Phulkari, which means “flower-work” is integral to the history of Punjab. The embroidery is done by women during their free time and the fruits of this leisure activity would be gorgeous dupattas that would be given away to the daughter of the family during her wedding.
The motifs that are a part of this embroidery are a reflection of the life and household of women. Everything that they observe - from the flowers they grow, the vegetables that they eat, to the animals and birds that exist around them - are embroidered on the fabric. As a result of this, the phulkari work done in each household is distinct from the other and has its own unique story to tell.
Bagh Motif in Phulkari Embroidery
Colour is the most integral element in a Phulkari odhni or dupatta. Traditionally, only four colours of coarse cotton would be used as a base - red, signifying youth and gaiety, white, which was given to mature ladies and widows and both blue and black, to be worn at home on a daily basis since they don’t show stains so easily. Today, however, you can find phulkari stoles and shawls in a mind boggling array of colours to cater to the taste of the women who wear it as a fashion accessory.
More than the colour of the fabric, it is the colour of the threads that are used in the detailing that lend phulkari its striking character. Yellow, white, green, red and orange were the thread colours that were traditionally used. As with the fabrics, the thread colours also have undergone a major overhaul to include more colours as a result of which one has an unlimited palette to play with while doing phulkari embroidery.
The motifs made in a phulkari dupatta or fabric comprise of horizontal, vertical and diagonal stitches to make various patterns on the fabric. The most common motif is the floral motif - an eight petalled lotus that signifies purity. When the floral motifs are so profuse that the base fabric isn’t visible, then such a creation is called a ‘bagh’ or a garden.Depending on the kind of motif that is used to create the bagh, it can be categorised into:
Vari Da Bagh in Phulkari Embroidery
Darshan Dwar Motifs used in Phulkari Embroidery
Sainchi Motifs used in Phulkari Embroidery
Phulkari draws inspiration from just about anything - what goes on the fabric is only limited by the maker’s imagination. While it is understandable that the name is derived from the most dominant motif in phulkari, it is actually ironical that a craft with such an overwhelming number of motifs should be called ‘flower work’!
Image credit: rediff, theartblogbywovensouls, pinterest, vervemagazine