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Phulkari – the embroidery tradition from Punjab

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The entire textile tradition of Punjab revolves around Phulkari, but Phulkari is not just a textile, it is an umbrella term used for the various patterns and traditions it involves. It literally means ‘floral work’. The origin of traditional phulkari has not been traced yet, though the references go back to the Vedic ages. Anotherr belief is that it was introduced in Kashmir by the Persians. However, the Kashmiri embroidery as we see it today, is different from that of Punjab and Haryana. Phulkari has also been mentioned by the poet Waris Shah in the folk tale of Heer-Ranjha. Phulkari in its present form is the accumulation of the evolution of the embroidery tradition during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the 15th century. Reference to Phulkari can also be found in the Guru Grant Sahib where Guru Nanak Dev said “Kadh Kasida Pehreh Choli, Ta Tum Janoh Nari”. It loosely translates to “Only then you will be considered an accomplished lady, when you will embroider yourself your own blouse”. However, the best references for Phulkari come from the folklores, such as “Mein kadna dili darwaza, pachian di lia de logri”. This is from a giddha song which roughly translates to “I will embroider the Delhi gate, Oh, get me twenty rupees worth of yarn”.

Phulkari is worked entirely from the back in geometric, floral or figural motifs. A combination of these is called phulkari chaddar or a woman’s veil cloth. It is exchanged as a gift during weddings or heirloom.

There are three broad types of phulkari – phulkari proper; bagh; and choppa. Phulkari proper is where the pattern is dispersed at regular intervals over the cloth and the base is visible. Bagh phulkari is where the entire surface is ornamented by a connected pattern. Choppa phulkari or chobes phulkari is where the edges of the cloth are ornamented and the centre is left plain.

Bagh Phulkari

Bagh Phulkari (Image Courtsey: StrandofSilk)

The different phulkari’s can be divided as follows:

  • Thirma – Embroidered on a white base, it was worn by the older women and the widows.
  • Chope – It was gifted by the maternal grandmother on her granddaughter’s last bath before her wedding.
  • Suber – Similar to Chope, it was gifted to the bride by her maternal grandmother, to be worn during her phera.
  • Varida bagh – It was gifted by either the mother-in-law, or the grandmother of the groom to the bride when she entered her new household. It is done on a red background with yellow silk thread in small lozenges.
  • Dasharn dwar – It was donated to religious places upon the fulfilment of a wish.
  • Sainchi – It represents the rural life in the villages of Punjab. These were used for daily wear.
  • Til Patra – It was gifted to the domestic servants on the auspicious occasions, such as marriages.
 Vari Da Bagh Phulkari
Vari Da Bagh Phulkari (Image Courtsey: StrandofSilk)
Darshan Dwara Phulkari
Darshan Dwara Phulkari  (Image Courtsey: StrandofSilk)

The phulkari’s have intricate compositions with pleasing and harmonious colours. The designs are geometric and stylised. Most of the motifs are inspired by life existing around the artists, and so are their names. Such as karela bagh, mirchi bagh, chandrama bagh, kakri bagh, dhania bagh, mor bagh, tota bagh, etc.

The Phulkaris are brightly coloured, and the most often used shades are yellow, gold, red, orange, cerise, deep blue and white. The motifs are a geometric nuance as the embroidery is done over counted threads of fabric. This is done in such a fashion that even the empty spaces emerge as motifs or the outlines.

Phulkari was, and it is still is a part of heirloom, being passed on from generation to generation. These are worn regularly as well as on special occasions such as marriages, birth and festivals. It was also used as seat covers for special guests and decorated around the house.

Phulkaris are a way for the women to express their emotions and desires. These embroideries are a reflection of their societies, its demands and its obligations. Today, the Phukaris have become much more commercialised, even though its ritualistic significance is still very important in the rural parts of the state.

 

 Written by

~Misha Jaswal

 

Bibliography

  • The phulkari, a lost craft by Rampa Pal
  • Traditional embroidery of india by Naik D. Shailja
  • The needle lore by Neelam Grewal and Amarjit Grewal
  • From silk to synthetic phulkari by Malik Shabnam Bahar
  • Thread of tradition by Vasudha Gupta
  • Survey of embroidery traditions by Jasleen Dhamija

 

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