Facts About Punjabi Literature

The Adi Grantha or Guru Granth Sahib is one of the earliest texts in Punjabi. It was written not strictly in Punjabi but in the Gurumukhi script.

Baba Farid

Baba Farid or Hazrat Farīduddīn Ganjshakar was a 12th-century Sufi sant of the Chishti Order. Punjab’s Faridkot takes it name from Baba Farid.

He is recognized as the first major poet of the Punjabi Language. Baba Farid is also one the fifteen Sikh bhagats.

Some parts of the poems of Baba Farid have been included in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Baba Farid : Contribution to Literature

One of Farīd’s most important contributions to Punjabi literature was his development of the language for literary purposes. Whereas Sanskrit, Arabic, Turkish and Persian had historically been considered the languages of the learned and the elite, and used in monastic centres, Punjabi was generally considered a less refined folk language. Although earlier poets had written in a primitive Punjabi, before Farīd there was little in Punjabi literature apart from traditional and anonymous ballads. By using Punjabi as the language of poetry, Farīd laid the basis for a vernacular Punjabi literature that would be developed later.

Shah Hussain

Shah Hussain was a Punjabi Sufi poet of 16th century, who, along with Bulleh Shah and Baba Farid, is considered a pioneer of the Kafi form of Punjabi poetry. Shah Hussain’s love for a Brahmin boy called “Madho” or “Madho Lal” is famous, and they are often referred to as a single person with the composite name of “Madho Lal Hussain”.

Bulleh Shah

Bulleh Shah (1680–1757) was one of the most eminent Punjabi Sufi poet and philosopher who is best known for his Kafi verses.

Kafi versus Qawwali

Kafi is a lyrical composition, mostly in Punjabi and Sindhi, meant for singing in certain style. The subject matter is essentially mystico-ethical in nature. One of the verses comprises the central theme which is emphasised by repitition. Kindly note that practically Kafi and Qawwali are same as far as singing is concerned but the major difference is that Kafi is used to express the religious seinsibility while Qawwalis have a wide range of themes. Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain are the most important pioneers of Kafi genre of poetry and singing. The most important contemporary singers of Kafi and Qawwali are Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen etc.

Waris Shah

Waris Shah (1722–1798) was one of the pioneers of the Qissa (story) tradition of the Punjabi folk literature. He is best known for his magnum opus Heer Ranjha, based on the traditional folk tale of Heer and her lover Ranjha.

Qissa Tradition: Heer Ranjha and Sohni Mahiwal

Punjabi Sufi poetry also influenced other Punjabi literary traditions particularly the Punjabi Qissa, a genre of romantic tragedy which also derived inspiration from Indic, Persian and Quranic sources. The Qissa of Heer Ranjha by Waris Shah (1706–1798) is among the most popular of Punjabi qisse. Other popular stories include Sohni Mahiwal by Fazal Shah, Mirza Sahiba by Hafiz Barkhudar (1658–1707), Sassi Punnun by Hashim Shah (1735?–1843?), and Qissa Puran Bhagat by Qadaryar (1802–1892).

Nanak Singh

Nanak Singh (1897 – 1971) was a poet, songwriter and novelist in the Punjabi language, who helped link the novel to the story telling traditions of Qissa and oral tradition.

He wrote the novel Pavitar Paapi in 1942. The novel became immensely popular and won him literary acclaim. It was translated into Hindi and several other Indian languages and was adapted into a successful motion picture (Pavitra Paapi) in 1968 by his ardent admirer, Balraj Sahani.

Amrita Pritam

Amrita Pritam (1919 – 2005) was the first prominent woman Punjabi poet, novelist, and essayist. In her literary life of over 6 decades, she produced over 100 books, of poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Punjabi folk songs and an autobiography.

Her most famous poem is Aj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu (Today I invoke Waris Shah), in which she expresses her anguish over massacres during the partition of India.

Her most noted novel was Pinjar (1950) in which she vividly depicted the violence against women, loss of humanity and ultimate surrender to existential fate. The novel was made into an award-winning film, Pinjar in 2003.

In 1956, she became the first woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for her magnum opus, a long poem, Sunehe (Messages), later she received Jnanpith Award in 1982 for Kagaz Te Canvas (The Paper and the Canvas). Padma Shri came her way in 1969 and finally, Padma Vibhushan, in 2004, and in the same year she was honoured with Sahitya Akademi Fellowship.

Surjit Patar

Surjit Patar is a Punjabi language writer and poet. He was honoured with Saraswati Samman award 2009 for his book ‘Lafzan Di Dargah’.  He is the second Punjabi poet to receive this honor after eminent Punjabi Writer Dalip Kaur in 2001. In 2012, he was awarded Padma Shri.

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