Punjabi Literature

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Punjabi Literature


the literature of the Punjabis, who inhabit the state of Punjab in India as well as a large part of Pakistan.

The folkloric sources of Punjabi literature originate in remote antiquity. However, the earliest written works date from the eighth to tenth centuries, with the hymns of Gorakh Nath (ninth or 11th century), Jalandhari Nath, and Charpat (890–990), poets who expressed early opposition to feudalism. The same period saw the appearance of the vars, epic legends similar in genre to the Russian byliny (epic folk songs); an example is the Legend of One-Armed Asraja. Also dating from this epoch is A. Multan’s long poem Epistles. This work, which fused folkloric and literary traditions, established Punjabi as the national literary language.

The first important Punjabi poet was a Sufi, Farid, also known as Baba Farid and Sheikh Farid Shakarganj; his full name was Farid-ud-din Masud Ganjishakar. Farid, who was born in 1173 or 1175 and died in 1265, wrote in Multani, a dialect of Punjabi. His couplets reflected acute social contradictions and advocated equality.

The consolidation of the Punjabi people and the growth of the antifeudal movement among the democratic lower strata found expression in the sacred book of the Sikhs, the Granth (1604), a unique anthology of the democratic poetry of the peoples of northwestern India. Occupying a central place in this book were the works of the founder of Sikhism, the poet and thinker Nanak (1469–1539).

The Book of the Tenth Guru (1724), another important Punjabi literary work, contains the literary and philosophical writings of the Sikh guru (religious leader) Govind Singh (1666–1708), including his long autobiographical poem An Unusual Play, and works of his followers. The book, which has close ties with folkloric traditions, combines the latter with the literary and religiophilosophical traditions of Hinduism. It is also a vivid manifestation of a fusion between Hinduism and Islam.

The literature of the 18th century and of the first half of the 19th century developed together with a growing national consciousness and a struggle with the feudal overlords. The spirit of the times was reflected in the works of such Sufi poets as Bulhe Shah (born 1680; died between 1752 and 1758), Varish Shah (1735–84), Hasham Shah (1751–1821), and Ahmad Shah (1768–1840). In the first half of the 19th century patriotic themes, found in the works of Muhammad Yar, developed as a result of the Punjabi’s struggle against British colonialists. Motifs of liberation and democracy became more important beginning in the mid-19th century. Despite the efforts of the colonizers to retard the development of Punjabi culture and national integration, important prose and poetic works were written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Bhai Vir Singh (1872–1957), Puran Singh (1881–1931), Dhani Ram Chatrik (1876–1954), and Charan Singh Shahid (1891–1935). European and Russian literary genres and forms were assimilated, and many writers published in Urdu, Hindi, and English as well as in Punjabi, thus preserving the national literary traditions in other languages.

Ties with the national liberation movement beneficially influenced the literature of the 1920’s. The first examples of revolutionary literature were the publications of the revolutionary Gadar party. Journalism developed in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as did the writing of novels, novellas, and works on public affairs. In 1926 progressive writers established the Punjabi Literary Society, and in 1936 the all-Indian Association of Progressive Writers was formed; prominent among its members were Punjabi literary figures.

The anti-imperialist, democratic fervor was expressed by the majority of the writers of the 1930’s and 1940’s. At the time of India’s independence in 1947, and of Pakistan’s emergence as a nation, this literature still retained its militant traditions.

Punjabi literature developed more widely in India after 1947. Prominent prose writers include Gurbakhsh Singh (born 1895), Nanak Singh (1897–1971), Kartar Singh Duggal (born 1917), Sant Singh Sekhon (born 1908), Santokh Singh Dhir (born 1922), Jasvant Singh Kamval (born 1920), Navtej Singh (born 1923), and Kulwant Singh Virk (born 1921). Leading poets are Mohan Singh (born 1905), Amrita Pritam (born 1919), Pritam Singh Saphir (born 1916), Prabhjot Kaur (born 1924), and Gurcaran Singh Rampuri (born 1929); dramatists include Balvant Gargi (born 1916).

Literary scholarship and criticism are represented by Hira Singh Dard, Sant Singh Sekhon, K. Singh, Sohan Singh Josh, and Atar Singh. New research centers include the Department of Languages of the government of the state of Punjab and the Punjabi Literary Academy. Many translations are being made of classics of world literature, of Russian classics, and of works of Soviet national literatures.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the social role of literature increased and the struggle of progressive writers against modernism intensified. These writers also strove to prevent the rightist reactionaries from again subjecting Punjabi literature to a narrow religious orientation. Critical realism is the leading trend in Punjabi literature in India; its adherents attempt to reflect the life of the Punjabis, who, with the other peoples of India, are struggling to overcome the heritage of colonialism and to bring about democratic transformations in their country and peace throughout the world.

Punjabi literature in Pakistan was in a very complex situation. The chauvinistic aspirations of the militarist regime hindered literary development in the national languages; the regime promoted Urdu, Pakistan’s official language, as the Punjabi literary language. At the same time, Urdu was already one of the literary languages of the Punjabis. The democratic movement fostered the development of literature in the national languages, especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Punjabi literary figures emerging at this time were M. Niyazi, A. Nagi, M. Sofdar, M. A. Bhatti, Z. Ikbal, and A. Ehsan. Experimentalism, a significant trend in poetry, is oriented toward Western modernism; traditional poetry, which remains important, is largely influenced by Urdu poetry. In criticism, democratic and progressive tendencies have increased, though some influence of Maoism also exists.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s writers who had previously written only in Urdu, among them F. A. Faiz (born 1911), were increasingly drawn toward Punjabi. Literary scholars and critics focus increasingly more often on the common cultural traditions of the Punjabis of Pakistan and India. The Punjabi Adabi Academy publishes classics of Punjabi literature, and the poet and folklorist A. Salim has initiated the collection and publication of the folklore of the Punjabis and of other peoples inhabiting the Indus Valley. The literary journals Panj darya, Panjabi, and Panjabi adab are published in Punjabi.

Conferences of writers from Asian and African countries have strengthened contacts between Punjabi writers of India and Pakistan, as have the meetings of writers from the USSR, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan held in Tashkent in September 1973 and in Jurmala in May 1974.


Stikhi pendzhabskikh poetov. Moscow, 1957.
O khrabrykh, nezhnykh i vliublennykh: Skazaniia Piatirech ’ia. Moscow, 1967.
Voskresnoe utro: Novelly pandzhabskikh pisatelei Indii. Moscow, 1973.


Serebriakov, I. Pendzhabskaia literatura. Moscow, 1963.
Panjabi likhabi kosh. Jalandhar, 1964.
Panjabi sahita, vols. 1–2, Patiala, 1967.
Narula, S. S. Panjabi sahita da itihasa. Jalandhar, 1969.
Panjabi sahitt-kosh. Patiala, 1971.
Ahluwalia, J. S. Punjabi Literature in Perspective. Ludhiana, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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