The rich literary sources of the Sangam period provide rich information about the secular and religious architecture of the period.
In the age of Sangam the socio-economic status of the individuals decided the type of building. The poor people lived in thatched houses called Kurumbai made of grasses like kusa, darbai and ugam.
The aifluent section of the society constructed houses according to their needs and social status. They were known as Valamanai and Nagar. Palaces with fortifications were built for royal families.
The architects who were called Noolari Pulavar consulted the available text on architecture while undertaking constructions.The earliest form of religious architecture was a simple cell vdth a wooden plank that was installed inside.
The cell was called Podiyil and the plank was worshipped as Kantu. From the name Podiyil it is understood that it was a common place where the people met for religious purpose. The deities were painted on the wall and worshipped.
This simple building had brick wall and wooden roof. The increase in the number of devotees who visited the temple from distant places necessitated the construction of halls in front of the Sanctum.
Some of the halls were plastered with stucco and occasionally decorated with pearls and precious gems.
Development of different cults caused an increase in the number of temples and alteration in the placement of deities. The stucco figures served as presiding deities in the Sanctum.
The contact between the temple and the society was strengthened by increasing temple activities like rituals, religious discourses and festivals. This further expanded the structure of the temple.
An increase in the number of buildings both secular and religious is witnessed in the period between AD 300 and 600.13 A very important development in the town planning of the period. Puhar is described in Silappadikaram as a well planned city.
Temple is referred as Devakulam in the epigraph and the literature of the period. An enormous increase in the number of religious buildings is noted in the post Sangam period.
Temples are referred as Kottam, Niyamam and Koilin the literature. The construction techniques and materials were almost the same for both the secular and the religious architecture.
The period from A.D 300 to 600 was a land mark in the field of architecture. A new concept in the construction of structural temples was introduced by Kochenganan in the style of Madakkoil. It was also called as Perunthirukkoil.
In this style the Vimana was constructed on an empty Tala. This tala was raised to a considerable height. In some cases this tala had components like adhishtana, bitti and roof and even niches on the wall.
The madakkoil at Nallur is a good example for this type of a structure. Through the literary sources it is understood that nearly seventy such temples were built by Kochenganan in the Thanjavur-Kumbakonam belt.
These temples would have been constructed on a raised empty tala to protect them from torrential rains which would result in flood situation. These temples would have been constructed out of brick, mud and mortar.
Hence they are liable to be affected by natural calamities. This made the king to raise the vimana on an empty tala. Granite was not in use in the construction of the temple in those days and materials used were perishable. These temples are popularly known as Yanai Yera Koil.
This idea was formed based on a mythology associated with the life of Kochenganan who is included among the sixty three nayanmars.
An upsurge in the religious consciousness in the society resulted in the rise of many temples. Both Saivism and Vaishnavism received due patronage inspite of the dominance exercised by heterodox religions.
Dance and Music
Dance and music which were existing more in the form of folk arts in the Sangam age underwent an astonishing change in the period between AD 300 and 600. Dance had almost become a profession and was performed on the stage based on certain norms.
Silappadikaram is a magnificent treatise on dance and music and has relevance to the artists of any age. Arrangerru Kathai, Kadaladu Kathai.Vettuvavari, Ayechchiyar Kuravai and Kunrakkuravai of Silappadikaram store a lot of very rich information about dance.
While describing about the dance performance of Madavi, Silappadikaram gives the details about the art of dance and music, dance teachers, musicians both vocal and instrumentalists, performance stage, makeup and other details.
Manimekalai also has references about dance and music. Dance required an austere training and practice before the performance on the stage. There were teachers called adalasan who were engaged to train the children in dance.
Learning started at the age of five on an auspicious day and an auspicious time. The learning process went on for a period of seven years. The teacher would have witnessed the progress of the disciple and accordingly the performance was done.
All these details are found in the Arangetru Kadai of Silappadikaram. The teachers were expected to have a basic interest in dance and music and should have an aesthetic sense in general.
In those days prostitutes performed dance to entertain the royal household and the affluent section of the society. It is understood that there was Nattiyanannul which was guiding the teachers in training the students in dance.
Silappadikaram has a vivid description about the qualifications of the teacher who trained the disciple in this art. These teachers had to be well versed in all aspects of dance, the texts and treatises on dance and music. They should be accomplished in the science of music and should possess knowledge on the methods of playing musical instruments.
The teachers themselves should be performers. Dance as an art should be accompanied by music which is inextricably connected with dance.
The stage was called in Tamil arangu; the dais raised platform was 48 x42 and was 6 ‘above ground level. The height of the ceiling of the stage from the dais was 24. The stage had two openings one for entrance and the other for exit. There were three curtains in the stage.
Music as an art is associated with dance and naturally it also found a marvelous growth in this period. The term Kotti meant tala in music. There is a reference in Tirikadugam that music set on tala beat alone is worthy of hearing. This shows the development of science of music in this age.
There were composers of music and musicians who were able to give heart rendering music through their melodious voice. Music was handed down from generation to generation through the centuries only in oral tradition. There were many musicians namely Panar, Porunar, Kodiar, Viraliar and Koothar.
The performers of nattuvangam that is the group who sing and play instruments have an important role in the performance of dance on the stage. The impression that is formed over the performance of a danseuse is highly depended on the theme chosen and the musicians and instrumentalists who do nattuvangam.
There is no way of knowing precisely about the musical scales used in ancient Tamilagam except through treatises on music and the living tradition of the hymnal music for example the folk music.
Silappadikaram is the most important source of information on the art of music. A number of musical scales are mentioned in it. Silappadikaram contains the description of certain pans.
Music is introduced in Silappadikaram only when there is a relevance to the story. Most of the references to music are found in the Arangerru Kadai dealing with the debut of the danseuse, Kanalvari and Aichiyar Kuravai.
In the Arangerrukadi the qualifications of the vocal musician, Yaazh player, flutist, drummer and dance teacher are narrated. The musical instruments that were used at the debut are mentioned. The technique of playing stringed instruments like Yaazh is mentioned in Kanalvari. In other chapters also there are references about music.
Music was everywhere and in everything in Tamilnadu. The cultivators while ploughing the land were in the habit of singing a particular type of song that had suited the occasion. Mugavai pattu was sung while measuring the grams in the field.
There is a wide gap of several centuries between the date of Silappadikaram and that of the commentaries of Arumpada Urai and Adiyarkkunallar. There is no way of dating the treatises mentioned in them.
Some of the pans mentioned in Silappadikaram would have been earlier to it. Despite these limitations the commentaries on Silappadikaram throw a beam of light which brightens up the past.
Tamil Nadu had never failed in encouraging artists belonging to other regions even in those days.
Dancers with their female pairs from Konganamand Kamataka were in the Court of the king to entertain the royal household. Both Kongana Kuttan and Kamataka Kuttan and their viralis(female pair) had dressed and performed according to their tradition.
Painting was also existing as an art. The walls and roofs of the houses of affluent section of the society were painted.
Palaces of the king had paintings. Paintings were found on the temple walls.
Oviam in Tamil means picture and painting was called oviakkalai.
Kandiipavai mentioned in Manimekalai is a painted figure. Manimekalai refers to the existence of a treatise on painting called Oviachennool.
The suitable scenes hung on the stage were called Oviya Elini. The book on painting is called Oviya Nul.
The kol or brush used for painting was called Vattigai. The chitra mandapa mentioned in Manimekalai was constructed with the guidance of expertise from Yavana, Avanti and Magada and as the name denotes the mandapa had beautiful paintings.
On the ceilings of houses and palaces many objects and scenes were painted. Usually flowers and creepers were painted. We have no concrete evidence about the Sangam paintings and sculptures. V.A.Smith view: “The Statues and pictures apparently were executed in Perishable materials and have wholly vanished.”