Tamil literature is one of the oldest and richest literatures in the world. It has a history that spans over 2,000 years and has produced some of the finest literary works in India. The literature is divided into five periods known as Sangam Age, Post-Sangam Age, Early Medieval Age, Middle Medieval Age, and Modern Age. The oldest Tamil literature belongs to the Sangam Age, which dates back to 300 BCE to 300 CE.
The Sangam Age was named after the Sangam academies, which were literary gatherings of Tamil scholars and poets. The Sangam literature comprises of two categories, namely Ettuthokai (Eight Anthologies) and Pattuppattu (Ten Idylls). Ettuthokai is a collection of eight anthologies that contain over 2,000 poems. These poems cover a range of themes, including love, war, nature, ethics, and philosophy. The Pattuppattu is a collection of ten long poems that narrate the heroic deeds of the Tamil kings and their valorous soldiers.
Some of the notable works from the Sangam Age are:
- Tolkappiyam – A treatise on Tamil grammar and poetics
- Pathuppattu – A collection of ten long poems
- Purananuru – A collection of 400 poems on ethical and moral values
- Agananuru – A collection of 400 poems on the life of the Tamil people
- Ettuthokai – A collection of eight anthologies containing over 2,000 poems
- Silappathikaram – A five-part epic that deals with the love story of Kovalan and Madhavi
- Manimekalai – A Buddhist epic that deals with the life of a woman named Manimekalai
The Post-Sangam Age, which extends from 300 CE to 600 CE, saw the emergence of the Bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu. This period witnessed the emergence of several devotional poets who composed poems in praise of Lord Shiva and Vishnu. The Early Medieval Age (600 CE to 1200 CE) saw the growth of Tamil literature in the form of devotional hymns and religious texts.
The Middle Medieval Age (1200 CE to 1800 CE) saw the rise of several literary genres like the vatteluttu, which was a form of narrative poetry. It also saw the emergence of the works of poets like Kambar, Ottakkoothar, and Sekkizhar. The Modern Age (1800 CE to the present) saw the emergence of several Tamil writers like Subramania Bharati, Bharathidasan, and Jayakanthan.
In conclusion, the oldest Tamil literature belongs to the Sangam Age, which dates back to 300 BCE to 300 CE. It produced some of the finest literary works in India, and its influence can be seen in the works of modern-day Tamil writers.