Social Scientist. v 16, no. 184 (Sept 1988) p. 17.

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The Role of Peasants in the Early History of Tamilakam in South India


This paper is an attempt to present a historical analysis of the life and struggle of the peasantry in ancient Tamilakam in south India during the first millennium of the Christian era.

The chief source of detailed information about social life in this period is the corpus of the Sangam works, mostly in the f<5rm of bardic songs orally transmitted for generations and collected in anthologies by the Sangam academy towards the close of that age.1 It has to be pointed out in the interest of proper assessment that the material culture of the period has been brought out by archaeological excavations which corroborated several statements in these works regarding the administrative centres of the chiefdoms and the harbour towns which attracted Roman settlement and trade.2 Supplementary evidence is found in the Roman writings duly attested by the discovery of Roman coinage in different parts of South India.3 Moreover, numerous megalithic remains including um burials containing precious beads and iron tools, and hero stones of the type encountered in Sangam works, have been discovered, opened and examined.4 A few donative label inscriptions, mostly belonging to Jain centres and reflecting the condition of religion and culture, have been located in rock-cut caves.5 All these have been discussed separately, and sometimes jointly in their historical context, so much so that it is possible now for us to review the progress of early Tamil society from the peasants angle.

The period which follows immediately, characterized by the formation of State under the Pallavas, Ceras and Colas as well as the emergence of a temple-centred economy and caste-oriented society culminated in the establishment of the Cola empire.6 Though completely different on the surface, it now reveals the continuity with certain others in the growth of State power, and the enlargement of certain others like northern brahmin influence in the courts and the countryside. Both of these may be traced back to the same

' "^Profession of History, University of Calicut.

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