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Purananuru Teachings – Economic Affairs during Tamil Sangam Period

Purananuru is an ancient Tamil literary work belonging to the Sangam period. It is dated between 1st century BC and 5th century CE. Here are few teachings from Purananuru especially on economic aspects.

Purananuru portrays a period in which the ideal of Tamil people was a life without deep attachment to wealth. One was to be contented with what one required for the satisfaction of one’s basic needs.

The text discusses the merits and demerits of accumulating or renouncing wealth (S:12 14) and says that the Goddess of wealth changes her habitat (21:10 – 11) and that the pleasure of possessing wealth can never be compared with the joy of a spiritual life.

The need for wealth, in this worldview, arises from the need for charity, to win over or vanquish enemies and to enjoy certain pleasures (11: 1 – 8), says the Ahananuru.

Purananuru says that charity improves one’s after-life.

It warns (14 : 14 – 15) that wealth earned by unethical means is injurious and inimical to both one’s present life and after-life.

Basic goods and services were exchanged through barter. The practice of borrowing articles was prevalent. Any delay, long or short, in returning the borrowed articles or products was discouraged.

Interest, cumulative interest, exorbitant interest, etc., were not charged. Women could mortgage their jewelry.

Purananuru makes a clear distinction between those who tilled lands and consumed the products and those who let out their lands to be tilled by others and used the proceeds. Among the poets of that time, many were peasant – proprietors.

Wealth was not to be used for additional investments or capital formation. Hence neither personal income nor social wealth grew appreciably. Any income increase went into charity.

Though war rewarded a few, national wealth suffered. Even the victor’s wealth was dissipated due to unplanned expenditure.

The Tamil country did not contain much fertile land for raising paddy, sugarcane and plantains; grasslands abounded. Even then, business or trade was ranked below agriculture.

During the Puram period kings levied an agricultural tax and a commerce tax. There was no social security system. Utility and luxury articles were exported and luxuries, including gold bars imported. The exported items were mainly pepper, sandal, pearls, muslin cloth and limited amounts of paddy.

In exchange of products, the utility value was the foremost consideration. Labor was not a measure of value nor was value related to costs of production.