Winners of first annual Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature announced

Avtar Singh Billing
Avtar Singh Billing


AFTER receiving over 70 eligible entries from 5 countries around the world, the winner of the $25,000 Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature is Avtar Singh Billing’s novel Khali Khoohaan di

Katha (The Story of Empty Wells).

Based in Vancouver, Canada, The Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature aims to inspire the creation of Punjabi literature across borders, bridging Punjabi communities around the world, and promoting Punjabi literature on a global scale.

The Dhahan Prize awards $25,000 CDN annually to one “best book in fiction” published in either of the two Punjabi scripts, Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi. Two runner-up prizes of $5,000 are also awarded, with the provision that both scripts are represented among the three winners. The Dhahan Prize is awarded by Canada India Education Society (CIES) in partnership with the Department of Asian Studies in the Faculty of Arts at University of British Columbia (UBC). The prize is funded by an endowment from Barj and Rita Dhahan, and family and friends.

The winners of the inaugural Dhahan Prize in Punjabi Literature are:

* First Prize of $25,000: Khali Khoohaan di Katha (Novel) by Avtar Singh Billing (Gurmukhi script)

* Runner-up Prize of $5,000: Ik Raat da Samunder (Short stories) by Jasbir Bhullar (Gurmukhi script)

Jasbir Bhullar
Jasbir Bhullar

* Runner-up Prize of $5,000: Kbooter, Bnairy te Galian (Short stories) by Zubair Ahmed (Shahmukhi script)

“I feel happy and lucky to be the first author to win the prestigious, inaugural Dhahan Prize in Punjabi Literature,” said Billing, author of Khali Khoohan di Katha. “[Canada India Education Society] and the University of British Columbia have really created history by establishing such a unique, international award for Punjabi fiction. I feel proud that the Punjabi literary world found my sixth novel worthy of this honour.”

Punjabi literature has a long and rich literary heritage and is produced around the world. Barj S. Dhahan, co-founder of CIES said: “Punjabi has been a Canadian language for 115 years and it is exciting that this prize is uniquely a Canadian undertaking.”

The Prize Advisory Committee has been central to developing an independent and impartial jury of senior writers and scholars to adjudicate the prize. Professor Anne Murphy, chair of the prize advisory committee said: “We have three juries: one to choose Shahmukhi books, one for Gurmukhi books, and one Central Jury that determines the winner. There is no overlap among the juries and the names of members are not disclosed until after adjudication is complete. It is crucial that we always maintain a strong and fair process.”

On Friday, October 24, the Dhahan Prize will host a public reading at SFU Surrey from 6:30 – 8 p.m., followed by a reception. Prize winners will read from their winning books in Punjabi, with translation to English. The evening is co-presented with SFU World Literature Program, and will include a question and answer portion, as well as a reception to mingle with our honoured guests. The next day, on Saturday, October 25, the winners of the Dhahan Prize in Punjabi Literature will be honoured at a gala reception at the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia.

More information can be found at

Zubair Ahmed
Zubair Ahmed