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(200BC - 300AD)

In contrast to the Mauryan period the period between 200 BC and 300 AD was an age of small kingdoms many of them foreign in origin.

Society: Evolution of Jatis

The earliest Vedic literature comes from a background of pastoralism giving way gradually to agricultural settlements. Early Buddhist literature suggests a more settled agrarian economy and an emergent commercial urban economy. The post-Maurya period witnessed a series of small kingdoms ruling in various parts of the subcontinent and at the same time a tremendous expansion in both internal and external trade. The Gupta and Post Gupta periods witnessed the beginning of a major change in the agrarian system with the assignment of land grants and revenue grants and revenue grants to both religious and secular assignees resulting in a new politico-economic structure in many parts of the subcontinent. The migration of the Aryan speaking peoples brought in the new Aryan elite.

Though the brief campaign of Alexander did not seriously disturb the centres of powers in the Punjab and Sind, the invasions of the Indo-greeks, Sakas and Kushanas for two centuries definitely affected Indian society in the northern and western parts of the subcontinent. The impact of the Huna invasion in the 5th century AD was felt as far as the heartland of the Ganges. The migrations of people from central Asia to northern and western India in the post-Gupta period produced an even greater impact.

Caste System

Caste meaning Varna or colour to the Aryans was the logical distinction between the conquerors (Aryans) and the conquered (Dasas and Panis). It was in about 1,000 B.C. that the Aryans settled between the Indus and Gangetic regions; it was here that they learnt the art of cultivation. With the coming of agriculture, greater division of labour came into existence and thereby different occupations.

Once the Aryans settled as agriculturists and experienced the consequential developments mentioned above, the Aryan society also developed into grouping known as the four-fold caste system. Those who took to the occupation of fighting were know as Kshatriyas; those who took to cultivation were known as the four-fold caste system. Those who took to the occupation of fighting were known as Kshatriyas; those who took to cultivation were known as Sudra; and as there was an opportunity to contemplate because of the leisure engendered by agricultural occupation, the priestly community elevated themselves to the status of brahmins. Significantly, as the Aryans began to cultivate land, the earlier word "gavasthi" meaning search for cows came to mean 'to fight', because fights between the various tribes of Aryans for fertile land and herds of cattle were common.

Soon, by 600 B.C. a new grouping emerged in the Aryan community, Whenever a community takes to agriculture, some agriculturists produce surpluses or accumulate capital. Such an activity naturally brings to the forefront a group of people dealing with trade and commerce. That is how vaishyas came into existence, since the emergence of this community is rooted in the surpluses generated by agriculture, the erstwhile sudra community moved up to form this new grouping, while the non-Aryans and mixed-Aryan became sudras. About this time the concept of pollution also figured. It is definite that pollution was a known idea at this time because those who undertook unclean occupations like cleaning of carcases, fishing and other occupations came into existence. It was this aspect of unclean occupations associated with pollution that later on grew into untouchability.

From sixth century B.C. onwards there is historical evidence to show that the Sudras were primarily drawn from non-Aryans and mixed-Aryans, as for example, Ashoka enslaving one and-half lakh people after the kalinga war and bringing them to the Gangetic region to cut forests and cultivate land. We can, therefore, say that the four-fold caste division based on occupations was as good as established by the time the Mauryan empire was established. It is also significant to note that there are references in the inscriptions of Ashoka that bird-catchers, fishermen and butchers came to be treated as people beyond the pale of the then social structure. This stigma, in all probability, was confirmed because of the growing belief in the non-slaughter of animals, both on the part of the Buddhists like Ashoka and those of the Aryan community gradually discarding sacrifices.

Apart from these developments by the sixth century B.C., Brahmanism grew obscurantist because of its rituals and sacrifices. The Aryan rituals and festivals were over-emphasised by the priestly community because of the compulsion for making themselves indispensable in those time. As the Aryans took to agriculture, the priestly community realized that they had no meaningful occupation to perform apart from catering to some of the medical needs of people. Furthermore, looking at the way in which the Kshatriya warrior community was thrusting itself ahead, the brahmins or priestly community brought out a coup de grace by building mythologies to beguile the Kshatriya community. Historical evidence shows that it was during the Aryan stay in the Saraswati region that the legend of manu was created - all kings were adjudged as descendants of the ninth Manu, while the first Manu was created by Brahma. At this stage, the priestly or brahmanical community laid more emphasis on rituals and festivals supporting it by interpretation of the Rig Veda so that their own importance would not be ignored. Thus, in this process brahmins overshot their worm by making religion obscure to the average man.

Challenged by these desertions of common people as well as royalty, the Aryans, in particular the Brahminical community, brought about another coup de grace in the four centuries preceding the Christian era. Sanskrit language was rejuvenated by Panini. Coupled with this linguistic victory Brahmins wrote a number of dharma shastras including that of Manu. The Work of Manu is of a colossal magnitude. It relates both to secular and sacredotal fields of life. They also supplemented these with grihya dharma, rajya dharma, sreni-darma, ashrama-darma, silpi-shastra and so on. The purpose of all these writing was to regulate and discipline the whole life of man, whatever his calling or situation in life.

Also, in the same period, there were many more developments. With the influx of foreigners, a place was to be found for all of them. To achieve the objective the priestly order of India evolved the concept of jati-dharma, it is the dharma to be followed by each sub-caste or grouping within the four Walls of caste system. From now onwards, the four-fold division lost its usefulness and increasingly became a metaphysical concept. The real sacred lay in the jati-dharma or the dharma of the sub-caste; while the concept of chatur-varna stayed as an abstraction. What exactly any individual belonging to a jati a or a sub-group should do was minutely laid down covering all facets of life, like taboos relating to dinning, the items of consumption, the pantheon of gods to be worshiped, contraction of marriage, and the reverence to be shown to other jatis as well as the substraction of four-fold caste system as ad when the occasion called for. Since every individual was born into a jati and as the dharma of jati comes to be treated as an immutable truth, each individual was born in some kind of subjection.

Economy and Society

In the post-Mauryan era (200 BC. To 300 A.D.) the economy moved at an accelerated tempo. Society witnessed structural reorientation as significant groups of foreigners penetrated into India and chose to be identified with the rest of the community.

The occupation of craftsmen was an important segement of the day's socio-economic milieu. The craftsment were not only associated with the towns but also villages like Karimnagar in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh. The categories of craftsmen who were known in this period bear out the truth that there was considerable specialization in mining and metallurgy. A large number of iron artifacts have been discovered at various excavated sites relating to the Kushan and Satavahans Periods. It is surprising to notice that the Telengana region appears to have made special progress in iron artifacts - not only weapons but also balance rods, sickles, ploughshares, razors and ladels have been found in the Karimnagar and Nalgonda districts. Also, cutlery made out of iron and steel was exported to the Abyssinian ports.

Equally significant was the progress made in cloth-making and silk-weaving. Dyeing was a craft of repute in some south Indian towns like Uraiyur, a shurb of Tiruchirapalli, and Arikamedu. The use of oil was also high because of the invention of oil wheel. The inscriptions of the day mention weavers, goldsmiths, dyers, workers in metal and ivory, jewelers, sculptors, fishermen, perfumers and smiths as the donors of caves, pillars, tablets, cisterns etc. Among the luxury items the important ones were ivory and glass articles and beed cutting. At the beginning of the coristian era the knowledge of glass-blowing reached India and attained its peak. Coin minting also reached a high level of excellence made out of gold, silver, copper, bronze, lead and potin. A coint mould of the Satavahans period shows that through it half a dozen coins could be turned out a time.

In urban handicrafts the pride of place goes to the beautiful pieces of terracotta produced in profuse quantities. They have been found in most of the sites belonging to the Kushan and Satavahans periods. In particular, terracotta figures of great beauty have been found in the Nalgonda district of Telengana. The terracotta figures were mostly meant for the use of upper classes in towns.

This immense manufacturing activity was maintained by guilds. At least to dozen kinds of guilds were there. Most of the artisans known from inscriptions hailed from the Mathura region and the western Deccan which lay on the trade routes leading to the ports on the western coast.

The guilds, coming from the days of the Mauryan period, became a more important factor in the urban life both in being instrumental to increase in production and moulding public opinion. The primary guilds of the day were those of the potters, metal workers and carpenters. Some guilds organized their own distribution system while owning a large number of boats to transport goods from various ports on the Ganges.

The guilds of the day fixed their own rules of work and the standards of the finished products. They exercised care regarding price also to safeguard the interest of both the artisan and the customer. They controlled the price of the manufactured articles. He conduct of the guild members was regulated through a guild court. The customary uses of the guilds had the same force as those of laws.

The extensive activity of the guilds can be known from their seals and emblems. The banners and insignia of each guild were carried in procession of festive occasions. These prosperous guilds in addition, donated large sums of money to religious institutions and charitable causes.

Since the activity of the guilds was so buoyant, it appears that they attracted the attention of kings too. It is said that kings had financial interests in guilds. Royalty invested its money in commercial activities. This naturally led to protection being provided by State to the guilds. Regarding the activities of guilds, it appears from inscriptions that they acted asbankers, financiers and trustees although these activities were carried out by a separate class of people known as sresthins. Usury was a part of banking and the general rate of interest was around 15% loans extended to sea-trade carried higher interest rate. An authority of the day states that the rate of interest should vary according to the caste of the man to whom money is lent.

Interestingly, apart from the guilds, there were workers bodies also. The workers co-operative included artisans and various crafts associated with a particular enterprise. The classic example of this activity was the co-operative of builders, which has its members drawn from specialized workers such as architects. Engineers, bricklayers etc.

The immense commercial activity was bolstered by the thriving trade between India and the Easter Roman Empire. With the movement of Central Asian people like Sakas, Parthians and Kushans, trade came to be carried across the sea. Among the ports, the important ones were Broach and Sopara on the western coast, and Arikamedu and Tamralipti on the eastern coast. Out of these ports Broach was the most important as not only goods were exported from here but a also goods were received. Across land, the converging point of trade routes was Taxila, which was connected with the Silk Route passing through Central Asia. Ujjain was the meeting point of good number of trade routes.

The trade between India and Rome mostly consisted of luxury goods. To begin with Rome got her imports from the southern most portions of the country. The Roman imports were Muslims, pearls, jewels and precious stones from Central and South India. Iron articles formed an important item of export to the Roman Empire. For certain articles India became the clearing house, as for example, silk from China because of impediments posed by the Parthian rule in Iran and the neighboring areas.

The Romans, in return, exported to India various types of potters found in excavations at places like Tamluk in West Bengal, Arikamedu nevar Pondicherry and a few other places. Probably lead was important from Rome. It is also presumed that the Kushans had brisk trade with the Romans as they conquered Mesopotamia in 115 A.D. At a place close to Kabul, glass jars made in Italy, Egypt and Syria have come to light, apart from small bronze statues of Greko-Roman style, And the most significant Roman export to India was the gold and silver coins - nearly 85 finds of Roman coins have been found. There is nothing surprising in the lamentation of the Roman writer Pliny in the 1st century A.D. that Roman was being drained of gold on account of trade with India.

Indian kingdoms sent embassies to Rome the best known being the one sent about 25 B.C. Which included strange collection of men and animals-tigers, snakes, tortoises a monk and an armless boy who could shoot arrows with his toes. This mission reached Rome during the days of Emperor Augustus in 21 B.C.

In the southern kingdoms maritime trade occupied the pride of place. The literature of the day refers to harbours, docks, light houses and custom offices. Large variety of ships were built, both for short distance as well as long distance voyages. According to pliny the largest Indian ship was 75 tons. Other sources mention higher figures.

In the self-same period there was a boom in trade with south-East Asia. This was first occasioned by the Roman demand for spices. Gradually this trade grew in dimensions.

The growing number of strangers in the port towns and trade centers led to their absorbing Indian habits as their numbers grew, social laws of the day became rigid as to be seen from the law code of Manu. Further as conversions to Hinduism was technically impossible the non-Indian groups gradually grew into separate sub-castes. After all the conversion of a single individual was a problem but the device of caste made such absorption easier. Moreover the foreigners found it easier to become Buddhists instead of Aryans. Faced one theoretical knowledge confined to brahmins and the other practical and technical knowledge which became the preserve of the professionals.

It was during this period Dharmashastras came to be written. These Shastras made the social structure to be rigid. Apart from these writings poetry and drama were also popular. The outstanding poem in Tamil was Shilappadigaram. Another poem in Tamil was Manimegalai. In Sanskrit, Asvaghosa and Bhasa were the two great dramatists. The manuscripts of Asvaghosa were found in a monastry in Turdan in Central Asia. Both of his plays deal with Buddhist themes. Bhasa appeared a couple of centuries later. His plays are based on the incident from the spics or historical romances around the exploits of king udayan in Avanti.

In the field of plastic art. Great were the achievement of this period like the stupas at Sanchi and Bar hut the caves at Karlellora and Ajanta. At Amravati the great age of painting began. Also the sculptures at Amravati show a mastery of stone sculpture and with the mathura school of sculpture the Indian tradition of sculpture began.

The booming trade and commerce of the period was at the base of the urban settlements that came into existence. The important towns of northern India were Vaishali, Pataliputra, Varanasi, Kausambi, Sravasti, Hastinapur, Mathura and Indraprastha. Most of the towns flourished in the Kushan period as revealed by excavations. The excavations at Sonkh in Mathura show as many as seven levels of the Kushan are but only one of the Gupta period. Again in Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Ropar also several sites show good Kushan structures. The Satayahans kingdown also witnessed thriving towns like Tagar, Paithan, Dhanyakataka, Amravati, Nagarjunakonda, Broach, Sopara, Arikamedu and Kaveripattanam.

Indo Greeks

After Alexander the Great the Greek Seleucid dynasty of Persia held on to the trans-Indus region. After Seleukos Nikator was defeated by Chandragupta Maurya in 303 BC, the trans-Indus region was transferred to the Mauryas. In mid third century BC the Seleucid rule ended. The Greeks of Bactria rose in revolt under the leadership of Diodotus. These Greeks were later known as Indo-Greeks when they gained a foot hold in the Indian sub-continent. Bactria situated between the HinduKush and the Oxus was a fertile region and it controlled the trade routes from Gandhara to the west. The Greek settlement in Bactria began in the 5th century BC when Persian emperors settled the Greek exiles in that area.

About the same time the Seleucid king defeated King Subhagasena after crossing the Hindu Kush in 206 BC. This defeat reveals the unguarded nature of north-western India. The son of Euthydemos, Demetrois conquered modern southern Afghanistan and the Makran area he also occupied some parts of Punjab. Then around 175 BC the homeland of Bactrians came to be ruled by Eukratides another branch of the Bactrians. His son Demetrios II penetrated deep into the Punjab proceeding along the Indus he penetrated till Kutch. The most known Indo-Greek was Menandar whose claim rests on the Buddhist treatise the questions of King Milinda discussions between Menandar and the Buddhist philosopher Nagasena and he ruled the Punjab from C 160 to 140 BC. Menandar not only stabilized his power but extended his frontiers. His coins are to be found in the region extending from Kabul to Mathura near Delhi. He attempted to conquer the Ganges Valley. Probably he was defeated by the Sungas. After Menandar Strabo ruled. At that time Bactria was ruled by a different group of Bactrian. Little later Antialkidas ruled from Taxila as known from the inscription from Besnagar near Bhilsa. This inscription was incised on the order of Heliodoros who was the envoy of Antialkidas in the court of Besnagar. Heliodoros got a monolithic column built in honour of Vasudeva. Thus began the Bhakti cult of Vasudeva. The penetration of Indo-Greeks as well as of Sakas, Pahlavas and Kushana influenced the government, society, religious literature and art of ancient India. Even before Indo-Greek rulers established themselves in India the services of the Greeks were utilized. Ashoka appointed a Greek as very viceroy of his province. After the Indo-Greek period a Greek during the period of Kushans was entrusted with engineering work.

Sunga Dynasty

The founder of the dynasty Pushyamitra Sunga overthrew the Mauryas in 187 BC. After him there were nine other rulers. Among them Agnimitra, Vasumitra, Bhagvata and Devabhumi were the prominent ones. After the overthrow of Brihadrata Pushyamitra Sunga waged few wars to consolidate his position. Evidence shows that he defeated the Yavanas. This is confirmed by Patanjali' Mahabashva. Later Vasumitra the grandson of Pushyamitra Sunga defeated the Yavanas. This is confirmed by Malavikaganimtriam and gargi samhita. Some scholars regard that the establishment of Sunga dynasty was symbolic of the Brahmanical reaction to the Mauryan bias towards Buddhism.

Pushyamitra Sunga performed the Vedic sacrifices of asvamedha and the others like aginstoma, Rajasuya and vajpeiya. There was a high degree of tolerance prevailing during the period and some of the minor work of Sunga art are found at Mathura, Kausambi and Sarnath. The Sungas attempted to revive the caste system with the social supremacy of the Brahmins. This is more evident in the work of Manu wherein he emphasised on the higher position of the Brahmins in the society. The most significant development of the Sunga era was marked by various adjustment and adaptations leading to the emergence of mixed castes and the assimilation of the foreigners in Indian society. In the field of literature Sanskrit gradually gained ascendancy and became the language of the court. Patanjali was patronized by Pushyamitra Sunga and he was the second great grammarian of Sanskirt.

Patankali refers to a Sanskrit poet Varauchi who wrote in the Kavya style and which was later perfected by Kalidasa. In the field of art there was immediate reaction against the Buddhist era of the Mauryas. The Sunga art reflects more of the mind, culture, tradition and ideology than what the Mauryan art did. During the Sunga period stone replaced the wood in the railings and the gateways of the Buddhist stupas as noticed at Bharhut and Sanchi. Bharhut stupa is replete with sculptures -apart from the floral designs , animal, figures, Yakshas and human figures. Even the stone railing around the Sanchi Stupa is in rich belief work.

There was increasing use of symbols and human figures in architecture. Sunga art are manifestation of popular artistic genius. There was an increase in the construction of rock-cut temple as noticed in the Chaitya Hall. The importance of Sunga dynasty lies in the restoration of real politic while abandoning the Ashokan approach. In the field of religion they not only revived the earlier tradition but also gave an impetus to new approaches combative towards the heterodox sects the cult of Katakana the god of war the resurgence of Bhagvata cult and the supremacy of Vasudeva in the Hindu pantheon.

Kushan Dynasty

In the post-Mauryan era Central Asia and north-western India witnessed hectic and shifting political scenes. The Great Yuehi-Chi driven out of fertile land in western China migrated towards the Aral Sea. There they encountered the Sakas and overthrew them. They settled in the valley of Oxus and with the occupation of the Bactrian lands the great hordes were divided into five principalities.A century later the Kushan section attained predominance over the others. Their leader was Kadphises. Thus began the history of Kushans. Kadphises attacked the regions south of Hindu Kush, conquered Kabul and annexed Gandhara including the kingdom of Taxila. He died in 78 AD. By then the Kushans had supplanted the princes belonging to the Indo-Greeks Saka and Indo-Parthian communities along the frontiers of India. The successor of Kadphises was Vima Kadphsis. He conquered large parts of North India. His coins show that his authority extended as far as Benaras and as well as Indus basin. His power extended as far as Narmada and Saka Satraps in Malwa and Western India acknowledged his sovereignty.

The next ruler Kanishka belonged to the little Yuehi-Chi section of the horde. His capital was Purusyapura and here he built many Buddhist buildings. In his early days he annexed Kashmir and consolidated his rule in the Indus and the Gangetic basin. His army crossed the pamirs and inflicted a defeat on the Chinese. A large number of inscriptions were incised during the time of Kanishka and his successor. He became an active patron of Buddhist Church during the later part of the reign. His coins prove that he honoured a medley of Gods -Zoroastrian, Greek, Mitraic and Indian. The prominent Indian deity was God Shiva. He also convened a council of Buddhist theologians to settle disputes relating to Buddhist faith and practices.

Satavahana Dynasty

The government of the Satavahana kingdom was organized on the traditional lines. It was divided into Janapadas which were further divided into aharas. Each ahara was under an Amataya. The basic unit of the ahara was the grama with the village headman called gramika. Central control was maintained over the provinces. Princes were generally made viceroys. The kings were expected to maintain dharma. Taxation was not burden as the state derived its income from crown lands, court fees, fines and ordinary taxes of the Mauryan period were not imposed. Central control was not high because feudal traits emerged in the Satavahana period. The feudal chiefs like maharathas, mahasenapatis and mahabhojas issued their own coins. The area under the Satavahana in general witnessed considerable prosperity. Broach was the most important port and it had a vast and rich hinterland. Pratishthana produced cotton, tagara and Ujjain produced muslin. The chief imports were wines, copper, tin, lead and gold and silver coins.

Another important port was Kalyan mentioned in the Perilus. The other ports were Sopara and Goa. Within the kingdom there were important cities like Tagara, Prathishthana, Nasik, Junnar and Dhanyakataka. Koddura and Chinnaganjam were the important ports on the east. Evidence shows that a many people emigrated from the Deccan to colonize the regions in South-East Asia. Encouraged by wealth the kings patronized literature and architecture. Hala was an authority on the Puranas. He was the author of Sapta-Sataka. Leelavati deals with the military campaigns of Hala. The five gateways at Sanchi the rock-cut chaitya halls of Bhaja, Karle, Nasik and Kanheri and the stupas at Amaravati, Bhattiprolu, Goli and Ghantasala were built in this period. The capitals of the pillars in Karle Caves were sculptured. Its construction began during the time of Gautamiputra Satakarni and was completed during the time of Yajna Sri Satakarni. Two Ajanta Frescoes came into existence during this period. The Satavahanas were great excavators of cave temples and the magnificent temples of Ellora and Ajanta were the continuation of the Satavahana tradition.

Satavahana Administrationy

The Satavahana administration was very simple and was according to the principles laid down in Dharmashastras. The king laid no claim of divine right. They had only the modest title of rajan. The king had no absolute power. Their power was checked in practice by customs and shastras. The king was the commander of war and of threw himself into the thicket of the frays. A peculiar feature of the Satavahana administration was the presence of feudatories of different grade. The highest class was that of petty princes bearing the kingly title raja and striking coins in their own names. Next in rank was the maharathi and mahabhoja. Both titles from the beginning were hereditary and restricted to a few families in a few localities. Probably mahabhoja ranked higher than that of maharathi.

The mahabhojas were the feudatories of Satavahanas. They were primarily located in western Deccan. They were related by blood to the feudatory maharathi. It is definitely known that the maharathi were the feudatories of Satavahanas. They also granted in their own name villages with physical immunities attached to them. The maharathis of the Chitaldrug enjoyed the additional privilege of issuing coins in their own name. Towards the close of the Satavahana period two more feudatories were created Mahasenapathi and Mahataralavara. Barring districts that were controlled by feudatories; the empire was divided into janapadas and aharas, the latter corresponding to modern districts. The division below that of ahara was grama. Non-hereditary governors were subject to periodical transfers. There were other functionaries like great chamberlain, store keepers, treasurers and dutakas who carried royal orders.


This culture was one of the earliest iron-using archaeological settlements in South India. Megaliths were the burial monuments for important tribal figures. In these monuments we find different implements like stone and iron tools which were needed for daily existence. They were found around river valleys, important trade routes and strategic places. In the different districts of South India we have discovered megalithic monuments. Many inscriptions of the Mauryan king Ashoka have been found in these regions where megalithic sites have been discovered. The people followed a primitive kind of agriculture. They were used to move from place to place. Primitive form of exchange existed between the different tribal groups. These settlements indicate the beginning of use of iron for the purpose of production. It is said that they belonged to the period around 5th century BC.

Sangam literature

Sangam literature refers to a body of classical Tamil literature created between the years 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. This collection contains 2381 poems written by 473 poets, some 102 of whom are anonymous authors. The period during which these poems were written is commonly referred to as the 'Sangam age, referring to the prevalent Sangam legends claiming literary academies lasting thousands of years, giving the name to the corpus of literature. Sangam was an association of literary figures. The literature refers to the contact with Greco-Roman traders. Discovery of certain archaeological sites in South India which indicate the existence of settlements of these foreign traders in South India. In these sites Roman pottery with Roman wine has been discovered. Sangam literature gives details regarding the nature of polity, economy and society. Sangam literature is primarily secular dealing with everyday themes in a South Indian context. The poems belonging to the Sangam literature were composed by Tamil poets, both men and women, from various professions and classes of society. These poems were later collected into various anthologies, edited and had colophons added by anthologists and annotators around 1000 CE. Sangam literature fell out of popular memory soon thereafter, until they were rediscovered in the 19th century by scholars such as S.V.Damodaran Pillai and U.V Swaminathan Iyer.

Sangam literature deals with emotional and material topics such as love, war, governance, trade, and bereavement. Much of the Tamil literature believed to have been written in the Sangam period is lost to us, though detailed lists of works known to the 10th century compilers have survived. In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quiet and dramatic Tamil poems. In their values and stances, they represent a mature classical poetry: passion is balanced by courtesy, transparency by ironies and nuances of design, impersonality by vivid detail, austerity of line by richness of implication. The Sangam literature gives the picture of a primitive society and the transformation of this primitive society into a developed one. There is reference to migration of Brahmans and Buddhists into South India. This infused certain changes in the South Indian society. There was the introduction of varna system in South India

  • Sangam Age Sources
  • Sangam Life and Administration
Sangam Age Sources

The archaeological sources for the Sangam period are limited. They may be classified into Epigraphy, Excavation and Coins. The Ashokan edicts refer to the Chera, Chola and Pandya kingdoms. The Kalugumalai inscription helps us to know about Tamil Brahimi script. During the excavation at Adhichanallur large number of articles made of iron, bronze and gold were found which depicts the life during Sangam period. A Buddhist vihara was found at Kilaiyur near Kaveri Poompattinam.It belonged to the Post Sangam period. The Tamil kings of Sangam period issued gold and silver coins but they are limited. Roman coins made of gold and silver are found which confirms the trade relations between them and Rome during the Sangam age. Literacy source works like Tolkappiyan, Ettuthogai, Ettuhogal and Pattuppattu provide valuable information to know the history of the Sangam Age.

Sangam Life and Administration

The king was the center of administration. Avai was the court of crowned monarch. The main officials were Armaichhar (Ministers), Dutar (envoys),Orrar (spies),Purohitar (purohits),Senapatiyar(senapati),Orrar (spies).The kingdom was divided into Mandala Mandu (province),Ur (town),Sirur(small village) and Perur ( big village).The society was divided into Brahmins and non Brahmins. The Tamil Brahmins were a respectable and learned community who lived apart in their areas and treated with reverence including kings. Trade was common to vaishyas and villas and learning, agriculture, performing sacrifice etc prescribed to the vaishyas as well. Untouchability was practiced and lowly castes were called parriyas. Education was encouraged and widespread among different classes. The Sangam economy was self-sufficient. Land was classified as vanpulam (the non –agrarian region) and menpulam (agrarian) sangam texts refer to ulavar and toluvare as the tillers of menpulam.Tank irrigation (ayam and minor dam Sinai irrigation was employed. Some important taxes were karai (land tax),irai ( tribute paid by feudatories and booty collected in war),ulgr ( custom duties) and Iravu (extra demand or forced gift).Barter system as a medium of exchange was prevalent .Pattinam were the centres of long distance trade. The main agricultural products were paddy, ginger, turmeric, pepper and sugarcane. The Chola capital Uraiyur was famous for trade in cotton cloth.

Spinning and weaving were most important and widely practiced craft. Taniyurs were developed out of Brahmadeyas and temple settlements and can include several hamlets and revenue villages. Eripatti was special category of land. The revenue from these lands was set apart for the maintenance of the village tank. Rituals and animism influenced the religion. A planted log of wood called kandu was an object of worship. There was a special festival instituted in puhar dedicated to the Vedic God Indra.Deities like Korravai Goddess of victory and Murugan were worshipped. Musicians, stage artists and performers entertained the kings, the nobility, the rich and the general population. Thudian players of the thudi a small percussion instrument. Paraiyan beat maylam (drums) and performed kooththu a stage drama in dance form as well as proclaiming the King’ s announcements. Muzhavan blew into a muzhavu a wind instrument for the army indicating the start and end of the day and battlefield victories. Kadamban beat a large bass like drum, the kadamparai and blew a long bamboo, kuzhal, and their thuthi. PaaNan who sang songs in all pan tunes (tunes specific for each landscape) and were masters of the yaazh, a stringed instrument with a wide frequency range. Together with the poets and the academic scholars (saandror) these people came from all sections of the society.

Schools of Art

Gandhara School

Gandhara School flourished from about the middle of the first century BC to about the 5th century AD in the Gandhara region and hence known as the Gandhara School. It owed its origin to the Indo-Greek rulers but the real patrons of the school were the Sakas and the Kushanas especially Kanishka.Owing to its intimate connection with Mahayana Buddhism it is also called the Graeco-Buddhist School.

  • Gandhara Sculpture
  • Main features of Gandhara Art
  • Buddhist Stupas
Gandhara Sculpture

Specimen of Gandhara sculpture has been found extensively in the ruins of Taxila and the various ancient sites in Afghanistan and north-western India. They were executed in black stone.

Main features of Gandhara Art

A tendency to mould the human body in a realistic manner with great attention to accuracy of physical details especially the delineation of muscles, the addition of moustaches, curly hair. The representation of thick drapery with large and bold fold lines, rich carving, elaborate ornamentation and complex symbolism.

Buddhist Stupas

The Greco-Roman architectural impact modified the structure of the stupa.The orthodox Indian design of the stupa was developed into an architectural composition of fine propositions and character. The height of the stupa was raised enormously by elevating it on a high platform and by elongating its main body upwards. Plastic ornamentation was added to the structure of the stupa.The main theme of Gandhara School can be said to be the new form of Buddhism-Mahayanism and its most important contribution was the evolution of an image of the Buddha

Mathura School

The School of art that developed at Mathura has been called the Mathura School. Its origin has been traced back to the middle of the 2nd century AD but it was only in the 1st century AD that its genuine progress began. The artists of Mathura used the spotted red sandstone for making images. Though the Mathura school owed much to the earlier Indian traditions, it also borrowed from the Gandhara School and adopted more than one Greco-Roman motif. In its early phase the Mathura School was probably inspired by Jainism as we find that many figures of cross-legged naked tirthankaras in meditation were carved by Mathura craftsmen.

  • Buddhist Images
  • Royal Statues
Buddhist Images

The early Budhhas and Bodhisattavas of the Mathura School are fleshy figures with little spirituality about them but later they developed grace and religious feeling. The attempt to display spiritual strength by a circle behind the faces of the images began with the Mathura School. The Mathura artists also carved out images of Brahmanical divinities. Popular Brahmanical Gods, Shiva and Vishnu were represented alone and sometimes with their consorts Parvati and lakshmi.Images of many other Brahmanical deities were also faithfully executed in stone. The most striking remains are the beautiful female figures of yaksinis, naginis and apsaras.

Royal Statues

Most of the Kushana royal statues were found at the village of Mat near Mathura where the Kushana kings had a winter palace with a chapel in which the memory of former monarchs and princes were revered. Almost all the figures have been broken by the rulers of the succeeding dynasties and that of the great Kanishka; The most striking of the statues unfortunately lacks its head.

Amaravati School

In the region between the lower valleys of the Krishna and Godavari which became an important centre of Buddhism at least as early as the 2nd century BC a separate school of art known as Amaravati School flourished. Though it had its beginning in the middle of the 2nd century BC it matured only in the later Satavahana period and declined by the end of the 4th century AD. Its main centres were Amaravati; Nagarjunakonda and Jaggayyapeta.Its artists mainly used white marbel.

  • Buddhist Statues
Buddhist Statues

The great stupa of Amaravati was adorned with limestone reliefs depicting scenes of the Budhha's life and surrounded with free standing Buddha figures.Amaravati artists created beautiful human images which outnumber those of religious nature. The figures and images of males and females carved under the influence of this school have been regarded as some of the best among the contemporaries not only from the point of view of their size, physical beauty and expression of human emotions but also from the point of view of composition.

The female figures in different moods and poses are in particular its best creations. The Amaravati School had a profound influence on surrounding schools of art. Its products were carried to Ceylon and Southeast Asian countries and had a marked effect on the indigenous styles. Its influence on later south Indian sculpture is also very evident.