Preserving Punjabi: The Dhahan Prize and the Global Context of Punjabi Fiction

by Manjari Singh

In the vibrant halls of Majha House, where echoes of Punjabi culture reverberate through every conversation, a discussion unfolded, shedding light on the essence of Punjabi literature and its global journey. At the heart of this dialogue stood Brajinder Singh Dhahan, a visionary driven by a deep-rooted love for his Maa Boli, Punjabi.

Inspired by the profound words of Gurbaksh Singh, the father of modern Punjabi prose, Dhahan embarked on a mission to honor and uplift Punjabi literature. Singh’s assertion that “Maa Boli is the key” struck a chord with Dhahan, igniting a lifelong commitment to preserving the rich tapestry of Punjabi language and culture.

In 2013, Dhahan brought his vision to fruition by establishing the Dhahan Prize for excellence in Punjabi literature. Named after his native village, Dhahan Prize stands as a beacon of recognition for Punjabi writers worldwide. It transcends borders, welcoming submissions in both Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts, fostering literary excellence across the diverse landscapes of Charda and Lehnda Punjab.

The significance of the Dhahan Prize extends beyond its monetary value, as it symbolizes a renaissance in Punjabi literature. With a prestigious prize pool totaling 45,000 Canadian dollars, it rivals the stature of esteemed literary awards like the Booker Prize. However, Dhahan Prize distinguishes itself by honoring not just the writers but the profound impact of their words.

Arvinder Dhaliwal, recipient of the Dhahan Prize in 2022 for her evocative short story collection “Jhanjhran Wale Pair,” and Sargi, lauded winner of the 2021 prize for “Apne Apne Marsiye,” echoed Dhahan’s sentiments on the transformative power of Punjabi literature. They lamented the challenges posed by globalization, which threaten to erode the essence of Punjabi identity.

In Dhahan’s view, a renaissance is underway, with a new wave of writers emerging to reclaim the narrative. Yet, this resurgence faces obstacles, including a dearth of publishers willing to champion Punjabi literature. Dhahan emphasized the need to restore reverence for Punjabi language, culture, and architectural heritage, lamenting the loss of originality in the pursuit of utilitarianism.

As the Dhahan Prize continues to shine a spotlight on Punjabi literature, it serves as a catalyst for cultural preservation and revitalization. Through its unwavering commitment to transparency and integrity, the prize honors the legacy of those who have paved the way for future generations of Punjabi writers.

In the ever-evolving landscape of global literature, the Dhahan Prize stands as a testament to the enduring power of language and the enduring spirit of those who refuse to let their stories be silenced. With each accolade bestowed upon a Punjabi writer, the flame of cultural pride burns ever brighter, illuminating a path forward for generations to come.

Manjari Singh

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