regarding the classification of the people, various occupations, dress and food habbit, status of women, religion, cultivation, trade and commerce.
Descriptions of the Sangam literature are corroborated by the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who made substantial observations on the social life of the Tamil.
The Sangam social structure rested on traditional caste systems and occupations. The literature speak of farmers, shepherds, hunters, fishermen, blacksmiths, weavers, carpenters, merchants, shippers and priests. The Brahmins of Sangam society were ideal priests. They acted as the chief advisor to the kings as scholars and philosophers. They also worked as puroliitas, astrologers, ascetics, judges and ambassadors.
Though the Brahmins played a constructive role in society and administration, the Sangam society was not priest-dominated. The other castes also enjoyed considerable respect in the society. The Vaisyas were engaged in agriculture, trade and commerce. The fishermen were traders of fish and used boats. Textile goods were produced by the weavers. They also contributed to agriculture. Hiuen Tsang who made a perceptive observation of the Sangam society said about agriculture, “The soil is fertile and regularly cultivated, and produces abundant of grain.
There are also many flowers and fruits. It produces precious gems and other articles. The climate is hot, the character of the people courageous. They are deeply attached to the principles of honesty and truth, and highly esteem learning, in respect of their language and written characters, they differ but little from those of Mid-India.”
The Sangam literature provides information regarding the status of women and their marriage. The women were not equal with men in the society. Sati system was prevailing in the Sangam age. There were also women ascetics and courtesans. Different kinds of marriages were performed in different social classes.
Some marriages which had no ritual and formalities could be performed with the consent of the bride and bride groom without the knowledge of parents. Other types of marriages were performed with rituals. Religion played a positive role in Sangam social life. People worshiped nature and indigenous gods.
In sangam society the people were accustomed with burnt bricks and lime for the construction of buildings. The literature describe regarding multistoried building, streets and gates. The people of various classes used different dresses and ornaments. Flowers and perfumes were the favourite needs of women. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food were used in those days. Intoxicants were used on limited occasions as an entertainment item.
In Sangam literature, there are references to the educational system. There were Vedic education and astronomy for the Brahmins, military training for royal families, mathematical lessons for merchants and art education for artisans. Professionalism was highly developed in fine art, painting, dance, drama and music.
It is known from the Sangam literature that the people of South India were great innovators in the fields of agriculture and commerce. As early as the first century of the Christian era, they could know the season of the monsoon rains and adjusted their cultivation of different crops according to seasonal variations. They could irrigate their rice fields for greater production.
According to monsoon trends they also adjusted their navigation in high seas. The Tamil navigators were adventurous enough to across the Indian Ocean for trade and commerce in Indonesian Islands. They constructed ports and harbors for shelter of incoming and outgoing sailing boats. It is indicated in the classical Western literature that the Greek and the Roman merchants used such ports in South India. The discovery of Roman coins proves of trade relations between South India and the Roman world. The Tamil word arici was the root of the western word rice.