Sangama literature was produced in the early four centuries of the Christian era, although it was finally compiled by 600 AD. Poets who in these assemblies were patronised by kings and chieftains produced the Sangama literature over a period of three to four centuries. Poets, bards and writers, authors came from various parts of South India to Madurai. Such assemblies were called “Sangamas”, and the literature produced in these assemblies was called “Sangama literature”. The contributions of Tamil saints like Thiruvalluvar who wrote ‘Kural’ which has been translated into many langauges are noteworthy. The Sangama literature is a collection of long and short poems composed by various poets in praise of numerous heroes and heroines. They are secular in nature and of a very high quality. Three such sangams were held. The poems collected in the first sangam have been lost. In the second Sangam about 2000 poems have been collected.
There are about 30,000 lines of poetry, which are arranged in eight anthologies called Ettuttokoi. There are two main groups – the Patinenkil Kanakku (the eighteen lower collections) and Pattupattu (the ten songs). The former is generally assumed to be older than the latter, and considered to be of more historical importance. Thiruvallurar’s work ‘Kural’ is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the epics, the second part with polity and government and the third part with love.
Besides the Sangama texts, we have a text called Tolkkappiyam, which deals with grammar and poetry. In addition, we have the twin epics of Silappadikaram and Manimekalai. These two were composed around the sixth century AD. The first is considered as the brightest gem of Tamil literature and deals with a love story. The second epic was written by a grain merchant of Madurai. These epics throw light on the socio-economic life of Tamils from second century to sixth century AD.
From the 6th to 12th century AD, the Tamil devotional poems written by Nayanmars (saints who sang in praise of Shaivism) and Alvars herald the great Bhakti movement which engulfed the entire Indian sub-continent. During this period, Kambaramayanam and Periya Puranam were two Tamil literary classic writers.