Amrita Pritam

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Amrita Pritam
Amrita Pritam (1919 - 2005) , in 1948.jpg
Born(1919-08-31)31 August 1919
Gujranwala, Punjab, British India
(now in Punjab, Pakistan)
Died31 October 2005(2005-10-31) (aged 86)
Delhi, India
OccupationNovelist, poet, essayist
Genrepoetry, prose, autobiography
Subjectpartition of India, women, dream
Literary movement Romantic-Progressivism
Notable works Pinjar (novel)
Ajj aakhaan Waris Shah nu (poem)
Suneray (poem)
Notable awards Sahitya Akademi Award (1956)

Padma Shri (1969)

Bharatiya Jnanpith (1982)

Shatabdi Samman (2000)

Padma Vibhushan (2004)
SpousePritam Singh

Amrita Pritam Loudspeaker.svg listen   (31 August 1919 – 31 October 2005) was an Indian novelist, essayist and poet, who wrote in Punjabi and Hindi. [1] She is considered the first prominent woman Punjabi poet, novelist, and essayist, and the leading 20th-century poet of the Punjabi language, who is equally loved on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. With a career spanning over six decades, she produced over 100 books of poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Punjabi folk songs and an autobiography that were translated into several Indian and foreign languages. [2] [3]

Indian people ethnic group

Indians are the nationals or citizens of India, the second most populous nation in the world, containing 17.50% of the world's population. "Indian" refers to nationality, rather than a particular ethnicity or language; the Indian nationality consists of dozens of regional ethno-linguistic groups, reflecting the rich and complex history of the country. Due to emigration, the Indian diaspora is present throughout the world, notably in other parts of Asia and North America.

Punjabi language native language of Punjabi people

Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language with more than 100 million native speakers in the Indian subcontinent and spread with the Punjabi diaspora worldwide. It is the native language of the Punjabi people, an ethnic group of the cultural region of Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, which extends from northwest India through eastern Pakistan.

Hindi language in India

Hindi, or Modern Standard Hindi is a standardised and Sanskritised register of the Hindustani language. Hindi, written in the Devanagari script, is one of the official languages of India, along with the English language. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of the Republic of India. However, it is not the national language of India because no language was given such a status in the Indian constitution.


She is most remembered for her poignant poem, Ajj aakhaan Waris Shah nu (Today I invoke Waris Shah – "Ode to Waris Shah"), an elegy to the 18th-century Punjabi poet, an expression of her anguish over massacres during the partition of India. As a novelist, her most noted work was Pinjar (The Skeleton) (1950), in which she created her memorable character, Puro, an epitome of violence against women, loss of humanity and ultimate surrender to existential fate; the novel was made into an award-winning film, Pinjar in 2003. [4] [5]

In English literature, an elegy is a poem of serious reflection, usually a lament for the dead. The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy notes:

For all of its pervasiveness, however, the ‘elegy’ remains remarkably ill-defined: sometimes used as a catch-all to denominate texts of a somber or pessimistic tone, sometimes as a marker for textual monumentalizing, and sometimes strictly as a sign of a lament for the dead.

Partition of India partition of British India into the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947

The partition of India in 1947 eventually accompanied the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan. The Dominion of India became the Republic of India in 1950, and in 1957 the Dominion of Pakistan became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In 1971, the People's Republic of Bangladesh (Bangladesh) came into being after Bangladesh Liberation War. The partition involved the division of three provinces, Assam, Bengal and Punjab, based on district-wide Hindu or Muslim majorities. The boundary demarcating India and Pakistan came to be known as the Radcliffe Line. It also involved the division of the British Indian Army, the Royal Indian Navy, the Indian Civil Service, the railways, and the central treasury, between the two new dominions. The partition was set forth in the Indian Independence Act 1947 and resulted in the dissolution of the British Raj, as the British government there was called. The two self-governing countries of Pakistan and India legally came into existence at midnight on 14–15 August 1947.

<i>Pinjar</i> (novel) 1950 Punjabi novel

Pinjar is a 1950 Punjabi novel written by noted poet and novelist Amrita Pritam. It is the story of a Hindu girl, Puro, abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid whose parents refuse to recover the defiled girl when she manages a run to her parents from Rashid's home. Pinjar is believed to be one of the best literatures written with backdrop of Partition of India.

When the former British India was partitioned into the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947, she migrated from Lahore, to India, though she remained equally popular in Pakistan throughout her life, as compared to her contemporaries like Mohan Singh and Shiv Kumar Batalvi.

Lahore Place in Punjab, Pakistan

Lahore is a city in the Pakistani province of Punjab. Lahore is the country's second-most populous city after Karachi, and is one of Pakistan's wealthiest cities with an estimated GDP of $58.14 billion (PPP) as of 2015. Lahore is the largest city, and historic cultural centre of the Punjab region, and one of Pakistan's most socially liberal, progressive, and cosmopolitan cities.

Mohan Singh (1905–1978) was a noted Indian poet of Punjabi language and academic, and one of the early pioneers of modern Punjabi poetry.

Shiv Kumar Batalvi Indian poet

Shiv Kumar Batalvi was a Punjabi language poet, who was most known for his romantic poetry, noted for its heightened passion, pathos, separation and lover's agony.

Known as the most important voice for the women in Punjabi literature, in 1956, she became the first woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for her magnum opus, a long poem, Sunehade (Messages), [6] later she received the Bharatiya Jnanpith, one of India's highest literary awards, in 1982 for Kagaz Te Canvas (The Paper and the Canvas). The Padma Shri came her way in 1969 and finally, Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, in 2004, and in the same year she was honoured with India's highest literary award, given by the Sahitya Akademi (India's Academy of Letters), the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship given to the "immortals of literature" for lifetime achievement. [7]

Punjabi literature, specifically literary works written in the Punjabi language, is characteristic of the historical Punjab of India and Pakistan and the Punjabi diaspora. The Punjabi language is written in several scripts, of which the Shahmukhi and Gurmukhī scripts are the most commonly used in Pakistan and India, respectively.

Sahitya Akademi Award literary honor in India

The Sahitya Academy Award is a literary honor in India, which the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters, annually confers on writers of the most outstanding books of literary merit published in any of the major Indian languages recognised by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

Masterpiece creation that has been given much critical praise

Masterpiece, magnum opus or chef-d’œuvre in modern use is a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship. Historically, a "masterpiece" was a work of a very high standard produced to obtain membership of a guild or academy in various areas of the visual arts and crafts.



Amrita Pritam was born as Amrit Kaur in 1919 in Gujranwala, Punjab, in present-day Pakistan, [2] the only child of Raj Bibi, who was a school teacher and Kartar Singh Hitkari, who was a poet, a scholar of Braj Bhasha, and the editor edited a literary journal. [8] [9] Besides this, he was a pracharak – a preacher of the Sikh faith. [10] Amrita's mother died when she was eleven. Soon after, she and her father moved to Lahore, where she lived till her migration to India in 1947. Confronting adult responsibilities, and besieged by loneliness following her mother's death, she began to write at an early age. Her first anthology of poems, Amrit Lehran (Immortal Waves) was published in 1936, at age sixteen, the year she married Pritam Singh, an editor to whom she was engaged in early childhood, and changed her name from Amrita Kaur to Amrita Pritam. [11] Half a dozen collections of poems were to follow between 1936 and 1943.

Gujranwala City District / Divisional Capital in Punjab

Gujranwala is a city in Punjab, Pakistan, that is located north of the nearby provincial capital of Lahore. The city is Pakistan's 7th most-populous metropolitan area, and its 5th most populous city proper. Founded in the 18th century, Gujranwala is a relatively modern town compared to the many nearby millennia-old cities of northern Punjab. The city served as the capital of the Sukerchakia Misl state between 1763 and 1799, and is the birthplace of the founder of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Braj Bhāshā is a Western Hindi language. Along with Awadhi, it was one of the two predominant literary languages of North-Central India before the switch to Khariboli in the 19th century.

Though she began her journey as romantic poet, soon she shifted gears, [6] and became part of the Progressive Writers' Movement and its effect was seen in her collection, Lok Peed (People's Anguish) (1944), which openly criticized the war-torn economy, after the Bengal famine of 1943. She was also involved in social work to certain extent and participated in such activities wholeheartedly, after Independence when social activist Guru Radha Kishan took the initiative to bring the first Janta Library in Delhi, which was inaugurated by Balraj Sahni and Aruna Asaf Ali and contributed to the occasion accordingly. This study centre cum library is still running at Clock Tower, Delhi. She also worked at Lahore Radio Station for a while, before the partition of India [12]

The Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind or Progressive Writers' Movement of India was a progressive literary movement in pre-partition British India. Some branches of this writers' group existed around the world besides in India and Pakistan.

Bengal famine of 1943 World War II famine following the Japanese occupation of Burma

The Bengal famine of 1943 was a major famine of the Bengal province in British India during World War II. An estimated 2.1–3 million, out of a population of 60.3 million, died of starvation, or of malaria and other diseases aggravated by malnutrition, population displacement, unsanitary conditions and lack of health care. Millions were impoverished as the crisis overwhelmed large segments of the economy and social fabric. Historians have frequently characterised the famine as "man-made", asserting that wartime colonial policies created and then exacerbated the crisis. A minority view holds that the famine arose from natural causes.

Guru Radha Kishan (1925-1996) was an Indian Independence activist and Communist politician.

Renowned theatre person and the director of the immortal partition movie 'Garam Hava', MS Sathyu paid a theatrical tribute to her through the rare theatrical performance 'Ek Thee Amrita'.

Partition of British India

Some one million people, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs died from communal violence that followed the partition of British India in 1947, and left Amrita Pritam a Punjabi refugee at age 28, when she left Lahore and moved to New Delhi. Subsequently, in 1948, while she was pregnant with her son, and travelling from Dehradun to Delhi, she expressed anguish on a piece of paper [13] as the poem, "Ajj akhaan Waris Shah nu" (I ask Waris Shah Today); this poem was to later immortalise her and become the most poignant reminder of the horrors of Partition. [14] The poem addressed to the Sufi poet Waris Shah, author of the tragic saga of Heer and Ranjah and with whom she shares her birthplace. [15]

Amrita Pritam worked until 1961 in the Punjabi service of All India Radio, Delhi. After her divorce in 1960, her work became more clearly feminist. Many of her stories and poems drew on the unhappy experience of her marriage. A number of her works have been translated into English, French, Danish, Japanese, Mandarin and other languages from Punjabi and Urdu, including her autobiographical works Black Rose and Rasidi Ticket (Revenue Stamp).

The first of Amrita Pritam's books to be filmed was Dharti Sagar te Sippiyan, as ‘Kadambari’ (1965), followed by ‘Unah Di Kahani’, as Daaku (Dacoit, 1976), directed by Basu Bhattacharya. [16] Her novel Pinjar (The Skeleton, 1970) narrates the story of partition riots along with the crisis of women who suffered during the times. It was made into an award-winning Hindi movie by Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, because of its humanism: "Amritaji has portrayed the suffering of people of both the countries." Pinjar was shot in a border region of Rajasthan and in Punjab.

She edited "Nagmani", a monthly literary magazine in Punjabi for several years, which she ran together with Imroz, for 33 years; though after Partition she wrote prolifically in Hindi as well. [1] [17] Later in life, she turned to Osho and wrote introductions for several books of Osho, including Ek Onkar Satnam, [18] and also started writing on spiritual themes and dreams, producing works like Kaal Chetna (Time Consciousness) and Agyat Ka Nimantran (Call of the Unknown). [19] She had also published autobiographies, titled, Kala Gulab (Black Rose) (1968), Rasidi Ticket (The Revenue Stamp) (1976), and Aksharon kay Saayee (Shadows of Words). [8] [20]


Amrita is the first recipient of Punjab Rattan Award conferred upon her by Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. She is first woman recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1956 for Sunehadey (poetic diminutive of the word sunehe i,e.Messages), Amrita Pritam received the Bhartiya Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award, in 1982 for Kagaj te Canvas (Paper and Canvas). [21] She received the Padma Shri (1969) and Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, India's highest literary award, also in 2004. She received D.Litt. honorary degrees, from many universities including, Delhi University (1973), Jabalpur University (1973) and Vishwa Bharati (1987) [22]

She also received International Vaptsarov Award from the Republic of Bulgaria (1979) and Degree of Officer dens, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Officier) by the French Government (1987). [1] She was nominated as a member of Rajya Sabha 1986–92. Towards the end of her life, she was awarded by Pakistan's Punjabi Academy, to which she had remarked, Bade dino baad mere maike ko meri yaad aayi.. (My motherland has remembered me after a long time); and also Punjabi poets of Pakistan, sent her a chaddar, from the tombs of Waris Shah, and fellow Sufi mystic poets Bulle Shah and Sultan Bahu. [2]

Personal life

In 1935, Amrita married Pritam Singh, son of a leading hosiery merchant of Lahore's Anarkali bazaar. In 1960, Amrita Pritam left her husband. She is also said to have an unrequited affection for poet Sahir Ludhianvi. [23] The story of this love is depicted in her autobiography, Rasidi Ticket (Revenue Stamp). When another woman, singer Sudha Malhotra came into Sahir's life, Amrita found solace in the companionship of the renowned artist and writer Imroz. She spent the last forty years of her life with Imroz, who also designed most of her book covers and made her the subject of his several paintings. Their life together is also the subject of a book, Amrita Imroz: A Love Story. [24] [25]

She died in her sleep on 31 October 2005 at the age of 86 in New Delhi, after a long illness. [26] She was survived by her partner Imroz, daughter Kandala, son Navraj Kwatra, daughter-in-law Alka, and her grandchildren, Taurus, Noor, Aman and Shilpi. Navraj Kwatra was killed in 2012. [27]


In 2007, an audio album titled, 'Amrita recited by Gulzar' was released by noted lyricist Gulzar, with poems of Amrita Pritam recited by him. [28] [29] A film on her life is also on the anvil. [30]


In her career spanning over six decades, she penned 28 novels, 18 anthologies of prose, five short stories and 16 miscellaneous prose volumes.


Short stories

Poetry anthologies
Literary journal

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  1. 1 2 3 Amrita Pritam, The Black Rose by Vijay Kumar Sunwani, Language in India, Volume 5 : 12 December 2005.
  2. 1 2 3 Amrita Pritam – Obituary The Guardian , 4 November 2005.
  3. Amrita Pritam: A great wordsmith in Punjab’s literary history Archived 19 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine . Daily Times (Pakistan) , 14 November 2005.
  4. Always Amrita, Always Pritam Gulzar Singh Sandhu on the Grand Dame of Punjabi letters, The Tribune , 5 November 2005.
  5. Pinjar on IMDb
  6. 1 2 Amrita Pritam Modern Indian Literature: an Anthology, by K. M. George, Sahitya Akademi. 1992, ISBN   81-7201-324-8.945–947.
  7. Sahitya Akademi fellowship for Amrita Pritam, Anantha Murthy The Hindu , 5 October 2004.
  8. 1 2 Amrita Pritam Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present, by Susie J. Tharu, Ke Lalita, published by Feminist Press, 1991. ISBN   1-55861-029-4. Page 160-163.
  9. New Panjabi Poetry ( 1935–47) Handbook of Twentieth-century Literatures of India, by Nalini Natarajan, Emmanuel Sampath Nelson, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996. ISBN   0-313-28778-3.Page 253-254.
  10. Kushwant Singh, "Amrita Pritam: Queen of Punjabi Literature", The Sikh Times
  11. Amrita Pritam – Obituary The Independent , 2 November 2005.
  12. Editorial Archived 13 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine . Daily Times (Pakistan) , 2 November 2005.
  13. An alternative voice of history Nonica Datta, The Hindu, 4 December 2005.
  14. Juggling two lives The Hindu, 13 November 2005.
  15. Complete Heer Waris Shah
  16. Jeevan Prakash Sharma, "Amrita Pritam's Novel to Be Rendered on Film", The Hindustan Times (August 27, 2002)
  17. "Amrita Pritam/अमृता प्रीतम". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  18. A tribute to Amrita Pritam by Osho lovers Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine .Sw. Chaitanya Keerti,
  19. Visions of Divinity – Amrita Pritam Archived 27 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine .Life Positive, April 1996.
  20. Amrita Pritam Biography Archived 5 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine .Chowk, 15 May 2005.
  21. "Jnanpith Laureates Official listings". Jnanpith Website. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007.
  22. Amrita Pritam
  23. Sahir Biography .
  24. Amrita Preetam Imroz : A love Story of a Poet and a Painter Archived 8 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine ., 8 August 2008.
  25. Nirupama Dutt, "A Love Legend of Our Times" Tribune , 5 November 2006.
  26. "Indian writer Amrita Pritam dies". BBC News . 31 October 2005. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  27. Author Amrita Pritam’s son found murdered in his Borivali apartment Archived 19 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine .
  28. 'Amrita recited by Gulzar' Archived 5 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine .
  29. Gulzar recites for Amrita Pritam Times of India , 7 May 2007.
  30. Movie on Amrita Pritam to be shot in Himachal Archived 9 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

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