(Last Updated on : 01/11/2013)
Punjabi literature pertains to the literature scripted in the Punjabi language, especially by the populace of the historical Punjab region of South Asia, encompassing citizens of India, Pakistan and the Punjabi diaspora. Punjabi language is penned in the Shahmukhi and the Gurmukhi scripts in Pakistan and India respectively. The evolution and splendid maturation of Punjabi literature is basically classed into three periodic eras, however with subtle differences, as these mere periodic classification is generally considered too short and constricted an area to state the incredible and outstanding contributions of the Sikh gurus.
The periodic classification is as follows:
1. Punjabi Literature from c. 11th century to 16th century
2. Punjabi Literature from c. 16th century - 1849
3. Modern Punjabi Literature (1850s onwards)
Punjabi had rose up as an 'independent language' during the 11th century from the Sauraseni Apabhramsa. The most ancient Punjabi literature was primarily delineated to be spiritual in character and manner and outlives only in the shards of writings of the 11th century yogis Guru Gorakanath and Charpatnah. The literary convention and practice in Punjabi is generally conceived to commence with Fariduddin Ganjshakar (1173-1266), and of course later, Guru Nanak (1469-1539). Fariduddin Ganjshakar is deemed the "father" of Punjabi literature. His verses covering and encompassing such themes like the Almighty, the constant existence and realisation of death and the quality of life being evanescent, have been splendidly amassed in the Adi Granth (the early compilation of the Sikh Scriptures by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the 5th Sikh Guru, in 1604; later acknowledged as Sri Guru Granth Sahib). Adi Granth is one of the earliest texts in Punjabi literature. It was penned not strictly in Punjabi, but also in the Gurumukhi script. Fariduddin Ganjshakar's four hymns and 112 slokas are included in the Adi Granth.
Guru Nanak had framed and compiled some verse in Punjabi, also encompassing the Barah Maha, which conveys and verbalises the 'spiritual journey' from separation to union in terms of the metamorphosing seasons. Guru Nanak (1469-1539) had travelled over vast distances, preaching his message of peace and love. He was a prolific poet who had composed hymns and other compositions, which became the basis of Adi Granth. A great poet and founder of a new religion, Guru Nanak had taken up poetry to give a voice of protest against this cruel fate of Punjab. He also had championed the cause of the frail, the unfortunate and deprived and women, and incorporated into his verses a new innovation of poetical form and expression. Guru Nanak had composed verses of great beauty about divinity; the human relationship with God and the salvation of individuals through philosophical teaching, which, though simple in appearance, spoke of great profundity for Punjabi literature His composition Japji Sahib emotes the essence of his teachings and is set in vigorous verses; the text is employed by the faithful as their daily meditation. The Janamsakhis (literally standing for 'birth stories') are chronicles on the life of Guru Nanak, penned soon after his demise and are excellent early instances of didactic prose in Punjabi literature.
Punjabi literature as such came into solid and honoured existence only from the end of the 16th century, when Punjabi was already in its Middle Period. The fifth Guru, Arjan Dev had compiled the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth or Guru Granth Sahib, but this again was not strictly in Punjabi. Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the tenth and last Guru, had composed a number of religious works mainly in Old Hindi with the exception of Candi-di-Var, which is in Punjabi. Earlier, Punjabi language possessed no script of its own and was written in Landha or Mahajani script. But with the birth of Sikhism, a new alphabet was needed urgently for the language to define a separate cultural identity and a vehicle for the new religious teachings.
Landha or Mahajani scripts were derived from Sanskrit, but did not represent all the sounds contained in Punjabi language. Muslim poets authored their Punjabi writings in Persian script and it was called Shahmukhi script or 'the script uttered from the mouth of Shah or the king'. The second Sikh Guru, Angad Dev, in the meantime, performed a great service to Punjabi people by inventing a new script called Gurmukhi or 'utterings from the mouth of the guru'. It had thirty-five letters in its alphabet to incorporate all the sounds, not found in other languages.
The birth of Khalsa or Sikhism is profoundly entwined with Punjabi poetry, as almost all the Sikh Gurus were accomplished poets/musicians and gave birth to stirring and heart-rending verses set to classical music, thus laying the foundation for new religious uttering combined with a quest for Punjabi identity. In a sense Guru Nanak was the first real 'Punjabi' who gave its inhabitants a pride in reclaiming their separate identity within Punjabi literature.
The period within 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 Punjabi. 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 Abdullah's (1616-1666) Bara Anva or the 'the Twelve Topics' as 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.
Within the period of 1600 and 1850, precisely medieval Punjabi literature, Muslim Sufi, Sikh and Hindu writers had authored umpteen compositions in Punjabi. Punjabi Sufi literature was framed and penned by Shah Hussein (1538-1599) and Sultan Bahu (1628-1691), who wrote in the Kafi and the Siharfi (acrostic verse-form) style respectively. Bulleh Shah (1680-1757) was the most celebrated and distinguished Punjabi Sufi poet and penned strictly in the Kafi style. Waris Shah's interpretation of the tragic and immensely legendary love story of Heer Ranjha, is placed amongst the most popular medieval Punjabi works. Other popular tragic love stories from this period in Punjabi literature include - Sohni Mahiwal, Mirza Sahiba and Sassi Punnun. 'Heroic poetry' (a form of verse composition also acknowledged as epic poetry), in literature of the Punjabis, included Guru Gobind Singh's Chandi di Var and Najabat's Nadir Shah Di Vaar. Shah Mohammad's Jangnama is another outstanding instance of medieval heroic poetry, which lends an eyewitness account of the First Anglo-Sikh War that had taken place after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Within the period of 1857 and 1947, also deemed as the starting of modern Punjabi literature, Urdu was adopted by the British as the medium of education within Punjab as a whole. Numerous striking and outstanding Punjabi poets and writers from the period accordingly began to pen in Urdu rather than Punjabi, owing to pressure and compelling under the colonialists. A few of the stellar examples of poets in this still-evolving genre include: Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938); Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984); Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955); Krishan Chander (1914-1977); Rajinder Singh Bedi (1915-1984); Sahir Ludhianvi (1921-1980). Puran Singh (1881-1931) had liberally experimented with free verse and scouted the experiences of the common man and the downtrodden and underpriviledged. Diwan Singh (1897-1944) had excellently picked against British oppression, social cruelty and tyranny and 'institutionalised religion' in his verse.
The Christian missionaries gave a new outlook to Punjabi literature during the middle of the 19th century. They issued and published a Punjabi translation of the Bible in 1852 and a Punjabi dictionary in 1854. Modern Punjabi literature commences out with the works of Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), who is described as the 'Father of modern Punjabi literature'. He had composed numerous short poems (Lehran de Har, Matak Hutare and Bijlian de Har), biographies, novels (Sundari, Vijay Singh and Baba Naudh Singh) and dramas. One of Bhai Vir Singh's most astonishing works is Rana Surat Singh (1905), an extensive narrative poem in a blank verse form, named srikhandi chanda. Puran Singh (1882-1932), another great poet of this century who was credited with the title 'Tagore of Punjab', had introduced 'free verse' into Punjabi and rendered into English a number of Punjabi poems by Bhai Vir Singh. Khule Lekh (1929) is the most classic specimen of his essays. Puran Singh's contemporaries - Kirpa Singh (1875-1939) and Dhani Ram Chatrik (1876-1954) were the other top of the tops Punjabi poets, who focussed upon secular poetry. Kirpa Singh had composed an epic Lakshmi Devi (1920) on the cast of Scott's The Lady of the Lake. Dhani Ram Chatrik, whose works include Candan Vari, Himala, Ganga and Raa.Chatrik, was the trailblazer of romantic poetry in Punjabi literature. Mohan Singh (1905-1978) is considered one of the most popular modern Punjabi poets. He had ushered in a modernistic outlook to Punjabi literature. His most renowned works comprise Sawe Pattar (1936) and Kasumbra (1937). Amrita Pritam (1919-2005) is considered one of the most celebrated poets of Punjabi literature. She had given rise to several intense works on the tragedy of the Partition like the poem Ajj Akhan Waris Shah Noo and her second novel Pinjar (1970). The period immediately after Independence is described as the 'Amrita Pritam-Mohan Singh Era' of Punjabi poetry. Other noteworthy poets in Punjabi literature consist of: Pritam Singh Safir, Bawa Balwant, Santosh Singh Dhir, Takht Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Prabhjot Kaur.
Amrita Pritam is, in contemporary times, a household name in the sphere of poetrynot only in Punjabi literature, but also all through India and its regions and their literature. Her single poem Aj Akhan Waris Shah noo brought her fame across both sides of Punjab. She was chosen as poetess of the millennium in India and has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for an outstanding collection of poetry, Sunehray. She had published 24 novels, 15 collections of short stories and numerous other anthologies. Amrita Pritam's work has been proudly translated into 21 Indian languages, also including English, Albanian, Bulgarian, Russian, French, Polish and Spanish. Her poetry is an exceptional amalgamation of earthiness and psychic sophistication, a lyrical quality derived from Sufi and Sikh traditions with an undercurrent of feminism.
Mohan Singh 'Mahir' (1905-78) and Shareef Kunjahi (1915-2007) had brought in the theory of 'modernism' into Punjabi poetry. Poetry in Punjabi language was scripted, recited and sung on mutual sides of the Indian and Pakistani border, ranging from the romantic and lyrical poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936 -1973) or Munir Niazi (1928-2006), to the biographical and elegiac verse of Amrita Pritam, the radical and avant-garde poetry of Pash (1950-1988), together with the humorous and witty verses of Anwar Masood.
Fiction in Punjabi literature had matured and bloomed under Nanak Singh (1897-1971), Vir Singh (1872-1957), Amrita Pritam (1919-2005), who described and framed on the experiences of women and on the partition of British India in 1947. Kartar Duggal was another stellar persona, who had explored the subjects of sexuality and sexual repression in his novels, short stories and plays.
However, maturation and growth of Punjabi literature can never be complete without mentioning about the contribution of various Sikh Gurus and other luminaries like:
Guru Angad Dev
(1539-1552) who devised a new alphabet of Gurmukhi, thus giving people an identity, a faith and the beginnings of a new Punjabi sensibility.
Guru Amar Das
(1552-1574) had terribly condemned and demolished the practice of Sati (widow burning) and divided Punjab into 22 districts of Sikh faith, appointing a learned preacher as the head of each.
Guru Arjan Dev
(1581-1606) had organised Sikhism into a fresh mission and stated that no field of life whether temporal, social or political was to be excluded from the operation of mystic venerations and the divine light. He was instrumental to compile the Adi Granth (Guru Granth Sahib) as the sole scriptural authority for the Sikhs.
Guru Gobind Singh
(1675 -1708) was the great and legendary warrior poet, who had founded the Khalsa panth and gave Sikhs their distinctive dress code. His writings possess universal appeal, touching the tender strings of the heart and arousing courage for a life of purposeful action. Guru Gobind Singh had penned his Zafarnama in chaste Persian to the Mughal king Aurangzeb, reminding him of the teachings of the Quran, as opposed to plunders of his army against the weak and destitute of India. Dasam Granth is an anthology of his writings, a voluminous book of 1066 pages in Gurmukhi script. Guru Gobind Singh had given Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs, its final form as a scriptural authority for the people to follow. Significantly, he was the last guru of the Sikhs.
Bhai Vir Singh
(1872-1957) was the father of modern Punjabi literature and he single handedly ushered in a 'renaissance' of Punjabi poetry. He was the first to utilise and successfully employ blank verse form in poetry and was the author of numerous novels, plays and poetry collections. Bhai Vir Singh was a pioneer in beginning the first Punjabi daily newspaper, the winner of many literary awards and a grand personality. He gave Punjabi verse a sophistication and new expression.
Shiv Kumar Batalvi
(1936 -1973) was a bohemian poet of Punjab and his verse play Loona won him the Sahitya Akedmi Award, which brought to light a new interpretation of the legend of Pooran Bhagat in contemporary media. He had verbalised his inner sufferings through brilliant lyrics. Shiv Kumar Batalvi mercilessly was uprooted from his native land by traumatic happenings of the Partition of India in 1947, which affected his psyche deeply as a source of melancholy and fearful sorrow. But, he was not the man to ever express it in his early poetical collections. Shiv Kumar was only able to express it at the end of his poetic career.
Punjabi literature, together with its religious and spiritual gurus, zealous and devoted towards making the Punjabi perfect and fear-free, were touched in later times by the heart-rending writers and the compositions based upon Mughal rule and Partition of India, truly and magniloquently did diversify the literature, following various scripts.