Punjabi poetry has always been overtly political in style and content. Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, challenged Mughal emperor Babur in his Baburbani as leading a paap ki janj—army of sin. Sufi poets like Bulle Shah openly criticised the dominant orthodoxies of the time. Popular qissas—stories in verse—celebrated the defiance of lovers like Sohni-Mahiwal and Heer-Ranjha.Vaars, heroic ballads eulogising warriors, social bandits, religious heroes and freedom fighters, celebrated their defiance, resistance and sacrifice against political tyranny. The folk poetry sung by the bards, dhādi and kavishars, along with the Sikh ardas, forms the collective consciousness of Punjabis. In the 20th century, this tradition was carried forward by poets like Avtar Singh Sandhu aka Paash, Sant Ram Udasi, Lal Singh Dil and Harinder Singh Mehboob.
In the contemporary world, popular culture epitomised by its famous Punjabi music has carved a niche for itself in the global scene. From its folk origins, Punjabi music has spread its wings, both in Punjab and outside. A galaxy of performers including Gurdas Mann, Malkiat Singh, Hans Raj Hans, Jazzy Bains, Babbu Mann and Diljit have ensured that Bhangra Pop held sway in pubs, gyms and marriage concerts all over the country. Punjab’s close connection with its diaspora ensured that western influences like hip-hop, rap and beats creatively merged with Punjabi dhols and catchy desi lyrics to create a distinctive genre. Punjabi music now is a Rs 1,000-crore industry rivalling Hindi music.