During medieval times, Punjab repeatedly bore the brunt of Afghan invasions and internal battles. These warring times were not exactly feasible for any sort of literary or cultural expansion. Punjabi literature thus took firm rooting only at the end of the 16th century, though its origins can be traced back to the 12th century. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, gave a new tradition to the language, the Gurbani. The fifth Guru, Arjun Dev compiled the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth or Sri Granth Sahib. Chandi-di-Var by Guru Gobind Singh is also a significant landmark in the history of Punjabi literature.
The period between 1600 and 1850 covers the entire middle Punjabi literature. Hindu and Sikh writers wrote in Punjabi during that period. But it were muslim Sufi saints who were the most creative. Their compositions, entirely Punjabi in spirit and content, form an integral part of Punjabi literature. Bulhe Shah (1680-1758) is perhaps the greatest Sufi poet who wrote Kafis which are very popular even to day. Ali Haidar (1689-1776), one of his contemporaries, wrote a large number Si-harfis. Shah Hussain was another great contemporary Sufi poet. The tragic love story of Heer and Ranjha became the source of many a kissa, a distinct Punjabi literary genre. Numerous writers lent their pen to kissa Heer, but the most extensive and popular was the one rendered by Waris Shah in 1766. Waris is regarded as the greatest poet of Punjabi literature before the start of the modern age. Shah Mohammad’s Jang Nama, a fine piece of poetry, describing the fall of Sikh rule is another landmark in Punjabi literature.
The Modern Punjabi Literature is characterized by the advent of prose. Bhai Vir Singh, Prof Puran Singh and later Nanak Singh and Gurbakhsh Singh were the torch bearers of modern Punjabi prose. Among the most popular poets of the `modern’ period is Mohan Singh who has been described as the one occupying ‘the central place in Punjabi letters today’. He brought in a modern outlook in life and everything related to Punjabi. Other noteworthy poets in Punjabi are Bhai Vir Singh, Pritam Singh Safir, Shiv Batalvi, Surjit Patar and Amrita Pritam, a Jnanpeeth awardee. I C Nanda and Balwant Gargi are eminent dramatists. The wealth of Punjabi literature can be truly regarded as the finest that the Punjabis possess.