The Ancient Tamil Society: Introduction – Kaniyan Balan – Translated by Panner Selvam Velmyl

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The ancient civilizations created by Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romanians, and Indus Valley people are well famous in the world. Our ancient Tamil society is another such civilization that equaled the above civilizations. Our civilization gave the world the famous Sangam literature. Sangam literature is an immense treasure trove that provided many values to the world. Poems like Kaniyan Poogundran’s that begins with “To us, all towns are our own, everyone our kin” and ends with “We marvel not at the greatness of the great; Still less despise we men of low estate” were abound in Sangam literature. Everybody accepts these values. Moral based life has been base life principle of Tamil society.

Our ancient Tamizhagam had developed city-states and urban-based nation for more than a millennium. Due to this, the ancient Tamil society maintained trade relations and management throughout the world and possessed hi-tech knowledge. The ancient Tamizhagam enjoyed the head-most status around the world in manufacturing, technology, and trade. And by that, not only the arts and literature but the society also contributed grand theories of science and technology. Due to multiple reasons, they went extinct. We were only able to retrieve the Sangam literature. The Sangam literature provides various pieces of evidence about ancient Tamil history and society.

Maruthan Ilanaganar is the poet who penned down Agam 255. He speaks of a protagonist who sets sails to a foreign land in a monstrous vessel that incites fear. This poem indicates that Tamils had the technology to build humongous fleets and constructed them. The Tamils also went to foreign lands, resided there, and performed trade operations. Irangukudikundra Nadan is another poet who wrote Agam 215. He talks about a war general who crossed many mountains and invaded a multi-lingual North and about the general’s wife, who wished him for success and bade farewell. This poem confirms that Tamil kingdoms indeed set to invade North India during Sangam Era.

Enathi Nedunganan, a Pandiyan war general, wrote Kurunthogai 156, in which he questions a Brahman whether there is a drug that unites a love-lorn couple in his unwritten Vedas. This poem derides and mocks the Brahman and his holy Vedas. This poem indicates that Vedas and Brahmans aren’t esteemed in that era. Also, it records that Vedas remained an oral tradition then. Padumarathu Mosikiranar penned the poem Kurunthogai 75. The female protagonist tells a bard who foretells the arrival of her lover that she will present the city of Pataliputra situated in the banks of Sona. This poem shows the specialty and the pride of the Sangam era love, and the dignity of the lady. Also, it records the geographical location of Pataliputra as being located on Ganga’s tributary, Sona.

In Puram 306 poem, a wife prays to a hero stone that the country gets a worthy opponent, and her husband gets a chance to fight in the war, and visitors flock her home. This poem reflects that war and receiving visitors are considered to be pride. Pakkudukai Nankaniyar is a thinker who penned Puram 194. The poem describes a street where a house observes grief due to a recent death. On the same street, in a different house, a wedding takes place and is filled with happiness. Pakkukudai Nankaniyar blames God as an uncouth for bestowing both grief and pleasure together. He advises people that in the end, life is made up of both grief and pleasure, and one should try to see the joy in it.

The age of Sangam literature: A more definite answer has not yet been arrived regarding the age of the great Sangam literature. Using various shreds of evidence, the author has estimated that the period of Sangam literature falls between B.C.E 750 and B.C.E 50. Tholkapilar has rendered six poems in Sangam literature. Prof K. Nedunchezian has confirmed that he is indeed Kapila, who founded Sankhya philosophy(1). North India doesn’t have the environment for Kapilar to take shape there. But, the setting for him to take shape existed in ancient Tamizhagam.

Many texts from Sanskrit Puranas to Mahabharata, Upanishads to Manu Smriti, mentions Kapilar and his Sankhya philosophy. These texts that quote extensively from his Sankhya philosophy, also say that Tholkapilar preceded Buddha, Mahavira, and the Upanishads(3). The Upanishad’s period is the 7th century B.C.E. Therefore, since Tholkapilar precedes the time of Upanishads, his period is estimated to be around 750 B.C.E in addition to other sources confirming it. By taking the fact that his poems are part of Sangam literature, availing his period, it is calculated that Sangam literature begins around 750 B.C.E.

The coins of Kuttuvan Kothai, the last Chera king of the Sangam era, have been excavated. Numismatists have calculated that his period falls at the beginning of 1st-century B.C.E(5). Muthollayiram is a Sangam text that has been written around the same era. These texts contain poems about Cheran Kuttuvan Kothai, his contemporaries Chozhan Nalankilli, Pandiyan Maranvaluthi. Therefore, Chozhan Nalankilli can be ascertained to be belonging to 1st century B.C.E. In Muthollayiram, it is said that Chozhan Nalankilli invaded North India and conquered Ujjain city(6). Indian historian D.D.Kosambi has written that, at the beginning of 1st century B.C.E, Satavanahas from the South has invaded Ujjain, which was part of Magadha kingdom ruled by Sunga dynasty(7). But Satavanahas were impuissant fiefs around the beginning of 1st century B.C.E (8). It is implausible for them to invade North India at that time.

Therefore, from the evidence available in Muthollayiram, the one who invaded Ujjain in 1st-century B.C.E must be Chozhan Nalankilli, and he possessed a large navy and conquered Eelam. These sources confirm that the period of the Tamil triumvirate kings must be around 1st century B.C.E. They are the last dynasty kings of Sangam Era. By deducing the fact that they ruled till the mid of the 1st century B.C.E, it can be confirmed that the end of Sangam Era is 50 B.C.E. Hence, by these sources, Sangam period lies between 750 B.C.E and 50 B.C.E.

Nevertheless, most poems written before 350 B.C.E aren’t available and don’t contain historical references. But the poems after 350 B.C.E are available in large numbers, and they carry a lot of historical references. The immediate period after that, 50 B.C.E to 250 A.D is the time of Sangam deterioration. 250 A.D to 550 A.D is estimated to be the era of Kalapiras.

The author has penned “Palantamizh Samugamum varalarum” after researching the Tamil history from the ancient times till 50 B.C.E. This text divided the time from 350 B.C.E to 50 B.C.E into 10 phases and has performed a detailed research. Sangam literature forms the primary evidence of this research. The six books from Ettuthogai, namely Agananooru, Purananooru, Pathitrupathu, Aingurunooru, Nattrinai, Kurunthogai, and eight texts from Pathupaattu, book numbers two to nine are taken up for the research. Paripaadal and Kalithogai belonging to Ettuthogai classification, the first and the last texts from Pathupattu aren’t considered. But books like Thagatur Yathirai and Muthollayiram are utilized for research. Apart from these literary sources, inscriptions, coins, excavated objects, archeological results, references from foreign experts, books about ancient Tamil history till now, are taken up as evidence.

“Palantamizh samugamum varalarum” consists of six sections. The first section deals with the Tamizh language, its script, its significance, its quaintness, and its education in ancient days. It also talks about the manufacturing, technology, trade, coins, North Indian commerce, naval might of ancient Tamil kingdoms, references by foreigners, agriculture, and irrigation facility prevalent in the ancient Tamizhagam. By that, it strives to provide an eagle’s eye view of the ancient Tamil society in entirety.

The second section answers the question of whether the Sangam era is a time where the tribal fiefs evolved to governments or a time where the governments have established in a clear-cut manner. This section surveys the lifestyles of Red Indians and the North Indian-Aryan tribes and the lifestyles of Greek and Roman societies that had then recently evolved to governments. Those results are compared with Sangam society, and this establishes how Sangam literature is a time where the governments are firm footed and established. In this section, a brief history of ancient civilizations and their languages and scripts are also provided.

The third section talks about the city-based governments that reigned for more than a millennia and how they helped the growth and prosperity of ancient Tamizhagam, the significance of the ancient regal bloodline, and the materialist philosophy that remained prominent during that period. Also, it talks about the Mourya Kingdom in North India, Satavahana rule, and Kalinga king Karavelan briefly. Then it inspects the time of Poet Mamoolanar, a prominent poet in the Sangam era, and Cheran Chengutuvan at multiple angles and determines their period. In this section, the Mourya kingdom’s invasion and their defeat at the hands of the united Tamizh states are provided. Finally, this section provides an ordered timeline of Tamil triumvirate kings with their brief history.

The fourth section expounds on the core part of the author’s research. This section divides the period from 350 B.C.E to 50 B.C.E into ten parts, and each provides the brief details of the poets, their works, the monarchs from kings to tribal chiefs mentioned in their poems, the poets who praised these rulers in this the hundred-year history. The time and the details mentioned here are verified using the novel vector topography method and other significant sources.

The fifth part lays out the details about the union between Tamil triumvirate kings and tribal chiefs, the wars, the antagonism, and friendship between them. Then it talks about the invasions the Tamil kingdoms undertook towards the north and North India. It also elaborates how Tamizh governments, through their naval power, kept the trade routes in India’s east and west coasts and Southeast Asian countries under their control, and how they kept the Deccan region under their authority.

The sixth section details the music and philosophy prevalent in the ancient Tamizhagam. Here it is established that Tamizh music is the origin of India’s ancient music. This section contains a short history of Tamizh music and the references of music in Sangam literature. Then this section talks about how materialist philosophy formed the core of the ancient Tamil society and how city-states fostered it. Also, this section confirms that the Tamil thought process shaped the foundation stone of Indian materialist philosophy. Moreover, it tells that Tholkapilar is the father of Tamil philosophy, and many modern science concepts are found in the original format in Tamil tradition. Finally it talks about the age of Sangam deterioration, the age of Kalapiras, the age of Sangam books, the Sangam books lost in antiquity, the cities and the gods of Sangam era, how Agama is a Tamil tradition, the lack of caste divisions in Sangam period, Keezhadi and the spread of education, and the historical lessons.

Sangam Books and archeology: A majority of Sangam books haven’t survived. What remained wasn’t the history but the literature. Various scholars compiled the available diverse poems. So invariably, they contain the point of view of the compilers. Hence it is not possible to consider that those works would include all the details on the Sangam era. For example, they didn’t speak of shipbuilding technology or the technical superiority of ancient Tamils. Pundits like Gordon Childe say that the written text may provide one percent of data about the history and the remaining 99% could be only obtained through archeology. This theory applies to ancient Tamil history too. But, in Tamil Nadu, the excavation has happened only in few places, and only a percent of the area in those places.

Significance of this book: The distinction of this book lies in the fact that it establishes the period of ancient Tamil history. In its estimation, (i) the research linked and bounded the Tamil history with the World and Indian history (ii) the research found that Sangam poets wrote about their topical events and applied it to establish the time frame and (iii) the research used a topography approach.

Secondly, the book establishes that the Sangam period is the time when the strong governance has then developed by researching the various communities from its tribal period to the time of setting up governments and comparing them with the Sangam era.

Third, the book doesn’t avail of the mythologies, the Puranas, and folklore as evidence. Besides, it doesn’t utilize Silapathikaram, Paripadal, Kalithogai, Adikuripu, Pathigam, Paripadal as the primary evidence and uses them only as an adminicle.

Fourth, this book is set in a way to provide answers to a lot of unsolved questions and asks the new queries. For example, (1) Tamils identified themselves as a linguistic group two millennia back. (2) To fight against the ideologies of Brahmanism and Orthodoxy has been a long-time tradition of Tamils. This book aids in understanding the reasons behind it.

The aim and need for this book:

A majority of Tamil people do not have an understanding of history and its necessity. The current period is an extension and cause of the events of the past. For example, why is Pondicherry a separate state instead of a region of Tamil Nadu? It is because of the French rule in the past. Pondicherry attained freedom only a few years after India’s. Hence it remains a separate administrative region. History answered our query here. Therefore, for an understanding of the present, the knowledge of the past is indispensable.

Tamizhagam’s extended history could provide a lot of historical lessons and experiences. Tamil history is equipped to offer tremendous principles of its ancestry, values, routine, and moral based lifestyle. These treatises can be modified to suit the modern times and flourish society. But to understand those theories, one needs a deep understanding of history. Tamizhagam has lost a lot of its manufacturing technologies and significant portions of the arts like music, warfare, and Varma and cultural aspects like medicine and architecture. The Tamil people haven’t yet realized what they have lost and lived in a haze of ignorance and clarity. To understand the magnitude of the loss, detailed and in-depth research is needed.

Only by adducing its ancient historical pride, Tamil nationality could remove the schisms of caste and religion among its people and bring-forth unity. The pride based on caste and religion entered the psyche of Tamil during the medieval period. The ancient Tamil society has been a society sans religion and caste for more than a millennia. The author’s book cements the fact that Tamizhagam was the head-most civilization in the world. Musiri and Keezhadi excavations in the present proved this claim. Hence, the Tamizh society should decimate its caste-religion pride, and the pride of their ancient civilization should positively replace them. The national pride imparts self-confidence and determination to the community, instills assurgency, ushers growth and development, and molds society to live prosperously. The Tamils are the world’s developed, matured civilization with an astronomical level of pride in their history. Yet, the sources aren’t appropriately established in academia. Only formal historical texts based on science could do justice. This book is one of the small attempts to fill the void prevalent in need of proper Tamil history. This book is an abridged version of the author’s earlier book, “Palantamizh samuthayamum varalarum” .


  1. K. Nedunjeziyan, Tamizhar Iyangiyal – Tholkappiyamum Saraka Samhitaiyum, Paalam,2009, pages:20-23
  2. Palanthamizh samugamum varalarum, Kaniyan Balan, June 2016, Ethiveliyidu, pages: 777-781,807-817.
  3. Indian Philosophy: A popular introduction, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Padaipaligal pathippagam, Translated in Tamil by V.Krishnamurthy, 2010, pages: 196
  4. Indian Philosophy, Mrunal Gandhi Gangopadhyay, Translated in Tamil by S.Jeyaraj, December 2011, NCBH, page: 23, preface – XII
  5. R.krishnamurthy, paper on Makkothai coins presented at the first oriented numismatic conference, held at Nagpur, date: 29.10.1990. & Natana, Kasinathanan-Tamils Heritage page: 45. 
  6. Palantamizh Samugamum varalarum, Kaniyan Balan, June 2016, Ethirveliyidu pages:656-659 & Tesini, Kalithogaiyum Muthollayiramum, December 2004, pages: 160,164,171
  7. D.D.Kosambi, Ancient India, Translated in Tamil by R.S.Narayanan, September 2006, NCBH, pages : 388
  8. (1)Ancient India, R.S.Sharma – Translated in Tamil by Masini, NCBH, June 2004, pages:260-264. (2) South Indian History, Dr. K.K.Pillai, Palaniyappa brothers, 2011, page: 36. (3) Palantamizh samugamum varalarum, Kaniyan Balan, June 2016, Ethirveliyidu, pages: 274-277, 309-313,656-659.
  9. Tholliyal, Dr.N.Marisamy, June 2010, page:43
Source: Palantamizh samuthayamum varalarum, Kaniyan Balan, June 2016, Ethirveliyidu, pages:37-64