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Historians divide the history of Tamilakam into three chronological periods:

  1. Pre-historical times (pre 3rd century BCE)
  2. The Sangam era (3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE)
  3. Post Sangam era (3rd to 200th century CE)

Caveat: These time periods are guestimates.

The people of Tamilakam wrote on palm leaves – they scribbled with thin iron pencils. Kings chiselled their achievements on stone tablets and etched important records and laws on thin copper plates.

But history lost much of the pre-historical records (pre-3rd century BCE) to nature’s ravages and to human neglect and depredation.

What remains is oral history passed down the generations. Poets recorded much of the oral tradition in verse—poetry and song. The poets also added their own spin to these stories.

These survived and became tales, myths and legends. The stories mutated and resulted in fantastic events that traced the lives of all-conquering, all benevolent kings. It was expected as the poets relied on royal patronage for their livelihood. Many of these erudite individuals, not of the royal blood, became all-knowing sages who could even summon gods at will.

Modern historians pulled the often ill-fitting pieces of the jig-saw puzzle and added coherence to an otherwise confusing period. Much of this history, unable to meet the rigours of modern standards, remains disputed to this day.

The historians agreed that geography played a great part in the societies that evolved in ancient South India. They recognised five regions: hill country, forest belts, semi-arid lands, arable lands, and the seacoast. Descended from the hill country, the people who settled in the various regions shared many common traits and customs but also evolved distinct practices and skills.

That was a preamble to pick up where we left off regarding South Indian history.

Next week: Stirrings of Statehood.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019