Period of Sangam Literature
Excavations reveal that Tamils knew the art of writing before the beginning
of the Christian era, that is, since the second century BC. The earliest script
that the Tamils used was the Brahmi script. It was only later, that is, from the
late ancient and early medieval period, that they started evolving a new
angular script, called the Grantha script. The modern Tamil alphabet is
derived from this angular script. Some of the contents of the Sangam
literature are corroborated by the writings of some Greek and Roman
classical writers of the first and second centuries AD (Ptolemy, Pliny the
Elder, Strabo and the anonymous author of the Periplus), leading us to fix the
period of Sangam age roughly between third century BC to third century AD.
So most of the Sangam literature also must have been produced during this
period, though it was finally compiled in the form as it is found today during
the fourth and fifth centuries AD.
Political History
Pandyas were the first south Indian kingdom to be mentioned by
Megasthenes (the first literary evi- dence about the south Indian kingdoms).
There is also mention of the three kingdoms—Pandyas, Cholas and Cheras—
as neighbours in the Asokan inscriptions, particularly the Major Rock Edict
II. The Hathi-gumpha inscription of Kharavela con- tains the only early
epigraphic reference to the kingdoms of the Tamil country after the Asokan
inscriptions. Kharavela is said to have destroyed a confederacy of Tamil
states—‘Tramiradesa sanghatam’. However the primary source for the
Sangam period is the Sangam literature, which refers primarily to the
Pandyas though it also contains information about the Cholas and the Cheras.
One of the Sangam poets, Mamulanar, even makes a reference to the Nandas
and Mauryas in the Purananuru, one of the anthologies.
The Pandyas ruled over an area consisting of the modern day southern Tamil
Nadu. Their capital was Madurai     (earlier Ten-Madurai and then Kapatapuram