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Summary Article: Panjabi
from Encyclopedia of Global Religions

Panjabi is the language of the people of Panjab, a region that was divided into two parts and apportioned one each to India (East Panjab) and Pakistan (West Panjab) at the time of partition in 1947. The Panjabi-speaking population is, however, not confined to the political boundaries of the two Panjabs. As a matter of fact, Panjabi is a major world language, spoken by 80 million people in South Asia and other British Commonwealth countries. Furthermore, Panjabis were the first people from India to enter North America in the beginning of the 20th century as immigrants. Furthermore, Panjabi has been in use as a literary language since the 11th century. It is the language of the sacred scriptures of the Sikhs, the official language of the State of Panjab in India, and a language of Sikh and Sufi mysticism and of regional literature among Panjabi Muslims in Pakistan. In Canada, Panjabi is the fourth largest spoken language after English, French and Chinese, while in the United States, it is mostly spoken by about 0.5 million Panjabi and Sikh immigrants.

Panjabi is an Indo-Aryan language closely related to earlier forms of Hindi and Urdu, and these languages are, to some extent, mutually intelligible even today. Panjabi is usually written in a different script known as Gurmukhi (“from the mouth of the Guru”), since it was devised by the second Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Angad (1504-1552), under the supervision of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh tradition. The original Gurmukhi script was a systematization of business shorthand (lande/takari), of the kind Guru Nanak doubtless used professionally as a young man. This was the script that was certainly familiar to the merchants of the Panjab. To the Panjabis, the idea of spiritual truth inscribed in their own native language must have created a sense of empowerment that had been conspicuously absent until Guru Angad popularized the Gurmukhi script among the masses. It is, however, instructive to underline the fact that the Panjabis in Pakistan use Shahmukhi (a kind of Arabic script) for writing purposes.

The Panjabi language is intimately linked with Panjabi culture. It is difficult to have access to Panjabi customs, myths, art, literature, music, and other cultural moorings without understanding the Panjabi language. The famous Panjabi authors are Bhai Vir Singh (poetry, fiction, drama, and prose), Puran Singh (poetry and fiction), Mohan Singh (poetry), Amrita Pritam (poetry and fiction), Dhani Ram “Chatrik” (poetry), Ishwar Chander Nanda (drama), Teja Singh (literary criticism), Sant Singh Sekhon (fiction and literary criticism), and Harbhajan Singh (literary criticism). The cultural activities of folk songs, movies, and the internationally acclaimed Bhangra (“Panjabi folk dance”) become accessible only when one has learned at least the spoken Panjabi language. The gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in North America, the United Kingdom, East Africa, and other East Asian countries offer Panjabi language instruction at Sunday schools. Introductory courses on the Panjabi language are also offered at academic institutions such as University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), University of California (Berkeley, Santa Barbara, and Riverside), and San Jose State University.

See also

India, Sikhism

Further Readings
  • Shackle, C. (1983). An introduction to the sacred language of the Sikhs. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Singh, H. (Ed.). (1997). The encyclopaedia of Sikhism (Vol. 3). Patiala, India: Punjabi University.
  • Singh, Pashaura
    SAGE Publications, Inc.

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