The name of the state of Punjab can be translated to ‘The Land of Five Waters’, which refers to the five tributaries of the significant Indus River that flow through the north Indian state: the Chenab, Ravi, Jhelum, Beas and Sutlej. These tributaries have blessed the Punjab with an abundance of fertile soil, allowing for beautiful flowers and plants to grow, which consequently inspired the intricate motifs found in Punjabi textiles.
The rich and distinct history and culture of Punjab can be traced as far back as the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. The land is also known to be the birthplace of Sikhism. However, throughout millennia, Punjab has also accumulated the cultures of various powerful dynasties throughout history, from the ancient Greeks, to the Turks, Persians and the Mughal Empire. Today, Punjab’s traditional poetry, music and dance are globally recognised. Bhangra music and dance are well known and loved throughout the world, owing to their presence in film which has introduced them to a global audience.
Among the many textile crafts from Punjab, the most unique and prominent crafts is the distinctive phulkari embroidery. ‘Phulkari’, which literally translates as ‘flower work’, is embroidered using smooth silk threads on a coarse cotton fabric and is commonly found in vibrant colours like red, orange and pink, and are therefore associated with festive occasions and weddings.
Apart from the traditional Indian saree that has become a global fashion phenomenon, the salwar kameez is India’s – particularly, Punjab’s – beloved traditional Indian attire. The salwar is a pair of loose trousers that sits at the ankles, worn under the stylish tunic known as kameez. The patiala salwar, a variation of the salwar kameez, is a favourite amongst women with its striking colours and intricate hand embellishments. In Britain, the garments have acquired the nickname ‘Punjabi suit’, owing to ethnic Punjabi women who have introduced the ensemble into the mainstream, including high fashion trends.