Phulkari

This section addresses relevant issues and facts about different parts of India through the 6Ws and 1H question answer format.

Phulkari:

What is Phulkari? What does it mean?
Where is it done? Where is it from?
When did this art flourish?
Who makes Phulkari?
How is it made?
Which are the different types of Phulkari?
Why is it so expensive?
What is Phulkari? What does it mean?
Phulkari is a type of traditional embroidery. It’s actually two words – phool, meaning ‘flower’ in Hindi, and kari, meaning ‘craft’. It is so named because the designs are mostly floral. However, now geometric and other patterns are also used.
Where is it done? Where is it from?
Phulkari is a big part of the culture of Punjab. This type of embroidered cloth is used to make outfits for marriages and other auspicious occasions. Variations of this work are also done in in certain areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana. Some people believe this style of embroidery came to India from Iran. Similar work done there is called ‘Gulkari’.
When did this art flourish?
It was widely practiced from the 15th century, but scholars say there are references to this art even in the ancient Vedas, and in the Mahabharata. In the 19th and early 20th century, it became popular in the Western world, and the traditional patterns and colours began to change, to suit the new market as well as modern tastes.
Who makes Phulkari?
Traditionally, phulkari is done by women. Originally, as soon as a baby girl was born, the women of the household would begin doing phulkari embroidery and setting aside the material for the child’s trousseau. Each piece was lovingly made for a daughter, granddaughter or niece. Such work was not available for sale.
How is it made?
The cloth used was traditionally khaddar, or somewhat coarse, homespun cotton. The long and short ‘darn’ stitches were most commonly used. The thread was floss silk. Cotton, one of the major crops of Punjab, was plentifully available. The women would spin it into thread on charkas. It would be dyed and then woven. There were no set patterns for this type of embroidery, nothing was drawn or traced on the cloth. It was done on the ‘reverse’ side of the material, and the women counted the threads in the fabric to determine where to place each stitch. In some areas, lengths of cloth are stitched together and then embroidered. In others, embroidery is done first, and this may result in a slight mismatch in the design when different pieces of cloth are joined.
Which are the different types of Phulkari?
There are many types of phulkari work, classified according to the extent and type of embroidery. The most elaborate is the Bagh or ‘garden’ variety. As the name indicates, the cloth is filled with flowers. In olden times, the wealth of the family was symbolized by the number of bagh phulkaris that their daughters were given as part of their trousseau – it could be anything from 11 to 101! Then there are the chope, the darshan dwar and the til patra, among others.
Why is it so expensive?
Phulkari is painstaking, meticulous work, traditionally done by hand. It can take up to a year to embroider one piece. Each piece is unique. The craft had almost become extinct, but the Government has taken steps to revive it. Now, phulkari can be done using machines, and it’s not only clothes that are being embroidered in this style, but also bags, home linen and wall hangings. In 2011, it was given the Geographical Indication tag, and only a few people in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have been given licenses to produce it. No wonder it is expensive.
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