Phulkari embroidery which literally translates into ‘flower work’ is a vibrant traditional embroidery made with coloured silken thread on the wrong side of coarse cotton to form dazzling motifs that spreads across the length of the cloth.
This embroidery style was more of a domestic affair in rural areas and was carried out by the women of Punjab during the 19th century. They would gather during the day to work on the cloth over some gossip and would sew anything that inspired them into the piece of cloth. The motifs could be of chilies, bottle gourd, animals or flowers - objects from their daily life. These seemingly simple designs required a lot of work, so much so that a small shawl could take up to 12 months to finish. The final product could be made into a brilliant kurti, odhni or shawl for a daughter, granddaughter or even the future daughter-in-law. The love and affection that is associated with making a phulkari is so much that there is even a folk song that celebrates the craft,
“Ih phulkari meri maan ne kadhi, iss noo ghut ghut japhiyan paawan”(“My dear mother has embroidered this phulkari, I embrace it again and again with affection”)
There are many theories about the origin of this art in India. According to the most popular theory this craft was brought to India by the Jat tribe from the Central Asia and the technique was passed down the generations just through word of mouth. Interestingly the first ever documentation of this craft was made in the legendary tale of the Punjabi couple Heer and Ranjha by Waris Shah. In the 20th century this traditional art form met with a tragedy, the India Pakistan partition, which almost brought an end to it. 70 years later, this art is now alive in the form of mass manufactured clothing and has lost the personal charm it once held. However, it is this commercialization that has given phulkari embroidery a new lease of life.
Phulkari embroidery has a variety of different styles within it. Phulkari in which the patterns cover the whole base cotton cloth is called Bagh, which translates into garden in Punjabi. Red, brown, blue and white coloured base cloth called Khaddar was commonly the canvas for the ladies to pour out their imagination, with red being the most favored one. Darn stitching technique was used to sew the geometrical pattern on the khaddar.
Darshan Bagh is a design that is stitched to be given to the Gurudwaras as an offering when a wish has been fulfilled. Chope is monochrome version of phulkari with designs sewn just on the borders. Meenakari is also a popular version of phulkari in which the Pat (motifs made from the untwisted floss of silk) is made with golden and white thread and small lozenges.
Each kind of phulkari has a traditional significance and is worn to celebrate a wedding or a joyous occasion. A Bawan Bagh is given by the grandmother to the grand daughter at the time of her marriage, Vari da Bagh is given to the bride by her in-laws when she arrives into their house for the first time while chope is given to her by her maternal uncle.
Today, this vivid style is undergoing a revival and is being used not only in shawls and odhnis but on kurtis, jackets, sarees and bandhgalas by ace designers like Manish Malhotra. Interest like this from the world of Indian fashion only means that better days are round the corner for phulkari embroidery.
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