Ancient Tamil literature speaks of three Tamil Sangams (Tamil Cankam or Tamil Academies). First two Sangams were devoured by the sea during Tsunami catastrophes and the third academy was established at Madurai. We have enough literary materials to confirm the third academy. But the other two were doubted by several scholars because of some unbelievable claims. Even about the third academy there are some unsolved puzzles. Let us look at the facts first. The total years given for all the three academies are 10,040 years!
From the third and the last Sangam we have over two thousand poems composed by over 470 poets. This is grouped as Ten Idylls and Eight Anthologies and classified as Sangam Tamil literature. But according to the legend only 49 poets formed the third Tamil Sangam or academy. So we do not know who the academic members were and who just poets were. There was another Dravida Sangam established by a Jain scholar known as Vajranandhi in 470 AD. Was it part of the Tamil Sangam or was it a Sangam for Jain Tamil scholars? The later works like Tiruvilaiyadal Puranam talks about rivalries and fights among Sangam poets and Shiva had to come to the rescue of genuine poets. But this division was not mentioned in the old Tamil literature.
Existence of third Tamil Sangam in Madurai was confirmed by Appar Thevaram and Andal Tiruppavai. Appar not only refers to Tamil Sangam but also refers to a popular episode of a poor poet called Dharumi and his clash with Nakkeerar. Over forty of Sangam poets had the prefix Madurai in their names.
Since there were at least two references to Tsunamis and four references to earth quakes in Sangam Tamil and post Sangam Tamil verses we can be sure of some natural catastrophes. The reason for the doubts about their existence came from the big number of kings, big number of poets they sponsored and the years the kings ruled. If we take those years as exaggerated or coded language then we can reconcile the contradictions.
Adirakku Nallar, the commentator of Tamil epic Cilappatikaram had given the geography of the Tamil Land that was devoured by the sea. He wrote that there were seven big areas and each one was divided into seven smaller areas. Seven is a sacred number for Hindus and this type of land division is already in Hindu mythologies. When the first Tamil Sangam at South Madurai went into the sea ,they moved south and established the second academy at Kapatapuram. When that was also devoured by the sea they moved further south and established the third Tamil Sangam in modern Madurai. During the second academy Tolkappiyam was written by Tolkappiyar. At present Tolkappiyam is the oldest available Tamil work, which is grammar book. Scholars date it to first century BC or AD. Some kings and poets who were part of First (Murinjiyur Mudinagarayar) and Second Sangam wrote a few poems which are included in Sangam corpus of Tamil literature ( Panamparar, Kakkaipatiniyar).
Any student of linguistics will easily find out that their poems were not very old as claimed by the commentator. The language of Tolkappiyam and verses by Muda Thirumaran (King during second Tamil Sangam) and Murinjiyur Mudinagarayar (First Tamil Sangam)betray their age. The language was not very different from other Sangam poems. If we apply the thumb rule followed by Max Muller to date the Vedic literature (two hundred years for language changes) both Tolkappiyam and other Sangam works will be grouped under the same period. Tolkappiyar himself indirectly says that he compiled whatever materials available at that time. He adds in hundreds of places the journalist’s cliché “they say”, “it is said that”. This makes it clear that he was not the one who wrote every bit of the book, but it was only a compilation. If we go by his language we can’t put him back any further than first century. His colleague Panamparar wrote the introduction (prefatory verse) for his treatise. His language was not archaic either.
The commentator of “Iraiynar Agapporul” gives a full account of the three Tamil Sangams .In the background of this linguistic evidence and in the absence of any historical proof, the claim that the First Tamil Sangam existed for 4400 years under 89 kings and 4449 poets composed poems wont command any credibility. It is the same story about Second Tamil Sangam which existed for 3750 years under 59 kings and 3700 poets. The third Tamil Sangam existed for 1850 years.
The book Tolkappiyam was launched in the royal court of Nilam Tharu Thiruvil Pandya under the chairmanship of Athakottu Asan (Teacher of Athankodu, a village in Kanyakumari District) who was well versed in the four Vedas. According to legends both Tolkappiyar and the teacher Athankottu Asan were Brahmins. It wouldn’t surprise anyone because the highest contribution in Sangam corpus of 2000 + poems was from the Brahmin poets such as Kapilar ,Paranar, Mamulanar, Nakkiran ,Uruththiran Kannan (Please read my article “No Brahmins, No Tamil”). The name “Kapatapuram” (place of second Tamil Sangam) and the word “Sangam” are all pure Sanskrit words. Tolkappiyam has three chapters. Many scholars consider the third chapter to be a later addition.
Another word that betrays Tolkappiyam is “ADHIKARAM”. This Sanskrit word is used in Tirukkural of fourth or fifth century AD and CilappADIKARAM of same period (The Kannaki-Kovalan story happened in second century ,but the language of Cilappadikaram is definitely Post Sangam i.e after third century AD). Tolkappiyam is divided into three chapters and they are also classified as ADIKARAMS: Ezuththu/alphabet, Sol/word and Porul/worldly matters ADHIKARAMS. So we can put Tirukkural, Cilappadikaram and Tolkappiyam in the same period. But one must remember the date of writing and the date of events or grammar rules are different. Tamils very often get confused with the script and the language and the event and the actual date of putting it in writing.
To solve the puzzle of big numbers, one scholar suggested to divide the numbers by 37, saying that Jains were obsessed with this number. Then we will get 120,100 and 50 for the first, second and third Tamil Sangam respectively. People can question this method. They will ask why 37 number. What has it got to do with the Tamil Sangam. Even when we do it, it won’t go well with the number of kings and poets, which is very high again.
Patanjali, the author of Mahabhasyam followed a simple solution when Ramayana said that Lord Rama ruled for several thousand years. He simply divided that big number by 365 and arrived at the figure of 28 years for Rama. Any one would believe that Rama ruled for 28 years. We may also follow Pathanjalis scientific method and divide the years 10040 by 365 and arrive at 270 years.
Another problem with the previous two Tamil Sangams is the books attributed to those Sangams. They are pure Sanskrit names such as Maa Puranam, Bhuta Puranam, Pancha Marapu, sikandiyam, Kuna nul, Thakadur Yaththirai etc. When the last Tamil Sangam didn’t have many Sanskrit names how come the previous one’s had so many Sanskrit names for the books would be a valid question.
I suggest the following solution; once again it cannot be explained logically:
If we divide the number of years of three Tamil Sangams by 37 we arrive at 120,100 and 50=270 years. This is possible for three Tamil academies. If you add the kings number 89 (8),59 (5) and 49(4) after dropping 9 we arrive at 17. If anyone asks why should we drop nine and add only single digits there is no logical answer. Since we believe that they have used coded language, we do it.
First Sangam Second Third
Years 4440 3700 1850
Kings 89 59 49
(If we drop number 9 the total will be (8+5+4=17). 17 kings ruling for 270 years is acceptable to historians)
Poets 4449 3700 449
(Though the number of poets is huge there is nothing wrong in accepting it as the total number of scholars in the country )
Academy Members 549 69 49
By using the methods used by Patanjali and Maxmuller we can arrive at a reasonable figure for the three academies.( I have written another article about the Tsunamis and Earth quakes that affected ancient Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Academies).