Phenomenal Phulkari: The acclaimed needlecraft of Punjab

Phenomenal Phulkari

Phenomenal Phulkari

Since childhood, I was fascinated by the Ceremonial parade organized daily at the Wagah-Attari border by the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers. Two years back I got an opportunity to cover an event at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab. While flipping through the pages of a travel guide before visiting Amritsar, the word ‘Phulkari’ popped up in front of me. It charmed me to such an extent that it became one of the most important reasons to visit Amritsar.  

Phulkari is the traditional folk embroidery which originated from the suburbs of Punjab around 15th century. Meaning floral embroidery in the literal sense, phulkari is one of the most admired and honoured handicrafts across the world. An indispensable part of girl’s wedding trousseau, it is believed that the motifs of Phulkari are true expressions of her beauty and emotions and the number of phulkari pieces that she carries define the status of the family.

The Phulkari embroidery is done using the darn stitching method on the wrong side of the fabric with bright coloured soft silk threads giving it a very intricate and vibrant look. Though the main designs and patterns used in Phulkari were floral, several changes in the patterns have taken place over the years. Besides floral motifs, geometrical patterns, wheat and barley stalks, animal and human figures are some common themes of Phulkari today. Khaddar and cotton were the only fabrics used for phulkari in earlier days. But today, one can find elaborate works of Phulkari done on fabrics like silk, chiffon, georgette and crepe. Among the various types of Phulkari works based on the stitches, embroidery and fabric, the most popular ones are:

Bagh: The word ‘bagh’ translates to a ‘garden’. In this, a lot of embroidery is done on the fabric practically hiding it entirely with the thread. Since it involves extensive embroidery, it is time-consuming, thereby increasing the cost of the piece. Traditionally, Bagh was made to be worn for special occasions like a wedding or birth of a son.

Thirma: It is the Phulkari work done on white khaddar and worn generally by the elder ladies of the house. The embroidery is done in shades of red, violet and green, Thimra is an essential part of the dowry.

Darshan-Dwar: This is a special phulkari made to be offered in gurudwaras.

Vari-da-bagh: This exceptional phulkari is gifted to the brides by her in-laws. This embroidery is generally done on reddish-orange fabric with the golden thread.

Chope: A traditional phulkari made for brides, chope is gifted to her by her maternal grandmother. It is embroidered straight with two sidelines stitched on both sides in a single coloured thread of golden or yellow.

Phulkari designs can be either traditional or modern, depending on the occasion they are designed for. Though it is a traditional craft form, phulkari has always been favoured in the fashion industry as it gives freedom to the designers who creatively modify it to suit the demands of the changing times. The stature that is bestowed to this embroidery is a result of years of experience and craftsmanship of the artists. If there is an elaborate, detailed, and lavish Phulkari for bridal wear, one can also find a stylish, simple yet vibrant option for office and daily wear. Once known exclusively as an elegant thread work on garments, Phulkari can be seen on almost everything one can use today. Stoles, bags, jutis, bed sheets, pillow and cushion covers, wall hangings and other home décor products are all available in Phulkari.

Phulkari is one of the most detailed and sophisticated kinds of needle art and needs suitable care and maintenance. It should be washed with delicate hands using a soft detergent and ironed on the reverse side. Occasionally, it should be dry-cleaned to keep the fabric as bright as new.

However, due to over-commercialization and heavy machine work, the art has lost its originality leaving the skilled artisans in poverty. With an aim to provide recognition to Phulkari and to preserve its cultural heritage along with providing monetary benefits to the women artisans engaged in the craft form, Geographical Indication (G.I.) tag was awarded to it in the year 2011.