The word Phulkari is synonymous with Punjab and its culture. Considered auspicious during marriages, Phulkaris add a touch of colour and vibrancy to every outfit. Using a deep coloured cotton cloth as base, darn stitches with contrasting silk threads adorn the cloth.
A face of fashion that finds its first mentions in Punjabi folklore of the romantic protagonists Heer and Ranjha, Phulkari is a dream weaver for every Punjabi girl. Its popularity goes back to 15th century, but its relevance has not diminished even today and continues to form an integral part of all marriage ceremonies taking place in Punjab. In the past, as soon as a girl was born the mothers and grandmothers would start embroidering Baghs and Phulkaris, which were to be given away at the time of marriage.
The base material for the embroidery has traditionally been hand-spun, hand-woven and natural dyed khadi. Colours like white, dark blue, black and brown were used for the base material but the preferred colour was red. Imported floss silk yarn from China or Afganistan was used after locally dyeing. The patterns of Phulkari are neither drawn nor traced! The embroidering is done from the reverse side of the fabric with the silk yarn which gives a shaded effect to the fabric. Long and short darn stitch was put to clever use for creating horizontal, vertical and diagonal thread work, inspired by routine of the artists, flowers, and animals.
Different Phulkari designs are reserved for different occasions. While Chope is a gift from the maternal uncle to the bride, the Wari da Bagh represents happiness. Similarly Chamba, Suber and Ghunghat Bagh all have a specific meaning and value attached. Pachranga and Satranga varieties are available in each of these types, which, basically means that the needlework used on most Phulkari works makes use of five or seven different colors of threads.
Having bagged a contemporary label, the Phulkari today is a lot different. For example, no longer is the darn embroidered on the wrong side of the cloth. A coarser style of embroidery that showcases mechanical work rather than detailed handwork is being largely deployed by the industry owing to the bulk demand of the embroidered fabrics. Likewise, Khaddar is being replaced by a variety of other textiles such as chiffon, georgette, cotton, etc.
Presently, machinemade Phulkari attires are being manufactured in Amritsar and Ludhiana which is affordable for low end customers. Almost twelve Phulkari suits can be made in one day by machines which all the more lowered the price of the product. Nevertheless, the machine made products have not reduced the sale of traditional Phulkari; instead new markets have opened up popularizing it, making it available to masses. This vibrant folk art of Punjab is now embroidered not only on odhinis but also on saris, bed covers and home furnishing in bright and vivid colours.
Cover image photo credits: Sukriti Nigam