An ancient language, but like Marathi, started its
literary career pretty late. The script is Gurmukhi based on
¤ The History of Punjabi
Punjab is divided into two distinct language areas: Hindi in West
Punjab and Punjabi in East Punjab. This Eastern Punjab dialect
developed into a literary language around the beginning of the 17th
century whereas Hindki still remains a group of dialects.
During medieval times, Punjab repeatedly bore the brunt of Afghan
invaders and internal battles, and these warring times were not
exactly feasible for any sort of literary or cultural expansion.
Punjabi literature as such came into existence only from the end of
the 16th century when Punjabi was already in its Middle
Gurmukhi script, created from the Nagari script, is claimed by Sikhs
as the only proper script for Punjabi. Punjabi was evolving and Guru
Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, gave a new lease of life to
the language although it was still not in its pure form.
The fifth Guru, Arjun Dev compiled the Sikh scripture, the Adi
Grantha or Grantha Sahib, but this again was not strictly in Punjabi.
Guru Govind Singh (1666-1708), the tenth and last Guru, wrote a number
of religious works mainly in Old Hindi with the exception of
Candi-di-Var which is in Punjabi.
¤ The Glorious Period of Punjabi Literature (1600-1850)
The period between 1600-1850 covers the entire Middle Punjabi
literature. Hindu and Sikh writers wrote in Punjabi, but it were
Muslims were the most creative in producing rich literature in
The best-known Hindu Punjabi scholar and Persian poet of the 17th
century was Chandar Bhan of Lahore.
In the 17th century Punjabi split up into three scripts
Perso-Arabic, Nagari and Gurmukhi.
A Muslim poet named Abdullahs (1616-1666) Bara Anva or the the
Twelve Topics is a thesis on Islam. During this age many Muslim
Sufi poets came to the forefront, and their compositions, entirely
Punjabi in spirit and content, form an integral part of Punjabi
literature. Bullhe Shah (1680-1758) is the greatest Sufi poet whose
Kafis or short poems of about six stanzas are very popular.
Ali Haidar (1689-1776), one of his contemporaries, wrote a large
number Si-harfis or poems of 30 stanzas, each stanza beginning with a
letter of the Persian alphabet.
¤ Great Poems Were Written
In this century Jasoda Nandan wrote a poem containing 88 stanzas on
an episode from the Ramayana. As an offering to Guru Granth, Guru Das
wrote 40 Vras or stories in poetry form conveying moral teachings.
Ballads based on popular romances form a special work of Punjabi
The tragic love story of Heer and Ranjha became the source of many
long poems by various writers, but the most extensive and popular was
the one rendered by Waris Shah in 1766. Shah is regarded as the
greatest poet of Punjabi literature before the start of the modern
Poems on historical figures and stories formed the essence of the 18th
century, with Hamids (1766-1776) tragic 5620-line Jang nama.
Love, morality and Sufi mysticism creeped into verses written by poets
like Arur, Rai, Isar Das, Kisan Singh Arif, Hidayatullah and Muhammad
Buta. After the British took over Punjab, Hindu reform movements like
the Arya Samaj and the Sanatan Dharma strengthened the position of
Hindi after which Punjabi in the Gurmukhi character was practiced only
by the Sikhs.
¤ University of Punjab Established
Study of Punjabi was established in the University of Punjab at
Lahore and in colleges as late as 1915. Modern Punjabi literature
begins with the works of Bhai Vir Singh and Padmabhushana (1872-1957).
One of his extraordinary works in the language is Rana Surat Singh
(1905), a long narrative poem in blank verse of 13,000 lines. Puran
Singh (1882-1932), another great poet of this century, has been given
the title Tagore of Punjab. Influenced by the Indian bard
himself, Singhs poetry was considerably influenced by English.
¤ The Great Punjabi Poets
Puran Singhs contemporaries were Kirpa Singh (Lakshmi Devi) and
Dhani Ram Chatrik (Himala, Ganga, and Raat). One of the most popular
poets of the `modern age is Mohan Singh who has been described
as occupying the central place in Punjabi letters today.
He brought in a modern outlook in life and everything related to
Other noteworthy poets in Punjabi are Pritam Singh Safir and Amrita
Pritam. By this time, several other forms of writing also evolved in
Punjabi. Nanak Singh was the most famous novelist and short story
writer while Gurbakhsh Singh and I C Nanda were eminent dramatists.
After Hindi and Urdu, Bengali has played a major role in enriching
the language. Tagore has always had an important influence in Punjabi.
A few Bengali classics including the works of Sarat Chandra
Chatterjee, Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyaya and Tara Shankar Bannerji
have been translated into Punjabi, though not directly but through
Hindi. English, Hindi and Urdu have always kept Punjabi a little aside
from the mainstream languages. Even so, Punjabi is trying to establish
itself on its own.