Early History of South India: Megalithic Cultures of South India and the Sangam Age

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Early History of South India

Megalithic Cultures of South India

The Neolithic phase in South India was succeeded by the Megalithic culture (1200 BC-300 BC). The primary feature of this culture is the construction of burials with big stones outside the settlement areas. The megalithic people used Black and Red ware pottery. Major megalithic sites were Nagpur, Brhamagiri. Maski, Adichallanur, Junapani.

Iron objects in the South were first evident from these burials. This indicates the craft activities of the megalithic period. Major tools found include arrowheads, daggers, swords, spearheads, tridents, battle axe, hoes, ploughshare, sickles etc. Grains like wheat and rice were excavated along with these weapons. This indicates that their economy was agro-pastoral and hunting.

The Sangam Age

  • The Sangam age referred to the period when a large number of Tamil poems were composed in South India. The term Sangam refers to the assembly of poets. Three Sangams or assembly have been conveyed so far. All three Sangams took place under the patronage of Pandya kings of Madurai. The major feature of Sangam literature was its depiction of early Tamilaham society and region

  • The major themes of Sangam poem were love and emotions (akam) and war, and social behaviour (puram). These were put together in eight collections called Ettutogai.

  • The three major chieftains of the Tamil region during Sangam Age were the Cholas with capital Uraiyur, the Cheras with capital Vanji, and Pandyas with the capital Madurai. They ruled their territory with subordinate chiefs. The major source of income was through plunder.

  • The early Tamil geography was divided into five ecological zones based on economic activities, called Tinais. Each Tinais were divided according to the geographical peculiarities and economic subsistence. These were:

    • Kurinji was a hilly region with hunting and gathering economy.

    • Palai- are arid zone. The people depend on raiding and plundering

    • Mullai is pastoral tracts with animal husbandry

    • Marudamis the wetlands with plough agriculture.

    • Neithal is the seacoast with fishing and salt making.

  • The concept of varna was known in the saṅgam period. However, the social ranking was not marked on the varna hierarchy. People were known according to their occupation.

  • War heroes had an important position in society. The soldiers who died in the fighting were honoured with erecting heor stones or nadukal or virukkal.

  • Women were educated. Several women poets contributed to the Sangam literature. They were also engaged in economic activities like paddy plantation, cattle rearing, basket making. Sati was prevalent in the society of Sangam period, and it is called tippayadal. However, it was not obligatory or compulsory.

  • The major economic activity of the period was agriculture, crafts and trade. Paddy was the major agrarian product. They made numerous tanks and dams to facilitate water supply to the fields. Chola king Karikala Chola constructed the earliest dam.

  • Major craft industry was spinning and weaving. Salt manufacturing was another important activity.

  • Trade with the Roman empire was another important economic activity. The evidence of a large number of Roman gold coins in South India suggests this trading relation. The major item of trade was pepper. The growth of trade was due to factors like the discovery of monsoon and the use of direct sea route between the Indian coast and the West.

  • The trade expansion led to the growth of towns and craft centre. The most important centre of trade and craft was Vanji (capital of Chera). Muziris was the important port of Cheras.

  • The Pandya capital, Madurai, was famous for fine textiles and ivory work. Another important Pandya port was Korkai in Tirunalveli. This port was famous for pearls.

  • Uraiyur, the capital of Cholas, was a grand city with huge buildings. Kaveripattnam or Puhar was the main Chola port.

  • There was an interaction of north Indian and South religious practices. The major religious deities worshipped include Indra, Vishnu and Siva. Along with these deities, there were Jainas and Buddhists in South India. Murugan was the local deity, worshipped by those of the hills.

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