Phulkari: Live the Traditional Art of Punjab

(Image Courtesy: Crica 1905 Clifton & Co. Bombay)

“Phulkari” is not just a traditional art; it is the story of emotions, love, colours, culture and traditions of Punjab. The origin of this beautiful art of Phulkari embroidery traced back to the 15th century AD. Its relevance, in the lives of the people, has not diminished even today and continues to form an integral part of all marriage, birth, festivals and ceremonies taking place in Punjab.

Phulkari art was practised by the women of Punjab. Sitting on the charpoys pulled into the protective shade of a tree, women in villages and small towns all over Punjab are often busy creating spectacular “Phulkari” flower-embroidery on dupattas, shawls or other garments. The art was practised in whole of Punjab which was divided after 1947 partition. So now Phulkari is practised in both the countries India and Pakistan. The strings of Phulkari connect the cultural bond between both the countries.

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Women used to sing folk songs while making gorgeous embroidery designs on the garments. “Ih Phulkari meri maan ne kadhi/Is noo ghut ghut japhiyan paawan” (This Phulkari was embroidered by my mother, I embrace it warmly).  Phulkari is just not considered as art it is an emotional bond of a girl with her mother who wove Phulkari for her. It is considered that when a girl becomes a woman, a wife or a mother a beautiful piece of Phulkari dupatta, shawl or garment is made for her.

About the Art:

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The name Phulkari itself says a lot about the handiwork design. Phulkari literally means floral work as the entire field is embroidered and filled with flowers. This word first appeared in Punjabi literature in the 18th century.

The fabric on which Phulkari embroidery work was done was hand-spun Khaddar. As cotton was grown throughout Punjab the fabric was easily available. After a series of processes it was spun into yarn by the women on the charkha. Once the yarn was ready it was dyed by the lalari (dyer) and woven by the jullaha (weaver). Soft untwisted silk floss called pat, was used for embroidery. The thread came from Kashmir, Afghanistan and sometimes China too. These threads were dyed in the big cities by the lalaris. The village ladies obtained the thread from hawkers or peddlers who sold things of daily needs, from village to village.

Know more about the Ravishing Kantha Art work, click here

Madder brown, rust red or indigo were the usual background colours for a base for the embroideries. Bright colours were always preferred for embroidery and among these, golden yellow, red, crimson, white, orange, green, blue, pink etc, were the popular ones. The colours used to indicate emotions of love, peace, bonding and strength.

The embroidery of phulkari and bagh is done in long and short darn stitch, which is created into innumerable designs and patterns. It is a very complicated task and only skilled workers can do it efficiently. In the initial stages, phulkari covered all the aspects of traditional embroidery but later on, the art was limited to scarves and shawls. There is also special type of phulkari art that is done on the garment fabric that people wear on special occasions is known as baghs. Phulkari is the skillful manipulation of this single stitch that lends an interesting and characteristic dimension to this needlework. For the embroidery, only a single strand was used at a time, each part worked in one colour. Shading and variation were not done by using various colours of thread. Instead, the effect was obtained by the dexterous use of horizontal, vertical or diagonal stitches. This resulted in giving an illusion of more than one shade when light fell on it and when it was viewed from different angles.

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To keep the embroidered part clean while working on the cloth, the finished portion was rolled and covered with a muslin cloth. While phulkari was used to ornament cloth, the bagh ensured that not even a square inch of the base cloth was visible.

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A Modern Twist to Ancient Art of Phulkari :

Phulkari art duppatas and garments were traditionally used on special days like marriage, baby showers, birth, festivals and other occasions especially in Punjab. With globalisation the art was flourished around every corner of the country and other parts of world. The art was appreciated and demanded overseas too. Many NGO & Ecommerce websites are supporting Indian handicrafts and promoting the art of these artisans on a global platform. Now days Phulkari art is not only limited to dupatta and shawls, with modernisation and increasing demand in handiwork decor phulkari work is also done on bed sheets, cushion covers, table mats, handbags, scarfs, jutti, coasters, garments and others. Thanks to the modern age of internet, with online shopping it is possible now to buy these traditional designs done on modern fabrics and decor items just on a single click. 

Even today the ancient art of Punjab “Phulkari” embroidery is alive and this art is gaining popularity among the young people as they find it very appealing and comfortable. 

(Image Courtesy: Yellow Sparrow)

One comment

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