The Sangam literature speaks of many tribes and also refers to the traditional castes. This means that the caste divisions and the tribal arrangement stood side by side. Tolkappiar knows the four castes. He refers to Andanar, Arasar, Vaisiyar and Velalar.
The Sangam society was not priest-dominatdd although the priests were slowly trying to assume powers of advice and supervision. The social life seems to have been on the heroic scale.
Though the number of the Brahmans in Tamilaham was small, they played a vital role in the development of Tamilian culture. They were famous for their clean surroundings and hygienic environment and pacific domestic setting.
The Tamil Brahmins of the Sangam age were a respectable and learned community who lived apart in their streets. They performed their caste duties scrupulously. They served the king occasionally as judicial officers and always as Purohits and astrologers. They performed ambassadorial duties to the kings. They gave and received patronage.
We have no positive evidence to show that slavery as an institution existed in the Tamilaham of the Sangam age. We have no references to the sale and purchase of human-beings. However, that does not mean that there were no low servants or labourers whose condition of life left much to be desired.
The status of women in Sangam society was not equal to that of men either in theory or in practice. The Sangam society consisted of many kinds of women. There were married women who had settled down as dutiful housewives looking after their husbands and children and managing their household,it is these women who either committed Sati or led a very hard life as widows.
There were female ascetics of Buddhist or Jain Sangam like Kaundi Adigal and Manimekalai. There were also a large number of courtesans. They acted as bodyguards. Women were not recruited as soldiers, ministers, ambassadors or other advisers of the king. They did not own property.
There was also the custom of Sati in Sangam society. The wife perished with her husband on the funeral pyre. It appears that the number of women who committed Sati was small. As every women did not commit Sati after the death of her husband, she had to lead a very hard life as a widow. Her life was one of penance. It was a degraded life.
There were different kinds of marriages. There were idealistic ways of marriage which involved no rituals. They were performed by the consent of the man and the woman only without the knowledge of the parents or relations. Another type of marriage involved the performance of many rituals. The third type of marriage was in which the rituals for the Brahmins, the kings and the Vaisyas differed from the Velalar.
The Sangam people had their own beliefs and supersitions. They believed, in the significance of dreams and omens. They believed in ghosts and spirits and were afraid of them.
Education was not merely known and encouraged but was a widespread social activity. The pattern of education was not merely reading and understanding of books but also listening to the learned persons.
Works on grammar like the Tolkappiam, on poetics and mathematics were subjects studied by any student. Astronomy was allied to mathematics. The fine arts like music, dance, drama, painting, building architecture, sculpture etc. were specialised in by the hereditary artists. Much of the teaching was oral. The students wrote but sparingly and got practically everything by heart.
The religion of the Sangam Tamils was not of a uniform or single pattern. The Sangam people knew and preached both the ritualistic and supplicatory aspects of religion. Their rituals were related to animism and other, forms of deity worship. There was tree worhsip, stone wothsip, water worship, animal worship and the worship of stars and planets. They were supposed to be divinely animated.
There were three strands of religion during the Sangam period viz., the indigenous gods, the exotic Hindu gods and the exotic non-Hindu religious faiths, functions etc. All the three co-existed and till the very end of the Sangam age, no serious and open clash occurred among them.
The cowherds worshipped Tirumal so that he might bestow many milch cows on them. The hunters of the hill tracts worhsipped Murugan as the god of the hillock. Other gods and goddesses of the hill-side were also recognised and worhsipped.
Indira was worshipped by the agriculturists who depended for their produce on rains. There was a special festival instituted in Puhar in honour of Indra. The Chola king himself managed this festival.
The fishermen and the people of the coastal regions worshipped Varuna, the god of the wide ocean. The worhsip of the Sun and the Moon was known. Usually, the crescent moon was worshipped.
Murugan was the deity par excellence of the Tamils. The word Murugan means divinity and he was supposed to reside generally on the hill-tops.
Indra, Yama, Varuna and Soma are mentioned as the guardians of the four directions viz., the East, the South, the West and the North respectively.
The name of Rama is not mentioned as a deity along with other gods in the Sangam literature. The name of Ganesa is also not specifically mentioned in the Sangam literature.
Sivan was considered to be god par excellence of the Tamils. Vaishnavism, apart from the worship of Tirumal, is not to be found in the Sangam literature.
Tirumal had not been set up as an opponent of Sivan. The great Sangam poets Kapilar and Nakkirar were the worhsippers of Siva but there was no feeling of religious antagonism.
A large number of temples are mentioned in the Sangam literature. The temple was called Nagar. The name Siva is rarely mentioned in Sangam literature but many of his attributes are mentioned. The temple of Indra is mentioned in Silappadikaram and in Manimekalai.