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Sangam literature has been a source of interest for

historians all over the world as it depicts the tamilian lifestyle 2000
years ago. I am inspired by U. V. Swamintha Iyer’s efforts in sangam
literature revival as his works parallel what many academic bodies did
for the Renaissance in western Europe


Sangam literature refers to a body of Tamil literature created between

the years 600 BCE to 300 CE. This collection contains 2381 poems by
473 poets of whom about 100 remain anonymous. Sangam literature is
primarily secular dealing with everyday themes in a Tamil context. The
poems were composed by Dravidian Tamil poets, both men and
women, from various professions and classes of society.
The available literature from this period was categorized and compiled
in the 10th century into two categories based roughly on chronology.
The categories are: The Major Eighteen Anthology Series comprising
The Eight Anthologies and the Ten Idylls and The Minor Eighteen
Anthology Series.

The themes dealt by sangam poems are broadly classified as ‘the inner
field’(agam) and ‘the outer field’(puram).The inner field topics refer to
personal and human aspects such as love and relationship. The outer
field topics refer to other human aspects such as valor, benevolence,
philanthropy, social life and customs etc. The emotions dealt under
these two categories are generally to specified landscape (five
terrains) and specified activity (12 activities) respectively.

A. K. Ramanujam’s quote sums up the elegance and the richness

sangam literature has contributed to Tamil language. In his words "In
their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in
any Indian literature equal to these quite and dramatic Tamil poems. In
their values and stances, they represent a mature classical poetry,
passion is balanced by courtesy…….. These poems are not just the
earliest evidence of the Tamil genius who were part of proto-Dravidian
Jain culture. The Tamils in all their 2,000 years of literary effort wrote
nothing better".
Much of the Tamil literature believed to have been composed in the
Sangam period is lost to us, though detailed lists of works known to the
10th century compilers have survived.


The works of sangam literature were lost and forgotten for several
centuries before they were brought to light by several Tamil scholars
such as S. V. Damodaram Pillai and U. V. Swaminatha Iyer.

The original texts of the acclaimed literary works of the Sangam period
came to public notice only towards the end of the 19th century, when
they appeared in print with commentaries. Until then, all works were in
the form of palm leaf manuscripts in the possession of scores of
families living in various parts of Tamil Nadu. They did not have the
skill to read them, and, therefore, did not realize their literary worth.
All that the people knew until then as Tamil literature comprised Bhakti
literature, historical works and minor poems. Even though the very few
books that were available drew attention of European scholars,
Sanskrit literary works attracted more Western attention during the
same period because of their availability and easy access.

The Tamils themselves would have remained ignorant of it, but for the
untiring efforts of one man U. V. Swaminatha Iyer. He undertook the
task of collecting the palm leaf manuscripts of great literary works. As
part of this mission he undertook long journeys, interesting and fruitful
sometimes and unrewarding at others. Ultimately, he succeeded in
gathering palm leaf manuscripts of many immortal Tamil works. He
made comparative studies of various manuscripts and his published
works were probably the first of their kind in this part of the world to
provide footnotes, bibliographies, glossaries, indices etc., comparable
to western standards. He published the five great Tamil epics between
1887 and 1894.He also published the major eighteen anthologies, all
appended with scholarly commentaries. Although he brought out about
100 works, including minor poems, many of the manuscripts that he
gathered remain unpublished.

Another significant contribution made by Swaminatha Iyer is in the

field of Tamil music. Until Swaminatha Iyer came out with his
publications, there was a lot of skepticism of music in Tamil research.

During the previous four centuries, Telugu and Sanskrit dominated the
music scene in Tamil Nadu in the absence of any valuable information
on Tamil music. Swaminatha Iyer's publications threw light on the
glorious presence of Tamil music in the earlier centuries and paved the
way for serious research on the subject.
A fitting tribute to Swaminatha Iyer’s outstanding contribution to Tamil
literature is the English translation of his autobiography by his student
and well known Tamil scholar-journalist K V Jagannathan. In his
introduction to the book KVJ said: “Two gifted souls have made the
most outstanding contribution to the enriching of the Tamil language in
the course of the last one hundred years: one of them, is noted for his
scholarship, his capacity for research, his editorial skill and his
integrity, and the other for his poetic talent, his patriotism and his fine
sensibility—the former being U V Swaminatha Iyer, and the latter that
peerless prince among poets, Subramanya Bharati.”


1.What does sangam literature portray?

2.How did the works of sangam age go unnoticed for several


3.Explain U.V.Swaminatha Iyer’s contributions to Tamil language?

4.Explain how music was an integral part of Tamil literature in sangam

age and U. Ve’s contribution to revival of Tamil music.

5.”Sangam literature and classical Tamil”. Elaborate.