Amrita Pritam – The First Eminent Female Punjabi Poet

In this article, we are going to talk about Amrita Pritam - A prominent Indian poet who is not only loved in our country but also across the border.


  1. Introduction
  2. Childhood and Early Life
  3. Personal life and legacy
  4. Awards and Honors



Amrita Pritam

Amrita Pritam was an Indian novelist, poet, and essayist. She who wrote in Punjabi and Hindi and is considered to be the first prominent female Punjabi poet, novelist, and so on, who is also the leading 20th-century poet of the Punjabi language. She is loved on both sides of the India–Pakistan border. She produced over 100 books of poetry, essays, fiction, biographies, alongside a collection of Punjabi folk songs. All these have been translated into several foreign languages.

She is remembered for her poignant poem, Ajj aakhaan Waris Shah nu, which was an elegy to the 18th-century Punjabi poet. This was like an expression of her boiling Anguish over massacres during the partition of India. Being a novelist, her most renowned work was Pinjar meaning “The Skeleton,” 1950, in which she created her memorable character, Puro, who was an epitome of violence against the women, loss of humanity, and ultimate surrender to an existential fate.

When 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.

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, Sunshade (Messages), 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 honored 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. She wrote her poems mostly for the partition.


2. Amrita Pritam – Childhood and Early Life

Amrita Pritam

Amrita was born as Amrit Kaur on August 31st, 1919, in the Gujranwala district of Punjab. She was born into the Sikh family to Raj Bibi, who was a teacher at local school and Kartar Singh Hitkari, who worked as an editor of a literary journal. His father was a respected man and served as a preacher during his free time. He was also a renowned scholar.

Although she was born into a traditional Sikh family, she lost faith in God at the tender age of eleven, when her mother passed away. After her demise, Amrita moved to Lahore with her father. Post that, Amrita found solace in writing and, thus, began to write at a young age. She became a published writer in the year 1936 when she was just 17 years old. After releasing her anthology of poetry titled ‘Amrit Lehran’ that is Immortal Waves, she then went on to publish at least six more collections of the poems from 1936 to 1943. The loss of her mother soon turned her into a strong and independent woman who expressed all the audacity in her writings.

She then joined the ‘Progressive Writers’ Movement’ to inspire young writers and people through her literary writings. The movement was started during the pre-partition British India, and the members were all left-oriented plus anti-imperialistic. Soon, she came up with a collection of works’ Lok Peed’ translated-People’s Anguish in the year 1944, which criticized British Raj for the ‘Bengal famine of the year 1943’ and for the then war-torn economy of India.


3. Amrita Pritam’s Personal Life and Legacy

Amrita Pritam

Amrita Pritam was engaged to Pritam Singh, son of a wealthy businessman from Lahore. The wedding took place in the year 1935 when Amrita was still in mid-teens. In her autobiographies, written years after her wedding, Amrita confessed that she did not share a healthy relationship with her husband and that the marriage was an unhappy experience for her.

In the year 1944, she met Sahir Ludhianvi, who was a fellow poet and would later turn into a well-known film lyricist. Although she was married to Pritam Singh but was strongly attracted to Sahir Ludhianvi, the reminiscences of which she later wrote about in the autobiography ‘Rasidi Ticket.’ She left her husband in the year 1960 when her fascination for Sahir had reached the peak. However, she always knew that it was nearly impossible for her to establish a good relationship with Sahir.

Amrita later found love through Imroz, who was a prominent artist and writer. Though the couple was never officially married, they spent more than four decades together. She became the inspiration for some of his outstanding paintings and would design the front cover of all her novels and books. Their love life was also immortalized through a book titled ‘Amrita Imroz- A Love Story.’

During her good career, Amrita Pritam penned a total of 28 to 30 novels, 18 anthologies in prose, plus five short stories. Many of her works to date continue to serve as an inspiration to many young writers. In the year 2007, an eminent Indian lyricist: Gulzar, released the album, which was a collection of Amrita Pritam’s poetry recited by the great Gulzar.

Amrita Pritam passed away on October 31st, 2005, in New Delhi. During her death, she was survived by her long-time lover and partner Imroz, her daughter Kandala, and son Navraj Kwatra, and her grandchildren Aman, Noor, Taurus, and Shilpi.


4. Amrita Pritam – Awards and Honors

Amrita Pritam was also honored with several awards in her glorious career.

a) Punjab Rattan Award (1) – Amrita Pritam became the first recipient of the prestigious award, which is given by the government of Punjab. This award is given to great achievers in the field of art, science, literature, technology, culture, politics, and so on.

b) The Sahitya Akademi Award (2) – In the year 1956, Amrita became the first woman to receive the ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ as well for one of her poems titled ‘Sunehade’ translated- Messages. 

c) Bharatiya Jnanpith Award (3) – Amrita Pritam received ‘Jnanpith Award,’ which is considered as India’s highest literary award, in 1982. The award was given to her for one of her renowned books titled ‘Kagaj te Canvas.’

d) Padma Shri Award (4) – In the year 1969, she received India’s fourth-highest civilian award that is Padma Shri, for her amazing contributions in the field of arts and literature. 

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