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Kerala in Sangham Age

The Sangam Age (1 AD-500 AD)

  • The region including Kerala, Tamilnadu and southern parts of Karnataka and Andhrapradesh was known as Tamilakam.

  • Kerala was ruled by three powers:

    1. The Ay Kingdom (in the south: region between Nagarcoil and Thiruvalla)

    2. The Ezhimala Kingdom (in the north: region between Vadakara and Manglore)

    3. The Chera Kingdom (between the Ay and Ezhimala kingdoms)

The King

  • Monarchial form of government was present. King was the most important person.

  • Patrilineal system of succession (മക്കത്തായം).

  • The queen had a privileged status. She sat by the side of the king.

  • Polygamy was common among the kings.

  • No evidence of polyandry

  • Widowed queens sometimes committed sati.

  • The king was advised by the council of ministers.

  • There were taxes on land and trade. There were also customs duty on the exports at the ports.

  • Another source of revenue was war booty.

Battles

  • King maintained an army consisting of infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants.

  • They had navy also.

  • At the commencement of each fight, sacrifices were offered to the war goddess 'Kottavai'.

  • Women would go the battlefield to encourage the soldiers.

  • Death in battlegrounds was an honour. In memory of the dead soldiers, 'hero stones' (വീരക്കല്ല്) were erected.

  • King led the battles. If the king died,it would mean the end of the war.

  • The bodyguards of a dead king, sometimes, committed self immolation.

  • It was the practice to burn down the captured cities to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy.

  • It was a shame to be wounded by an enemy in the back. In the 'battle of Venni, the Chera king Utiyan Cheralatan was wounded in the back by the Chola king Karikala. The Chera king committed self immolation by fast unto death.

  • If a king was killed in a battle, the fighting was stopped at once and a war dance 'Kuravaikuthu' (കുരവകൂത്ത്) was performed.

  • Each king would rear a tree as a symbol of his authority. If he was defeated in the battlefield, the tree would be cut down.

  • It was customary to pull out the teeth of the captured enemies.

Sangham Poets

  • The poets were patronised by the kings.

  • The poets composed poems in praise of their lords.

  • The poets and musicians would roam in the battlefield, encouraging their soldiers. The enemy army would not harm the poets and the musicians.

  • The poets and scholars had free access to the king at any time.

Village Assembly

  • The village assembly was known as 'manram' (മൺറം).

  • It was held by the elders under a banyan tree.

  • The disputes were settled in these assemblies.

Caste System

  • Four-fold varna system was absent.

  • No untouchability and unapproachability.

  • People enjoyed equality.

  • The Sangham poets like Kapilar and Paranar emerged from 'Pana' community (now a lower caste).

Position of Women

  • Women enjoyed high status.

  • No 'purdah' system

  • They had full rights for education and movement.

  • Important poetess- Auvvaiyar

  • Child marriage was absent.

  • Widow marriage was permitted.

  • Women had the freedom to follow the occupation of their choice.

  • Women could attend the festivals. But the widows were not permitted in the festivals.

Marriage

  • The 'Gandharva' marriage (ഗന്ധർവ വിവാഹം) was popular (voluntary union of man and woman in secrecy).

  • Elopement of girls (ഒളിച്ചോട്ട വിവാഹം) is described in many works.

  • Another custom was 'mataleral' (മടലേറൽ). According to this custom, a frustrated lover committed suicide in public by fast unto death.

  • Chilampu Kazhi Nonbu (ചിലമ്പ് കഴി നോമ്പ്)- The bride would remove the anklet she had been wearing till then and wear the one given by the bridegroom.

  • The institution of 'bride price' was prevalent. The bridegroom would give some cash or presents to the parents of the bride.

  • Polygamy and concubinage (വെപ്പാട്ടി) was also present.

Food

  • Rice was the staple food.

  • People used fish and meat.

  • Liquor was widely used.

  • Foreign ships would bring high quality wines for the kings.

  • Common people used palmwine (പനങ്കള്ള്) or toddy (തെങ്ങിലെ കള്ള്).

Superstitions

  • They believed in omens (ചാത്തൻമാർ).

  • They believed that the soldiers wounded in the battlefield would be haunted by the spirits of the dead. The wife of the wounded soldier was expected to watch her husband to protect him from evil spirits.

  • Crowing of a crow indicated the arrival of a guest.

  • Fishermen used to go the sea only at the auspicious hour (ശുഭമുഹൂർത്തം).

Religion

  • Till 500 AD, they had no special religion.

  • Ancestor worship was popular.

  • Important goddess- Kottavai. She was the war goddess.

  • By the 5th century onwards, Aryan culture started to spread. The Aryan religions like Hinduism, Budhism and Jainism started to spread.

Economy

  • Main occupation was agriculture.

  • Private property was in existence. This gave a boost to the agriculture.

  • Main crops were: rice, jackfruit, pepper and turmeric.

  • Agricultural implements made of iron were used. Eg: Arival, kalappa, nukam, kotali, etc.

  • Other occupations were: fishing, hunting, spinning, weaving, carpentry, leather work, etc.

  • Salt was manufactured and sold in carts.

  • Barter system was present in internal trade. Coins like 'dinar' and 'kanam' were also present.

  • There was trade with foreign countries like Rome and Greece. Main items for exports were: pepper, spices, ivory, pearls, precious stones, etc.

Post Sangham Age

  • The history of Kerala in the 6th, 7th and 8th century is not known.

  • It is inferred from Budhist works that kerala was under 'Kalabhra rule' during this period.

  • After the Kalabhra rule, Kerala was conquered by the Chalukyas of Badami, the Pallavas and the Pandyas. However, there is clear evidence for only Pandyan conquest.


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