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 Fariduddin Shakarganj (1173-1266 AD), a Sufi saint of the pre-Nanak period was an eminent Punjabi poet, whose four hymns and 112 slokas are included in the Adi Grantha. Another specimen of Punjabi prose of the pre-Nanak period is Ekadasi Mahatam.
The golden period of Punjabi literature begins with the first Sikh Guru Nanak Sahib (1469-1538 AD) and continued until the last Sikh Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 AD). The prose of this period is mostly religious in nature and revolves around the personality, teachings and anecdotes from the life of Guru Nanak. Janam-sakhis (biographies of Gurus), bachans (sayings), sakhis, goshts, paramarathas (commentaries on scriptures), parchis and uthankas are the various forms of prose of this period. During this period a kind of verse called Vars, praising the Almighty or the Great Warriors or kings were composed in large number. Guru Gobind Singh authored Candi-di-var depicting the battles of Goddess Durga with the demons.
In the 17th century Punjabi split up into three scripts: Perso-Arabic, Nagari and Gurmukhi. During this age many Muslim Sufi poets came to the forefront, whose compositions formed an integral part of Punjabi literature. Abdullah’s (1616-1666 A.D.) ‘Bara Anva’ or ‘the Twelve Topics’, a thesis on Islam, Bulhe Shah’s (1680-1758 A.D.) Kafis or short poems of about six stanzas, Ali Haidar’s (1689-1776 AD), Si-harfis or poems of 30 stanzas, each stanza beginning with a letter of the Persian alphabet and Waris Shah’s qissa poetry, especially the tragic love story of Heer and Ranjha are regarded as the masterpieces of the Punjabi literature before the start of the modern age. Mohammed Bakhsh, Fazal Shah, Ghulam Rasul, Kishan Singh Arif, Mansingh Kalidas and Muhammad Buta were among the well-known poets of the early 19th century.
The Christian missionaries gave a new outlook to the Punjabi literature in the middle of the 19th century. They brought out a Punjabi translation of the Bible in 1952 and a Punjabi dictionary in 1854. Modern Punjabi literature begins with the works of Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), who is described as the ‘Father of modern Punjabi literature’. He composed several short poems (Lehran de Har, Matak Hutare and Bijlian de Har), biographies, novels (Sundari, Vijay Singh and Baba Naudh Singh) and dramas. One of his extraordinary works is Rana Surat Singh (1905), a long narrative poem in a blank verse form called srikhandi chanda. Puran Singh (1882-1932), another great poet of this century who has been given the title ‘Tagore of Punjab‘, introduced free verse into Punjabi and rendered into English a number of Punjabi poems by Bhai Vir Singh. Khule Lekh (1929) is the best specimen of his essays.
Puran Singh’s contemporaries — Kirpa Singh (1875-1939) and Dhani Ram Chatrik (1876-1954) were the other leading Punjabi poets who concentrated on the secular poetry. Kirpa Singh composed an epic Lakshmi Devi (1920) on the model of Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. Dhani Ram Chatrik, whose works include Candan Vari, Himala, Ganga and Raa.Chatrik, was the pioneer of romantic poetry in Punjabi. Mohan Singh (1905-1978) is one of the most popular modern Punjabi poets. He brought in a modern outlook to Punjabi literature. His most renowned works are Sawe Pattar (1936) and Kasumbra (1937). Amrita Pritam (b. 1917) is also one of the most celebrated poets of Punjabi literature. She produced 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 include Pritam Singh Safir, Bawa Balwant, Santosh Singh Dhir, Takht Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Prabhjot Kaur.
The noted modern fiction writers in Punjabi include Amrita Pritam, Nanak Singh, Jaswant Singh Kanwal, Narindarpal Singh, Kartar Singh Duggal, Surindar Singh Narula, Balwant Gargi, Jagjit Singh Anand, Ishwar Chitarkar, Suba Singh and others. Nanak Singh was the most famous novelist and short story writer while Gurbakhsh Singh and I.C.Nanda were eminent dramatists. Gurbaksh Singh promoted Punjabi prose through his magazine Preet Ladhi. The other leading Punjabi journals are Panja Darya, Panjabi Dunia, Arsi, Alocna and Sahitya Samachara.