Amrita Pritam: Voice of Feminism and Poetry in Punjabi Literature

Saurav Singh

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Amrita Pritam (31 August 1919 – 31 October 2005) was a notable Indian novelist, essayist, and poet, who expressed herself in both Punjabi and Hindi languages. She held a prominent position in Punjabi literature and was honored with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1956. Her literary legacy encompassed a vast collection of over 100 books spanning poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, Punjabi folk songs, and an autobiography, all of which were translated into various Indian and foreign languages.

Life and Career

Amrita Pritam was born as Amrit Kaur in 1919 in Gujranwala, Punjab, British India. She was the sole child of Raj Bibi, a school teacher, and Kartar Singh Hitkari, a poet, scholar of the Braj Bhasha language, and an editor of a literary journal. Additionally, her father was a pracharak, a preacher of the Sikh faith. Following her mother’s death when she was eleven, Amrita and her father relocated to Lahore, where she lived until her migration to India in 1947. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities that came with adulthood and grappling with loneliness after her mother’s passing, she found solace in writing from a young age. Her debut poetry collection, “Amrit Lehran” (“Immortal Waves”), was published in 1936 when she was just sixteen years old. In the same year, she married Pritam Singh, an editor she had been engaged to since her childhood, and adopted the name Amrita Pritam. She went on to produce several more poetry collections between 1936 and 1943.

Awards and Honors

Amrita Pritam was the inaugural recipient of the Punjab Rattan Award bestowed upon her by Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. She was also the first woman to receive the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1956 for her work “Sunehadey” (poetic diminutive of the Punjabi word “Sunehe,” meaning “Messages”). Furthermore, she was granted the Bhartiya Jnanpith Award in 1982 for “Kagaj te Canvas” (“Paper and Canvas”), the highest literary accolade in India. Her achievements extended to national honors like the Padma Shri (1969) and Padma Vibhushan (2004), which are the second-highest civilian awards in the country. In 2004, she was also awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, the highest literary recognition in India. Her contributions were lauded by multiple universities through honorary D.Litt. degrees, including Delhi University (1973), Jabalpur University (1973), and Vishwa Bharati (1987).

On 31 August 2019, a Google Doodle was created to celebrate Amrita Pritam’s 100th Birthday.