SANGAM 2700 YEARS AGO (Post No.8212)


Post No. 8212

Date uploaded in London – 20 June 2020       

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Sangam is a Sanskrit word; though banned by the oldest Tamil book Tolkappiam, Tamils are very fond of this Sanskrit word. No word should begin with ‘Sa’ in Tamil according to Tolkaapiam. But Tamils believe that they had their first Tamil Academy called Sangam 10,000 years ago. It is an exaggeration. (I have explained it in my article several years ago; please see the link at the bottom).

But Tamils had and have Sangam, an academy for languages. It was an assembly of poets. Nowadays it is just an association. Depending upon who runs it, we have third rate  show by rubbish film actors or talk by highly intellectual Tamils.

The word has been used by Panini, world’s first linguist and grammarian, in his book Ashtadhyaayi (also called Panineeyam). Sangam like organisation was in Greece as well  2000 years ago.



Let me give some interesting information about an association of poets, actors and artists that existed in ancient Greece.

“The actors’ union was called ARTISTS OF DIONYSUS, a union formed in third century BCE by 280 poets , technicians , musicians and actors. Some replaced ‘actors’ with ‘ toadies’ (sycophants). The union lasted 500 years. Its last recorded title, under the emperor Aurelian, was modestly, ‘The Sacred Musical Travelling Aurelian  Great World Guild of the Artists of Dionysus’.

(It is strange that Greek poets chose a ‘bad’ god, who was god of wine, fertility, religious orgy, effeminate and who became a bull and a lion; he was Bacchus in Rome)

The actors demanded freedom of travel by land and sea, and freedom from taxation and arrest. At Delphi, they get prior rights to consult the oracle and to hospitality, for them and their descendants.

Not surprisingly, performers had a reputation for arrogance and bad behaviour. In the pseudo-Aristotelian  ‘Problems’, the question is asked-

‘Why are Artists of Dionysus mostly without principles ? The answer is that ‘their profession does not encourage reason and wisdom, and most of their life is spent in either rank self- indulgence  or poverty, conditions always productive of low moral standards’. They could get away with all this because theatrical and sporting shows were staged as festivals in honour of gods (Dionysus and Heracles), whom the performers were serving .”

–Eureka by Peter Jones, London, 2014



Panini lived in seventh century BCE according to Goldstucker and famous Sanskrit scholars of India. He lists various Sangams. There was also a Dravida Jain Sangam in Tamil Nadu around 450 CE (may be a religious Sangam like Buddhists’).

Though Sangam poets had high moral principles 2000 years ago, the condition deteriorated later to a low level and God Shiva had to interfere in it according to Tiru Vilayadal Puranam. All the fake poets were thrown into water when they sat on a Sacred Plank called ‘Sanga Palakai’. Another device was also set up. The poets were asked to recite their verses in front of a Divine Dumb boy. If he sheds tears (of joy), then they were  considered genuine poets. Moral standards were also very low and many famous poets were associated with the courtesans.


Panini lists the following Sanghams :-

Panini speaks of ‘Sangha’ as a generic term, applied to the following –

Firstly, sangha means a ‘multitude’ as in the expression ‘graamya-  pasu- sangha’ , a herd of domestic cattle . in the same sense it is also applied to  a multitude of human beings.

Secondly,  a sangha was a term for a ‘nikaaya’, which is termed by panini  as a corporate body where the distinction of upper and lower does not exist 3-3-42

(may be compared to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity of France)

‘Sanghe chanauttaraadharye’

This applied to a religious sangha functioning as a fraternity  without distinctions of high ‘Uttara’ and low ‘adhara’.

Thirdly, there is the ‘suutra samgh-odghau gana-prasamyoh 3-3-86, which speaks of the political sangha technically known as Gana.

Sangha and Gana were used as synonymous words for a republic. Panini speaks of Yaudheyas as a Sangha, whereas they refer to themselves as a Gana on their coins, albeit in the post- Paninian period.

The religious Sangha treated all equal, but political Sangha  vested power in their families. In the post Buddha period there were 18 Sanghas.

The Sangha spirit in Panini’s time had influenced every sphere of public life political, economic, religious, social and educational .

Ayudhajivi sanghas

Panini mentioned Ayudhajivi Sanghas by name in sutras 5-3-115 to 117 and in three Ganas of these sutras — Daamanyaadi, Parsvaadi, Yaudheyaadi

They were martial tribes who cultivated military art as a way of life (They made a living by the profession of Arms) mostly Kshatrias, but Brahmanas are also mentioned in 5-3-114 in the group

(I think Gurus like Dronacharya ,commanders like Asavttama and may be Parasurama come under this category; Drona and others are from Punjab where the Ayudhajivis lived)

In sutra 5-1-58, Panini refers to the numerical strength of a Sangha which Patanjali explains as consisting of five, ten or twenty members. This seems to refer to the Executive of a Sangha ( a democratic set up).


My comments

Amazing thing about Panini is that he wrote only a grammar book and all these  information came as examples for grammatical rules. If we make a list of the missing things in Kautilya’s Arthashatra who wrote a book on politics and economics, we would know the time gap between the two. Panini lived well before Kautilya of fourth century BCE.

We know for sure there were political and religious Sanghas from Panini’s time. Panini’s SANGA is the oldest reference of an organisation. Religious Sanghas continued for long. Political Sangha of Tamil Kingdoms of Chera, Choza, and Pandya was mentioned by Kharavela of Orissa in Second Century BCE (Hathikumba Inscription).

But we don’t hear about Sangha of Poets in Sanskrit literature. We hear about poets being honoured on Festival days such as Vijayadasami . Since we hear lot about Nigamas (Traders Guilds), naturally poets would have formed such groups. Tamil Sangam gave the seal of approval to good works by poets. Though the existence of Tamil Sanghams is true, the staggering number of poets mentioned and the years of its existence may be an exaggeration. We don’t have any secondary proof for it. Moreover all these details are reeled out only in very late period.

Source book – India as Known to Panini, Dr V S Agrawala, Lucknow University, 1953

Here is the link for my earlier article :-

THREE TAMIL SANGAMS : MYTH AND REALITY | Tamil and … › 2012/02/25 › three-tamil-sangams…


25 Feb 2012 – Tamil and Vedas. A blog exploring themes in Tamil and vedic literature. THREE TAMIL SANGAMS : MYTH AND REALITY.

Missing: angam ‎| Must include: angam


tags- sangam, Sangham, Panini, Tolkappiam, Sa letter, Ayudha jeevi,

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