It takes the impartial eye of an outsider to a appreciate things
that the locals ignore and take for granted. We take a closer look
at the art of phulkari created by nimble fingers that lend
such vibrancy and decorative touches to a functional item.
Phulkari, literally means
flower-embroidery a form of craft that became synonymous with
dupttas or shawls which were embroidered over in a sparse and
simple design. Where the design was worked over very closely,
covering the material entirely, it was called bagh (a garden
Phulkaris and baghs were
commonly worn by Hindu and Sikh women all over Punjab mainly during
festivals, marriages and other celebrations. These were embroidered
by the women themselves and as a purely domestic art-form became an
integral part of their lives. Grandmothers and mothers especially
designed and embroidered these for the daughters trousseau.
At times the start of a special bagh would be made after appropriate
ceremonies and prayers and the distribution of prasad (sweets)
offered to the Gods.
The origin of phulkari
could well be traced back to the 15th century as
even the holy book of the Sikhs mentions: Only then will you be
considered an accomplished lady when you will you self,
embroider your own blouse. The best phulkaris were known to
have come from Punjab and parts of Haryana.
The embroidery of
phulkari and bagh is done in long and short darn stitch which are
created into innumerable designs and patterns. It is the skilful
manipulation of this single stitch that lends an interesting and
characteristic dimension to this needlework. The cloth primarily
used and preferred by the women, was the home-spun, locally
woven and dyed khadi. It was strong, long-lasting, cheap and served
the purpose of keeping the wearer warm during the cold winters in the
north. Another reason was that the embroidery involves the counting
of threads while doing the straight darn stitch. Thus, the coarse
weave made this task easier. In addition, the thick cloth did not
pucker and pull and could be worked upon with out a frame. Usually,
pieces of small width about 45 centimetres to 60 centimetres were
worked on separately and the two or three strips were joined together
to form the required size.
The threads used were
invariably of a silk yarn called pat. It is fluffy to touch
and is a soft, untwisted floss which clings to the fingers,
especially during the summers, so needs to be handled with utmost
care. It s colours are not fast, and tend to run when washed. Going
back well into the past, the silk threads were brought in from
different part of India, like Kashmir and Bengal and from beyond its
borders, Afghanistan and China. The last mentioned was reputed for
is superior quality silken threads. Dera Ghazi Khan in Amritsar
was the centre where all the threads were dyed and then distributed
from. Bright colours were always preferred and among these, golden
yellow, red, crimson, orange, green blue, shocking pink etc., were
the popular ones.
For the embroidery, only
a single strand was used at a time, each part worked in one colour.
Shading and variation were not done by using various colours of
thread. Instead, the effect was obtained by the dexterous used of
horizontal, vertical or diagonal stitches. This resulted in giving an
illusion of more than one shade when light fell on it and when it
was viewed from different angles. The stitches which go in a
straight line are worked on from the reverse side of the cloth and
vary from one to three centimeters. At times, depending upon the
design, outlines in green thread are given to the pattern either as
parallel lines or a square.
To keep the embroidered
part clean while working on the cloth the finished portion was
rolled and covered with a muslin cloth. Specially created designs
varied from village to village or region to region in Punjab and
were given suitable names descriptive of their form. While phulkari
was used to ornament cloth, the bagh ensured that not even a
square inch of the base cloth was visible
These embroidered pieces
were an integral part of bridal trousseau and many were created
specially for occasion pertaining to the wedding. The bagh was
considered a symbol of marriage and among the wealthier, sometimes
up to fifty-one pieces of various designs were given to the bride.
She, in turn, wore them for auspicious and ceremonial occasions. In
some parts of Punjab it was customary to drape the new mother on the
eleventh day after the birth of the child when she left the maternity
room for the first time. It was also placed on the pyre of woman (not
a widow) who had led a full life.
VARIETIES OF PHULKARIS, BAGHS
The Chope, usually
presented to the bride from her grandmother during a ceremony before
the wedding, is embroidered with straight, two-sided line stitch and
appears the same on the reverse. Only the border is embroidered and
the centre is left plain. It is usually red in colour and worn as a
of the trousseau) is also on a red cloth with golden yellow
embroidery symbolizing happiness and fertility. The entire cloth is
covered in a lozenge design with smaller ones within the border and
is again intricately worked in different colours.
Ghunghat bagh or
sari-pallau (covering for the head) has a small border on all
four sides. In the centre of each side which covers the head, a
large triangular motif is worked.
(fifty-two in Punjabi) has as many geometrical patterns.
Darshan dwar (the
gate offering a view of the deity) is usually for presentation in
temples or to adorn the walls of the home when the Grantha Sahib
(holy book of the Sikhs) is brought to a house. The gate motif has
been inspired by the arched verandahas of the temples. It is again,
always on a red cloth. The architectural design depicts two outer
panels of all gates with arched tops. The bases face each other with
motifs of humans, animals, birds, flowers etc., giving the
impression of passing through a crowded street.
Suber is a
phulkari worn by the bride during the time of the marriage rites in
front of the fire or the Granth Sahib. It comprises five motifs, one
in the centre and one each in the four corners.
Chamba is a hybrid
phulkari having a series of wavy creepers, stylized leaves and
flowers. It came into vogue earlier this century.
Besides this, designs
inspired by various day to day items, fauna and flora around us also
found their way into this craft.
is a cross between a chope and ordinary bagh in brilliant yellow
which creates a stunning effect.
Mor or tota
is one that has a peacock or parrot motif.
Mirchi, as the
name suggests, has chillies in red, orange or green usually on
Belan and parantha
symbolize the rolling pin and leavened bread.
Ikka or ace of
diamonds has been inspired by playing cards.
Satrang is a seven
Jewellery items like
bangles, earrings, etc., are also embroidered apparently as un
unfulfilled desire of the women ornaments that the rich had. At
times, a snake was embroidered, guarding her treasure. Another
variety popular in Haryana, was the Sheeshedar where small,
round, matt-dull mirror pieces were included in the embroidered
phulkaris and baghs were never sold in the markets as they were only
woven by the women of the house for their personal use.
The Punjab Governments
Emporium, Phulkari, boasts of the best collection of this form of
embroidery in the country. Their sizeable assemblage of a variety of
these original pieces have been garnered from the villages in the
state of Punjab. Many of these are found being exported, especially
to the mid-east countries.
A new form of phulkari is
being embroidered. It is not as detailed or time consuming as the
older variety. Using a range of different fast colored synthetic
threads, it is embroidered from the top of the cloth rather than on
its reverse. It is very popular for embellishing bed covers,
wall hangings, cushion covers and makes for a fashionable array of
saris, dupttas and salwar kameeze sets, says designer Rakesh
Using it in an entirely
contemporary context, this young designer, whose collections sport
the Rocky S. label, is fast gaining popularity and recognition among
the leading ready-to-wear stores in the city and in the export
I use it as a
fabric to accessories my clothes. The vibrant colours make it just
the right choice for evening wear. For more formal occasions a touch
of gold zardozi highlights and beads add the right
embellishments. The overall effect is rather stunning yet totally
feminine, he enthuses. Not wanting to deter from the bright
colours of the phulkaris and baghs, Sanghvi prefers to use primarily
blacks or whites as his base material and the choice of fabric is
crepes and silks. For the western look it could be a phulkari jacket
with a mini skirt which he finds looking as attractive as the use of
this form of embroidery on Indian ensembles.
He is very particular
about the use of the original embroidered pieces only and doesnt
find the contemporary work doing justice to its ancient
counterparts. So he is constantly on the lookout for phulkari
as it was embroidered in the distant, remote villages of Punjab, as a
labour of love.