Friday, May 14, 2010

Vedic culture in Sangam times

Vedic continuum in Hindusthan

Sangam times are from ca.300 BCE to 300 CE, when the earliest extant
works of Sangam literature). [Kamil Veith Zvelebil, Companion Studies
to the History of Tamil Literature, pp12; K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, A
History of South India, OUP (1955) pp 105]

The following notes include excerpts from a remarkable article which
appeared in Adyar Library Bulletin (1983). These clearly indicate that
Vedic culture in India dates back to very ancient times all over
Hindusthan, from Gandhara to Kanchipuram. This geographic spread of
Vedic culture is matched by the spread of punch-marked coins from ca.
6th century BCE, all over Hindusthan, from Gandhara to Karur

Kazanas (2009) has shown that Rigveda predates the Sarasvati-Sindhu culture.

Vedic culture in Sangam times

There is a temple for Devi Sarasvati in a place called Basara
(Vya_sapura) in Adilabad District of Andhra Pradesh, located on the
banks of the Godavari River. The sthala pura_n.a states that the Devi
was installed by Vya_sa by taking three of sand
from the river bed— an extraordinary affirmation indeed of the
integrat link of Sarasvati as devi and Sarasvati as river. The
appended maps indicate the patterns of ancient settlements right from
the foothills of the Himalayas (Ropar) to the Gulf of Khambat (Lothal)
and on the Arabian Sea Coast (Prabhas Patan or Somnath and Dwa_raka).
It is also significant that Sangam literature of the Tamils notes the
claim of the ancient Chera kings that they were the 42nd generation
descendants from the rulers of Dwaraka (Tuvarai) and the sage Agastya
is revered as the ancient Tamil Muni and the author of the earliest
grammatical work in Tamil. Sangam literature is replete with
references to the support provided to the growth of Vedic Culture in
the Tamil-speaking areas. An important article on the antiquity of
relation between Tamil and Sanskrit is: Sharma, K.V. 1983, Spread of
Vedic culture in ancient South India, Adyar Library Bulletin 47:1-1.

"Among the interesting facts that emerge from a study of the
progressive spread of vedic culture from the North-West to the other
parts of India, is its infusion, with noticeable intensity, in the
extreme south of India where, unlike in other parts, a well-developed
Dravidian culture was already in vogue… Tolka_ppiyamwhich is the
earliest available work of the sangam classics, is a technical text in
1610 aphorisms, divided into three sections, dealing respectively,
with phonetics, grammar and poetics…

The other available sangam works are three sets of collected poems,
being, pattu-ppa_t.t.u (Ten idylls), et.t.u-ttokai (Eight collections)
and patineki_r..kan.akku (eighteen secondary texts), which last
appears to pertain to the late period of the saμgam age. The ten poems
are:,,,, mullaippa_t.t.u, maturaikka_n~ci,, kuriñcippa_t.t.u, pat.t.inappa_lai and
malaipat.ukat.a_m. All the above idylls are compositions of individual
poets, and, except for the first, which is devotional and possibly,
pertains to late sangam age, are centred round the royal courts of the
Cera, Cola and Pa_n.d.ya kings, depicting the contemporary elite
scholarly society and youthful life. The second category consists of
Eight, kur.untokai, ainkur.unu_r.u,
patir.r.ujppattu,, kali-ttokai, akana_n-u_r.u and

All these collections are highly poetic and self-contained stray
verses of different poets put together in consideration of their
contents. The third category consists of eighteen miscellaneous texts,
some of them being collections of stray verses of different poets and
some composed by individual authors. They are:,
na_lat.iya_r, par..amor..i, tirikat.ukam, na_n-man.ikkat.ikai,
cir.upañcamu_lam, ela_ti, a_ca_rako_vai, mutumor..ikka_ ñci,
kalavar..i-na_r.patu, initu-na_r.patu, tin.aima_lainu_r.r.aimpatu,, kainnilai,,
tin.aimor..i-y-aimpatu and ka_r.-na_r.patu. The verses in these works
also refer to social customs and local sovereigns. The above works
picture a well-knit and well-developed society having a distinct
identity of its own.

The frequent mention, in sangam poems, of the Cera, Cola and Pa_n.d.ya
kings as the munificent patrons of the poets… and the archaeological
evidence provided by 76 rock inscriptions in Tamil-Bra_hmi script
which corrobate the contents of the sangam works, in 26 sites in
Tamilnadu (Mahadevan, I., Tamil Bra_hmi inscriptions of the Sangam
age, Proc. Second International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies,
I, Madras, 1971, pp. 73-106) help to fix the date of the classical
sangam classics in their present form to between 100 B.C. and 250 A.D…
reference to the Pa_n.d.yan kingdom by Megasthenes, Greek ambassador
to the court of Candragupta Maurya (c. 324-300 B.C.?) are also in
point. On these and allied grounds, the sangam period of Tamil
literature might be taken to have extended from about the 5th century
B.C. to the 3rd century A.D… It is highly interesting that sangam
literature is replete with references to the vedas and different
facets of vedic literature and culture, pointing to considerable
appreciation, and literary, linguistic and cultural fusion of
vedic-sanskrit culture of the north with the social and religious
pattern of life in south India when the sangam classics were in the

The vedas and their preservers, the bra_hmans, are frequently referred
to with reverence (Pur.ana_n u_r.u 6, 15 and 166; Maturaikka_ñci 468;
tirukat.ukam 70, na_n-man.ikkat.ikai 89, initu-na_r.patu 8). The vedic
mantra is stated as the exalted expressions of great sages
(Tolka_ppiyam, Porul. 166, 176). While the great God S'iva is referred
as the source of the four vedas (Pur.a. 166), it is added that the
twice-born (bra_hman) learnt the four vedas and the six veda_ngas in
the course of 48 years (, 179-82). The vedas
were not written down but were handed down by word of mouth from
teacher to pupil (Kur-untokai 156), and so was called what
is heard, šruti)(Patir.r.ippattu 64.4-5; 70.18-19; 74, 1-2;Pur.a. 361.
3-4). The bra_hmans realized God through the Vedas ( 9.
12-13) and recited loftily in vedic schools (Maturaikka_ñci 468- 76;
656)… the danger to the world if the bra_hman discontinued the study
of the veda is stressed 560. If the sangam classics are
any criteria, the knowledge and practice of vedic sacrifices were very
much in vogue in early south India. The sacrifices were performed by
bra_hmans strictly according to the injunctions of the vedic mantras
( 94-96; kalittokai 36). The three sacred fires
(ga_rhapatya, a_havani_ya and daks.ina_gni) were fed at dawn and dusk
by bràhmans in order to propitiate the gods (Kalittokai 119l Pur.a. 2;
99; 122; Kur.iñcippa_t.t.u 225) 2. 60-70 stipulates, in
line with vedic sacrificial texts, that each sacrifice had a specific
presiding deity, that pas'us (sacrificial animals) were required for
the sacrifice and that the sacrificial fire rose to a great height.
The vedic practice of placing a tortoise at the bottom of the
sacrificial pit is referred to in Akana_n-u_r.u 361…

Patir.r.uppattu 64 and 70 glorify the Cera king
Celvakkat.unkovar..iya_tan- who propitiated the gods through a
sacrifice performed by learned vedic scholars and distributed profuse
wealth amongst them. Another Cera king, Perum-ceral is
indicated in Patir.r.uppattu 74 to have performed the
Putraka_mes.t.hi_ sacrifice for the birth of his son The Cola ruler Peru-nar.kil.l.i was renowned as
Ra_jasu_yam ve_t.t.a for his having performed the ra_jasa_ya
sacrifice; another Cola ruler Nar.kil.l.i, too, was celebrated as a
sacrificer (Pur.a. 363; 400). The Cola kings were also considered to
have descended from the north Indian king S'ibi the munificent of
Maha_bha_rata fame (Pur.a. 39; 43). The patronage accorded to vedic
studies and sacrifices is illustrated also by the descriptive mention,
in Pur.a. 166, of a great vedic scholar Vin.n.anta_yan- of the
Kaun.d.inya-gotra who lived at Pu_ñja_r.r.u_r in the Co_r..a realm
under royal patronage. It is stated that Vin.n.anta_yan- had mastered
the four vedas and six veda_ngas, denounced non-vedic schools, and
performed the seven pa_kayajñas, seven Soma-yajñas and seven
havir-yajñas as prescribed in vedic texts. The Pa_n.d.yan kings
equalled the Colas in the promotion of Vedic studies and rituals. One
of the greatest of Pa_n.d.ya rulers, Mudukut.umi Peruvar..uti is
described to have carefully collected the sacrificial materials
prescribed in vedic and dharmašàstra texts and performed several
sacrifices and also set up sacrificial posts where the sacrifices were
performed (Pur.a. 2; 15). Maturaikka_ñci (759- 63) mentions him with
the appellation pal-s'a_lai (pal-ya_ga-s'a_lai of later Ve_l.vikkud.i
and other inscriptions), `one who set up several sacrificial halls'.
The Pa_n.d.ya rulers prided themselves as to have descended from the
Pa_n.d.avas, the heroes of Maha_bha_rata (Pur.a. 3; 58; Akana_n-u_r.u
70; 342)…

God Brahmà is mentioned to have arisen, in the beginning of creation,
with four faces, from the lotus navel of God Vis.n.u (Paripa_t.al8.3;
Kalittokai 2; 402-04;
164-65; Iniyavaina_rpatu 1). It is also stated that Brahma_ had the
swan as vehicle (Innà-nàrpatu 1). Vis.n.u is profusely referred to. He
is the lord of the Mullai region (Tol. 5) and encompasses
all the Trinity (Paripa_t.al13.37). He is blue-eyed (Pur.a. 174),
lotus-eyed (Paripa_t.al15.49), yellow-clothed ( 13.1-2),
holds the conch and the discus in his two hands and bears goddess
Laks.mì on his breast (Mullaippa_t.t.u 1-3; Perumpa_n. 29-30; Kali.
104; 105; 145), was born under the asterism (Maturai.
591), and Garud.a-bannered (Pur.a. 56.6; 13.4). Of
Vis.n.uite episodes are mentioned his measuring the earth in three
steps (Kali. 124.1), protecting his devotee Prahla_da by killing his
father (Pari. 4. 12-21) and destroying the demon Kes'in (Kali.
103.53-55). S'iva has been one of the most popular vedic-pura_n.ic
gods of the South. According to Akana_n-u_r.u 360.6, S'iva and Vis.n.u
are the greatest gods. He is three-eyed (Pur.a.6.18; Kali. 2.4), wears
a crescent moon on his forehead (Pur.a.91.5; Kali. 103.15), and holds
the axe as weapon (Aka. 220.5;Pur.a. 56.2). He bears river Ganga_ in
his locks (Kali. 38.1; 150.9) and is blue-necked (Pur.a. 91.6; Kali.
142). He is born under the asterism a_tirai (Skt. àrdra) (Kali.
150.20), has the bull for his vehicle ( 8.2) and is seated
under the banyan tree (Aka. 181). Once, while sitting in Kaila_sa with
Uma_ (Pa_rvati), his consort (Pari. 5.27-28; Par..amor..i 124),
Ra_van.a, the ra_ks.asa king shook the Kaila_sa and S'iva pressed the
mountain down with his toe, crushing Ra_van.a and making him cry for
mercy (Kali. 38). When the demon Tripura infested the gods, S'iva shot
through the enemy cities with a single arrow and saved the gods (Kali.
2; Pur.a. 55; 5. 22-28).Pur.ana_n –u_r.u (6. 16-17) refers
also to S'iva temples in the land and devotees walking round the
temple in worship. God Skanda finds very prominent mention in saμgam
classics, but as coalesced with the local deity Murukan-, with most of
the pura_n.ic details of his birth and exploits against demons
incorporated into the local tradition ( 5.
26-70;, the whole work). Mention is also made
of Indra. (Balara_ma) is mentioned as the elder brother of Lord
Kr.s.n.a, as fair in colour, wearing blue clothes, having the palmyra
tree as his emblem and holding the ;lough as his weapon, all in line
with the ( 2. 20-23; Pur.a. 56. 3-4; 58.14; Kali.
104, 7-8). Tolka_ppiyam ( iyal 5) divides the entire Tamil
country into five, namely, Mullai (jungle) with Vis.n.u as its
presiding deity, Kur.iñji (hilly) with Murukan- as deity, Marutam
(plains: cf. marusthali_ Skt.) with Indra as deity, Neytal (seashore)
with Varun.a as deity and Pa_lai (wasteland) with Kor.r.avai (Durga_)
as deity…

The sangam works are replete with references to the four castes into
which the society was divided, namely, bra_hman.a, ks.atriya, vais'ya,
and su_dra… bra_hman antan.a primarily concerned with books (Tol.
Mara. 71), the ks.atriya (a-ras'a, ra_ja) with the administration
(Tol. Mara.78) and s'u_dra with cultivation (Tol. Mara. 81)… It is
also stated that marriage before the sacred fire was prescribed only
for the first three castes; but the author adds that the custom was
adopted by the fourth caste also in due course (Tol. Kar.piyal 3)… one
cannot fail to identify in sangam poetry the solid substratum of the
distinct style, vocabulary and versification, on the one hand, and the
equally distinct subject-matter, social setting and cultural traits,
on the other, both of the Tamil genius and of vedic poetry. As far as
the grammar of Dravidian is concerned, a detailed analytical study of
Old Tamil as represented in Tolka_ppiyam, with the vedic s'iks.a_s and
pra_tis'a_khyas, has shown that, `Tolka_ppiyan-a_r clearly realized
that Tamil was not related to Sanskrit either morphologically or
genealogically… that he deftly exploited the ideas contained in the
earlier grammatical literature, particularly in those works which
dealt with vedic etymology, without doing the least violence to the
genius of the Tamil language'. (Sastri, P.S.S., History of Grammatical
Theories in Tamil and their relation to the Grammatical literature in
Sanskrit, Madras, 1934, p. 231)…

It would be clear from the foregoing that during the sangam age there
had already been intensive infusion of vedic culture in south India…
Both the culturescoexisted, the additions often affecting only the
upper layers of society… For novel names, concepts and ideas, the
Sanskrit names were used as such, with minor changes to suit the Tamil
alphabet (e.g. akin-i for agni, vaicikan- for vais'ya, veta for veda,
or translated (e.g. pa_pa_n- for dars'aka, for s'ruti). When,
however, the concept already existted, in some form or other, the same
word was used with extended sense (e.g. for ya_ga; ma_l or
ma_yan- for Vis.n.u). Sometimes both the new vedic and extant Tamil
words were used (e.g. ti_ for agni)… It is, however, important to note
that the coming together of the two cultures, vedic and dravidian, was
smooth, non-agressive and appreciative, as vouched for by the
unobtrusive but pervasive presence of vedicism in the sangam works.
The advent of vedic culture into South India was, thus, a case of
supplementation and not supplantation…

it is a moot question as to when vedic culture first began to have its
impact on dravidian culture which already existed in south India… the
age of this spread (of vedic culture) has to be much earlier than the
times of the Ra_ma_yan.a and Maha_bha_rata, both of which speak of
vedic sages and vedic practices prevailing in the sub-continent.
Literary and other traditions preserved both in north and south India
attest to the part played by sage Agastya and Paras'ura_ma in carrying
vedic culture to the south. On the basis of analytical studies of
these traditions the identification of geographical situations and a
survey of the large number of Agastya temples in the Tamil country,
G.S. Ghurye points to the firm establishment of the Agastya cult in
South India by the early centuries before the Christian era (Ghurye,
G.S., Indian acculturation: Agastya and Skanda, Bombay, Popular
Prakashan, 1977)… the considerable linguistic assimilation, in
dravidian, of material of a pre-classical Sanskrit nature, it would be
necessary to date the north-south acculturation in India to much
earlier times."

Related posts from this blog:-

Valmiki of Ramayana and Valmiki of Purananuru are the same.

Tretha yuga in the Cholan inscriptions.

Rama in Treta yuga – Yuga is defined on the basis of dharma and not the number of years.

Migration from Dwaraka to Tamilnadu.

Excavations at Sanganakallu and Kupgal – were they migrants from Dwaraka?

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