Solution: Daily Problem Practice for 2021 History Optional [Ancient India: Day 20]

Solution: Daily Problem Practice for 2021 History Optional [Ancient India: Day 20]

Q. With the help of contemporary sources, discuss the political and economic development in Sangam age. [20 Marks]


The sangam literature, foreign accounts and archaeological sources found from different explored or excavated sites throw light on the various aspects of the political and economic life of the Sangam which is roughly about 600 years from c. 300 B.C to A.D 300.

Political development


  • Monarchy was the form of government during the Sangam period. According to the Sangam classics, kingship descended by heredity from father to son.
  • Of the three crowned monarch:
    • the Cholas controlled the fully irrigated fertile Cauvery (Kaveri) basin with their capital at Uraiyur,
    • the Pandyas ruled over the pastoral and littoral parts with the capital at Madurai, and
    • the Cheras had their sway over the hilly country in the west with Vanji (Karur) as the capital.
  • Each of the Sangam dynasties had a royal emblem –
    • carp for the Pandyas,
    • tiger for the Cholas and
    • bow for the Cheras.
  • The “king” was called ventan. He was the head of the society and government.
    • As the head of the society, he took the lead in every event of social importance like the festival of Indra, inaugurations of dance performances, etc.
    • The “king” assumed important titles at the time of coronation. He was equated with gods so as to provide divine sanctity.
  • The imperial court or avai was attended by a number of chiefs and officials.
  • The king also had recourse to advisers in the course of his administration. The literature frequently mentions them as surram which literally means the men who always surrounded the king giving him advice whenever needed.
  • The king was assisted by a large body of officials who were divided into five councils. They were
    • ministers (amaichar),
    • priests (anthanar),
    • military commanders (senapathi),
    • envoys (thuthar) and spies (orrar).
  • The king was responsible for maintaining the law and order in the state. He also looked after the welfare of his subjects, worked hard for their good and frequently toured the country to put things in order.


  • They were subordinate to the kings.
  • They are divided into two – velir and non-velir.
  • Some of them were great patrons of letters.


  • The policies of the king were controlled by a system of checks and balances in the councils.
  • Silappadikaram refers to the two types of councils —Aimperunkulu and Enperayam.
    • The aimperunkulu or the council of five members was the council of the ministers.
    • The enperayam or the great assembly (perayam) consisted of 8 members (government officers). Their function was generally advisory in character. However, their advice was rarely rejected by the king.
  • Every local unit was administered by a local assembly following its own model of administration.


  • The military administration was efficiently organized during the Sangam Age. Each ruler had a regular army and their respective Kodimaram (tutelary tree).
  • The king maintained all the four kinds of armies mentioned in Sangam literature —
    • the chariot,
    • the elephant,
    • the cavalry and
    • the infantry.
  • There are references to the navy of the Chera.
  • The Sangam texts also mention about the army camp on the battle field.
  • Tamil people had a great respect for the warrior and particularly the hero who died in the battle field. The herostones were erected to commemorate heroes who died in war.

Influence of Northern political ideas

  • Sangam polity was influenced by the North Indian political ideas and institutions in many aspects.
  • Many rulers sought their origin and association with deities like Siva, Vishnu and ancient sages.
  • Many kings are said to have participated in the Mahabharta war like their North Indian counterparts.
  • The rulers of Sangam age were also the patrons of art, literature and performed yajnas (sacrifices).

Economic development


  • Agriculture was the chief occupation and the main source of revenue for the state.
  • The importance attached to cultivation is also seen in the interest people showed in cattle rearing. One of the primary duties of the king was to protect the cattle of his kingdom.
  • The paddy and sugarcane were the two important crops cultivated in a large quantity. Others were Ragi, cotton, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and a variety of fruits
  • Jack fruit and pepper were famous in the Chera country.
  • The kings of the Sangam age took great measures for the development of agriculture.
    • Karikala Chola dug tanks for irrigation and his embankment of the river Cauvery proved to be very useful for agriculture.
    • Tank irrigation helped in feeding agriculture as mentioned in many poems.


  • The handicrafts of the Sangam period were popular. They include weaving, metal works and carpentry, ship building and making of ornaments using beads, stones and ivory.
    • There was a great demand for these products, as the internal and external trade was at its peak during the Sangam period.
    • Spinning and weaving of cotton and silk clothes attained a high quality. There was a great demand in the western world for the cotton clothes woven at Uraiyur.
  • According to Silappadikaram, men of different occupation lived in different streets.
  • The art of building reached a high level during this period.
  • The painter’s art was commonly practised and appreciated by people.
    • Paripadal refers to the existence of a museum of paintings in Madura (Madurai) and the sale of pictures is mentioned by Silappadikaram.
  • The art of weaving commanded popularity not only among the Tamils but also among the foreigners.
    • The Indian silk, for its fineness, was in great demand by the Roman merchants.
    • All the members of the family, especially women, took part.
  • The leather-workers, potters and other craftsmen also contributed to the industrial development.
  • But one of the most noteworthy fact in this regard is the introduction of Greek sculpture and other foreign workmanship into South India during this period.


  • Both internal and foreign trade was well organized and briskly carried on in the Sangam Age. The Sangam literature, Greek and Roman accounts and the archaeological evidences provide detailed information on this subject.
  • The trade was mostly conducted through barter but coins were also used.
  • External trade:
    • The Tamils of the Sangam age had trading contacts with the Mediterranean world (Greece and Rome), Egypt, China, Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.
    • After the ascendancy of the Roman Empire, the Roman trade assumed importance. This period marked the height of the Indo-Roman trade.
    • Plenty of gold and silver coins issued by the Roman Emperors like Augustus, Tiberius and Nero were found in all parts of Tamil Nadu.
    • The literary works like Silappadikaram, Manimekalai and Pattinappalai frequently refer to the contact with the Greek and Roman traders.
    • The Periplus of Erythrean Sea and other accounts of foreigners such as those of Pliny, Ptolemy, Strabo and Petronius mention various ports and the articles traded during the period.
    • The archaeological excavations and explorations at various sites have also yielded the artefacts confirming to the trading relations between the Tamil regions and other countries. The discovery of coin hoards at many places also attest this fact.
    • Ports:
      • The Sangam texts mention prominently only the ports of Musiri, Puhar (Kaveripattinam) and Korkai, the three great ports of the three great rulers of the times. The port city of Puhar became an emporium of foreign trade, as big ships entered this port with precious goods.
      • However, the Periplus refers to the ports of Tondi, Musiri and Comari (Kanyakumari), Colchi (Korkai), Poduke (Arikamedu) and Sopatma.
    • Export:
      • The main exports of the Sangam age were cotton fabrics, spices like pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric, ivory products, pearls and precious stones.
      • The commodities exported to Rome fetched high returns.
    • Import:
      • The main articles of import from Rome consisted of the coins, coral, wine, lead, tin and jewellery.
      • The beads manufactured at many sites in South India in the contemporary period have been found at several sites of Southeast Asia. This suggests the maritime contacts between the two regions.
      • There were settlements of the foreign traders in many towns.
  • Internal trade:
    • Internal trade flourished in the region with local networks of trade connecting different urban centres.
    • Silappadikaram refers to the bazaar (marked) streets of Puhar while Maduraikkanji describes the market at Madurai, the Pandyan capital.
    • Merchants carried the goods on the carts and on animal-back from place to place. Internal trade was mostly based on the barter system.
  • Inland urban areas:
    • Besides the coastal ports or towns, the Tamil region also witnessed the growth of urban centres in the inland regions.
    • The prominent among these were Madurai, Karur, Perur, Kodumanal, Uraiyur, Kanchipuram and others.

Source of revenue

  • Land revenue was the chief source of state’s income.
  • Trade was also a very important source of the royal revenue. Custom duty was also imposed on foreign trade. The Pattinappalai refers to the custom officials employed in the seaport of Puhar. Roads and highways were well maintained and guarded night and day to prevent robbery and smuggling.
  • Spoils of war further added to the royal income. But the income from agriculture provided the real foundation of war and political set-up.
  • Booty captured in wars was also a major income to the royal treasury.


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