An Interwoven History Of Punjab And Phulkari! Know The Significance Of The Oldest Form Of Hand Embroidery Of India

Phulkari is a rural tradition art of crafting embroidered odhni or shawl used by women in Punjab. Phulkari which translates into ‘flower work’, has a history etched in the culture of Punjab. The main characteristics of this embroidery are the use of darn stitch on the wrong side of cloth with colored silk thread.

The embroidery work was made on a plain cotton fabric,whose thread was manually spun, loomed and dyed with natural pigments, which would be joined either before or after the embroidery to form desired designs. The origin of Phulkari has not been traced. Where, Phulkari has been mentioned in the famous, Punjabi folklore of Heer Ranjha (a love tale) by Waris Shah.

It is said that Phulkari plays a very important role in a girl’s life. Birth of a girl marks the beginning of the child’s grandmother’s task to create a beautiful trousseau for the future bride, which is worn by the bride during her wedding ceremony. When a woman gives birth to a boy she is given a Phulkari which is worn by her when she goes out for the first time after delivery, and during any religious festivals. Likewise when a lady dies her body is covered with Phulkari.

Phulkari was never fabricated for sale, it was embroidered by a family for its own use, for every important moment in their local life like wedding, birth, and religious functions. Finishing a “Phulkari” signifies an important step for a girl to become a woman, as is mentioned even in the holy book for the Sikhs “Only then will you be considered an accomplished lady when you will,self, embroider your own blouse.”

Banabhatta, the court poet of King Harshavardhana in 7th Century CE, in his Harshacharita or ‘Life of Harsha’   describes the wedding dress of king’s niece and the description is similar to that of Phulkari, which gives an evidence of Phulkari  being prevalent during the era. According to the description the cloth is said to have dense floral patterns and was worked from the reverse side.

The motifs of Phulkari are inspired by the nature. Names such as rolling pin, cucumber,  moon and  seven colours are common motifs recognized in the phulkari even today. Animals, flowers, trees, and folklore depicted in the embroideries are all resonant of a shared culture. Phulkari motifs and designs passed from generation to generation by word of mouth and example. Thus each family had its own characteristic style and, with practice and experience, each woman was able to develop her own design.

Basically there are two types of Phulkaris, Bagh  and Chope, which are  found in the Punjab  with each having distinct characteristics.

Phulkari became increasingly elaborate and decorative which led to the evolution of a special ceremonial, Bagh Phulkari.

Bagh literally means “garden of flowers”, and the term distinguishes the flowered Phulkari is that the embroidery is so profuse that the ground colour is no longer visible thus the embroidery becomes the fabric itself. Bagh demands more time and patience and more material, thereby increasing the expense which is why it is said to be a status symbol.

Chope is usually embroidered on the borders. It is gifted to the bride by her grandmother during a ceremony before wedding.

The “Chope” is embroidered straight with two sided line stitch which appears same on both the side. Unlike Bagh where a variety of colours are used, Chope is generally embroidered with one colour (Golden or yellowish golden).

Today, Phulkari is not as detailed or time consuming as now women do the embroidery from the top of the cloth rather from the wrong side of the khaddar. Khaddar is being replaced by cotton, chiffon, georgette, crepe and synthetic. Pat threads (self hand spun) by different range of fast coloured synthetic threads and slowly people are being replaced by machines.

Sharanya Alva


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