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Administration during Sangam Age

SANGAKALA ARASU VARALAARU: V. Gurunathan; Published by Tamil University, Thanjavur-613005. Rs. 120.

THIS BOOK furnishes the latest and one of the most comprehensive accounts of the administration and political conditions of Tamil Nadu — the region between Tirupati or Venkadam hills in the north and Kanyakumari in the south — during the early historical period (300 B.C. to 400 A.D.). Historians call this period "the Sangam Age" after the "Sangam" (assembly of scholars) that flourished in the city of Madurai around this time.

The literature of the period is grouped under two main heads — the Ettuthogai (eight anthologies) and the Pathupattu (ten idylls). The use of this remarkable corpus of poems for historical research is, however, a hazardous exercise, mainly because the different poems were composed and compiled at various dates spanning over 600 years. Also, individuals of varied backgrounds — princes, chieftains, merchants, potters, peasants, Brahmins, Jains and Buddhists, composed them. Moreover, being bardic literature in praise of kings and chieftains, its concern with aspects of administration and economy is incidental.

Nevertheless, it does provide some insights into several little-known aspects of the history of those times. Besides, we also know about this period from archaeological excavations, coins and the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions found on rocks, potsherds, seals and jewels.

During this period, three kings — Chera, Chola and Pandya, ruled the Tamil country. Among them, the Pandyas are considered to be the oldest. All the kingdoms followed the system of hereditary monarchy.

In addition to these three kings, several minor chieftains were ruling in different parts of the country either independently or as subordinates to one of the three major kings. Some of these chieftains maintained matrimonial relations with the three main rulers.

Incorporating all the latest studies and discoveries in the field, the book presents a cogent and lucid account of the politico-administrative history of the various dynasties. The narrative is made more interesting by the numerous quotations from the various Sangam poems, spread throughout the book.

Unfortunately, the book is completely devoid of maps, line drawings and photographic illustrations — a major flaw in a high-quality research work.

Besides serving as a valuable reference tool for researchers, it will be of use to students of ancient history and archaeology.

S. SURESH

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