Sangam landscape

Sangam landscape

The Sangam landscape is the name given to a poetic device that was characteristic of love poetry in classical Tamil Sangam literature. The core of the device was the categorisation of poems into different "thinais" or modes, depending on the nature, location, mood and type of relationship represented by the poem. Each "thinai" was closely associated with a particular landscape, and imagery associated with that landscape - its flowers, trees, wildlife, people, climate and geography - was woven into the poem in such a way as to convey a mood, associated with one aspect of a romantic relationship.


Classical Tamil love poetry, recognizing that human activities cannot take place in vacuum and are constantly influenced by environmental factors, assigns the human experiences it describes, and in particular the subjective topics that those experiences relate to, to specific habitats. Every situation in the poems is described using themes in which the time, the place and the floral symbols of each episode are codified. These codifications are used as symbols to imply a socio-economic order, occupations and behaviour patterns, which, in turn, are symbolized, by specific flora and fauna. Details of secondary aspects are just as rigidly codified - the seasons, the hour a god, musical instruments and, above all, the sentimental connotations of each landscape: lovers' meetings, patient waiting, lovers' quarrels, separation, and the anxiously awaited return.

Geographical and non-geographical thinais

Under this codification, the inner universe associated with love is divided into seven modes, or "thinai", five of which are geographical and associated with specific landscapes, and two of which are non-geographical and not associated with any specific landscape. Four of the geographical landscapes are described as being landscapes that occur naturally in the Tamil lands. These are: kurinji (குறிஞ்சி) - mountainous regions, associated with union, mullai (முல்லை) - forests, associated with waiting, marutham (மருதம்) - cropland, associated with quarreling, and neithal (நெய்தல்) - seashore, associated with pining. The fifth - paalai (பாலை), or wasteland, associated with separation - is described in the "Tolkappiyam" as not being a naturally existing landscape.

From these basic associations of landscape and subject, a wide range of specific themes suitable for each landscape were derived. Thus, for example, the commentary on the Iraiyanar Akapporul states that as a result of the association of the "kurinji" landscape with union, it was also associated with the fear of separation, reassurance, the hero's or heroine's discussions with their friends, their being teased or taunted by their friends, their replies to their friends, the friends' role as intermediary, the meeting of the lovers, grief and doubt, and other similar themes. According to the "Tamilneri vilakkam", a 9th century text on poetry, the love themes described by the five thinais constitute "the Tamil way of life" or "the Tamil way of love." ("tamiḻneṟi") [Citation | last=Zvelebil | first=Kamil | title= Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature | year=1992 | publisher=Brill | place=Leiden | isbn=9004093656 at pp. xvi-xvii]

The two non-geographical modes - "kaikkilai" and "perunthinai" - were seen as dealing with emotions that were unnatural, and therefore were not associated with any specific landscape. "Kaikkilai", dealt with unreciprocated or one-sided love, while "perunthinai", dealt with improper love or love against the rules of custom.

Poetic Attributes of the Landscapes

Marutham – Cropland

The plains were the scene of triangular love plots in which the hero's visits to the courtesan oblige the heroine to counter with a mixed show of coquetry and moodiness, tactics whose limits are described in the Thirukkural ("Sulking is like flavouring with salt; a little suffices, but it is easy to go too far.").

The Marutam tree was the characteristic tree of this region.

Non-geographical thinais

Whilst the "palai" landscape is not associated with a permanently existing landscape, it is nonetheless assigned a definite landscape. The two thinais of "kaikkilai" and "perunthinai", however, are assigned no landscape, nor are they named for flowers, instead, they are named directly for the emotions they describe. In Tamil prosody, the reason for this is stated to be that they deal with unnatural emotions, and consequently cannot be associated with a landscape that is part of nature. Although "kaikkilai" and "perunthinai", too, deal with emotions that are similar to those dealt with in the poems that belong to the five geographical thinais. The difference, however, is that in these non-geographical thinais, the situation of the lovers makes the emotions unnatural.

In "kaikkilai", the situation that is describes is made unnatural by the fact that the love that animates the feelings is one-sided.

In "perunthinai", the situation is made unnatureal by the fact that it has occurred as the result of acts contrary to tradition, such as a union of a man with a woman who is much older, a union where one of the parties does not consent, or a separation that occurs as the result of the breach by one party of his or her duties.

See also

* Sangam Literature
* Sangam


* Gros, Francois, Poetry in a landscape; the world of Sangam - Indian literature, UNESCO Courier, March 1984.
* "Kaḷaiviyal eṉṟa Iṟaiyaṉār Akapporuḷ". South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society, Madras: 1976.
* "Tolkappiyam porulatikāram, iḷampūraṇar uraiyuṭaṉ". Vol 1: akattiṇaiyiyal, puṟattiṇaiyiyal. South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society, Tirunelveli: 2000.

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