Modern Punjabi Literature and the Spectre of Sectarian Histories




Sikh history, Kartar Singh Duggal, Bhai Vir Singh, historical representation, Punjabi


This essay explores two instances in the modern Punjabi literary engagement with the past, to consider the ways the writing of Sikh history has been configured as a modern literary construct. After brief consideration of the canonical work Sundarī by Bhai Vir Singh (1898), I consider a novel by Kartar Singh Duggal Nānak Nām Chaṛhdī Kalā (1989, “Blessed are those who Remember God”) to examine the legacies of the formulation of Sikh history operating in Vir Singh’s work. In doing so, I also consider the ways exclusionary and plural discourses coexist and comingle, to understand the multivalent nature of such representations, which cannot be assumed to express singular political affiliations and therefore reflect the complexity of Sikh articulations within colonial and postcolonial political fields.

PlumX Metrics of this article


Chatterjee, P. 1993. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. DOI:

Dalmia, V. 1999. The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions: Bharatendu Harischandra and Nineteenth-Century Banaras. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Dubrow, J. 2019. The Aesthetics of the Fragment: Progressivism and Literary Modernism in theWork of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association.

In: Journal of Postcolonial Writing 55(5): 589–601. DOI:

Duggal, K. S. 1989. Nānak nām chaṛhdī kalā. New Delhi: Navyug Publishers.

Dulai, S. S. 1975. The Political Novel in Punjabi. In: Y. Malik and C. Lieberman (eds.). Politics and the Novel in India: Contributions to Asian Studies, Vol. VI. Leiden: Brill: 43–74.

Fair, C. 2010. The Novels of Bhai Vir Singh and the Imagination of Sikh Identity, Community, and Nation. In: D. R. Jakobsh (ed.) Sikhism and Women: History, Texts and Experience. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 115–133.

Gill, T. S. (ed. and tr.) 2011a. Seven Plays on Sikh History by Sant Singh Sekhon. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.

Gill, T. S. 2011b. Introduction. In: Seven Plays on Sikh History by Sant Singh Sekhon. Ed. and tr. by T. S. Gill. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi: ix-xxxiv.

Gopal, P. 2005. Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation, and the Transition to Independence. London: Routledge.

Grewal, J. S. 1990. Sikhs of the Punjab. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Guleria, J. S. 1985. Bhai Vir Singh: A Literary Portrait. Delhi: National Book Shop.

Kaur Singh, N. G. 1993. The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Kaviraj, S. 1998. The Unhappy Consciousness: Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and the Formation of Nationalist Discourse in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Khosla, G. S. 1984. Bhai Vir Singh: An Analytical Study. New Delhi: Heritage Publishers.

Koselleck, R. 1985. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.

Macauliffe, M. A. 1909. The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors. Vols. 1–6. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Malhotra, A. 2002. Gender, Caste, and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Malhotra, A. and Murphy, A. 2020. Introduction. In: Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory. Bhai Vir Singh (1872–1957): Rethinking Literary Modernity in Colonial Punjab, 16(1–2): 1–13. DOI:

Mandair, A. S. 2005. The Emergence of Modern ‘Sikh Theology:’ Reassessing the Passage of Ideas from Trumpp to Bhai Vir Singh. In: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 68(2): 253–275. DOI:

McLeod, W. H. 2000. The Sikh Struggle in the Eighteenth Century and its Relevance for Today. In: W. H. McLeod (ed.) Exploring Sikhism: Aspects of Sikh Identity, Culture and Thought. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 70–90.

Minocha, A. 2019. Bhai Vir Singh and the Public Sphere in Colonial Punjab. In: Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory, 16(1–2): 14–27. DOI:

Mir, F. 2010. The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Mukherjee, M. 2006. Epic and Novel in India. In: F. Moretti (ed.). The Novel: Volume 1, History Geography, and Culture, Princeton: Princeton University Press: 596–631.

Murphy, A. 2011. Introduction. In: A. Murphy (ed.) Time, History, and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia. New York: Routledge: 1–11. DOI:

Murphy, A. 2012. The Materiality of the Past: History and Representation in Sikh Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Murphy, A. 2017. Placing Max Arthur Macauliffe in Context(s): Sikh Historiographical Traditions and Colonial Forms of Knowledge. In: Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions, 4: 58–73., accessed on 27.12.2021.

Murphy, A. 2018. Writing Punjabi Across Borders. In: South Asian History and Culture, 9(1): 68–91. DOI:

Murphy, A. Forthcoming a. Beyond the Past: Poetry as a Notation of the Present.

Murphy, A. Forthcoming b. On the Possibility of the Secular in the Work of Kartar Singh Duggal.

Oesterheld, Ch. 2001. Nazir Ahmad and the Early Urdu Novel: Some Observations. In: Annual of Urdu Studies, 16: 27–42.

Petievich, C. 2007. When Men Speak as Women: Vocal Masquerade in Indo-Muslim Poetry. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sekhon, S. S., and K. S. Duggal. 1992. A History of Punjabi Literature. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.

Singh, Raghbir. Forthcoming. Kartar Singh Duggal (1917–2012). In: Dictionnaire encyclopédique des littératures de l’Inde (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Indian Literatures. Paris: Classiques Garnier (Paris).

Sobti, H. S. 1987. Studies in Panjabi Fiction. Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers.

Vir Singh, B., 1968 [1918]. Satwaṅt kaur. New Delhi: Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan.

Vir Singh, B. 2003 [1898]. Sundarī. New Delhi: Bhai Vir Singh Sahit Sadan.




How to Cite

Murphy, Anne. 2021. “Modern Punjabi Literature and the Spectre of Sectarian Histories”. Cracow Indological Studies 23 (2):91-118.