Q1. Though not very useful from the point of view of a connected political history of South India , the Sangam literature portrays the social and economic conditions of its time with remarkable vividness. Comment. (10 marks-200 words.) UPSC 2013 GS MAINS I


Sangam literature which combines idealism with realism and classic grace with indigenous industry and strength is rightly regarded as constituting the Augustan age of Tamil literature. Sangam literature is one of the main sources used for documenting the early history of the ancient South India.

However it fails to give political history of South India which can be attributed to several reasons.  Since poets were patronized by ruling elites, hero worship was the prime focus and exaggerations about the victories, territorial influences,etc was quite obvious.  Moreover while three Sangams were held, only the last Sangam provides material relevant to political history. Also some of the names, places, dynasties, territories are imaginary and not corroborated by archeological evidences.

But Sangam literature provides useful information about South Indian society.Like Sangam poets mention about four Varnas. They have also mentioned that women were allowed to choose their partners,love marriage was common,widow life was miserable,sati practice was prevalent,etc. The society was divided on clan based groups called “Kuti”and
inter-dining along with social interaction among Kuti groups was permitted.

Moreover Sangam literature also helps in understanding economic conditions of South India. Agriculture, hunting, gathering, fishing and pastoralism were the primary occupations.Also  crafting, weaving,etc served as secondary source of income.Furthermore, five economic zones viz. hills, drylands, jungle, plains and coast, each supporting a different economic activity were present.

Regular system of taxation was absent and kings received income from trade, tributes and plunder. Besides  export of pepper, ivory, silk, cotton and booty from raids were additional sources of income. Furthermore women formed a significant part of labour force.

Thus,we can say that despite being not much useful in knowing about the political history of South India, Sangam literature is of great help in getting information about matters relating to public and social activity , war, trade, worship, agriculture etc.