Monarchy was the political institution of the people with the
patrilineal (Makkathayam) system of succession and inheritance.
Nothing is heard of the Nairs and their matrilinear system at
this time though Chera kings used the names of the father and
the mother with their own names. The king was usually called
ko or kon as in Ilango Aidgal.
The queen had a privileged position, and she took her seat by
the side of the king during religious ceremonies. The widowed
queens sometimes committed Sati (self-immolation).
There was no purdah-system for women; they enjoyed freedom of
movement and right to full education. There were many women-poets
during the Sangam Age, like Auvvaiyar (c. 500 A.D.)
There was no child marriage; widow-marriage was permitted.
Clandestine (gandharva) marriages in which men and women
took each other as hus-band and wife were popular. Elopement
was tolerated- Sometimes the jilted lover committed suicide
by fasting unto death after proclaiming his love publicly in the
streets. Monogamy was the norm- The custom of bride-price
was prevalent, as it still is among many hill tribes of Kerala.
Ta1ikettu (tying the Pepal-leaf-shaped marriage band) was
unknown in the Sangam Age. Polygamy among common people
was frowned upon.
The division of society into high and low castes as well as untouch-ability
and unapproachability was unknown at that time. Communities
like the Panas, Kuravas, Parayas, and Vetas were held in honor
by kings and were equals or even superior to the Brahmins.
The great poets Kapilar and Paranar belonged to the Pana community.
Poets and scholars enjoyed great prestige and patronage at royal
The warlike Cheras had naval forces besides the land-based armies;
they used to build forts and dig moats for defense; they worshipped
Kottavai as their war-goddess. They commemorated the heroes
fallen on the battlefield by erecting hero-stones (vira kal)
on which the heroes' names and accomplishments were inscribed--a
continuation of the custom of the megalithic Mundas.
Rice was the standard food of the people along with meat and fish.
There was no taboo against eating beef. Alcoholic beverages--domestic
liquors and foregin wines--were drunk both by the kings and their
subjects including women who used to drink munnir, a sweet drink
made from palmyra nut, tender coconut, and sugarcane. Rice-wine
also was a popular drink. In their eating and drinking habits,
the Munda-Dravidian Cheras followed their ancient traditions,
which Keralites still continue to follow in spite of Brahmin bans
on beef and alcohol.
The majority of the Cheras were not Vedic or Brahminical Hindus
though there were Aryan Brahmins at the royal courts. Buddhism
which originated among the Mundas in the North naturally continued
its hold on the Munda-Dravidian Cheras. Jainism also had
many followers among the people.
Agriculture was the main occupation of the people who were relatively
prosperous except when the nations were at war. Much of
this pros-perity was due to trade with foreign nations like Rome.