Punjab evergreen embroidery

Although the Patent Information Center (PIC) of the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology applied for GI status of Phulkari – a traditional embroidery art practiced by Punjabi women – in March 2005, it took five long years of legal battle with some Mumbai-based contractors and exporters before the decision was made in favor of Phulkari’s work done in Punjab and neighboring districts of Haryana and Rajasthan.

The Punjabi term Phulkari is made up of two words – phul means flower and akari means shape. Phulkari means the shape/direction of flowers which symbolizes life. There are different theories about the origin of Phulkari. One belief is that this form of embroidery was prevalent in different parts of the country as early as the 7th century CE. It finds mention in Bana’s ‘Harish Charitra’ – the biography of Emperor Harshvardhan (590-647 CE). Patterns similar to those found in Phulkari resemble Kashida of Bihar as well as the embroidery tradition of Rajasthan. Another view is that like the walnut carvings in Kashmir, it came from Iran where it was called Gulkari which also means floral work.

Phulkari also finds reference in Waris Shah’s “Heer Ranjha” (a legendary 18th century Punjabi tragic romance) which describes the female protagonist Heer’s wedding trousseau and lists various garments with Phulkari embroidery.

The tradition is that as soon as a girl was born, mothers and grandmothers on the maternal and paternal side would start embroidering Phulkari to give as a family heirloom at the time of marriage. According to the status of the family, the parents gave a “dowry” of eleven to 101 Phulkaris. “Just as gold is passed down from generation to generation, Phulkari in the early 19th century signified a woman’s material wealth and was considered an important part of her wardrobe.” These were usually worn as shawls draped over the head on special occasions such as weddings, births and other rituals. The fabric on which the Phulkari embroidery was done was hand-spun khaddar (a hand-woven plain-weave cotton fabric). Cotton was grown in the plains of Punjab and after a series of simple processes it was spun by women on the charkha (spinning wheel). After the yarn was made, it was dyed by the lalari (dyer) and woven by the jullaaha (weaver).

Phulkari’s trademark is to create countless patterns using long and short darning stitches. As there were no pattern/design books, the tradition continued by word of mouth and each regional group was identified with a particular style of embroidery or design. The common thread came from the itinerant traders/hawkers who obtained their wares from as far away as Kashmir, Afghanistan, China and Bengal.

An interesting form within Phulkari is the Sainchi variant which is inspired by village life and depicts various everyday scenes such as a man plowing, lying on a charpoy (jute bed), playing chaupar (a board game in a cross and in a circle), smoking hookah; or guests drinking sharbat (sweet cordial). The motifs also include women performing tasks such as churning milk, grinding wheat flour on the chakki (hand mill) and working on the charkha (spinning wheel). They embroidered scenes they found interesting, such as a British civil servant coming to a village or women carrying an umbrella and walking with memsahib (the wife of a British civil servant). Birds, trains, circuses as well as scenes from popular Punjabi legends like Sohni Mahiwal and Sassi-Punnun were often depicted.

Although this embroidery was not originally done on a commercial scale, some of it found a market overseas in the 19th century. It was popularized in the English-speaking world by Flora Annie Steel in 1880. Flora wrote about Phulkari and organized Phulkari garments from different parts of Punjab for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, held to mark the global reach of Pax Britannica. By the end of the 19th century, Phulkari had found a market in Europe and America, and some companies in Amritsar placed orders to supply Phulkari on a commercial scale. The newer market has dictated changes in designs and color combinations.

The Phulkari embroidery style was disrupted during the score. In fact, it almost died out because it wasn’t just about embroidery but an ecosystem forever lost. Both the chadar and the yarns and the dyers have disappeared from the rural landscape. However, thanks to the renewed interest in heritage and culture, the government and several NGOs have revived it as an evergreen style statement. The process was facilitated by Phulkari’s worldwide recognition. Special mention should be made of an exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum — “Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab”. It featured Punjab embroideries before the partition. Seen in this light, the artifact was no longer a commodity with high commercial value, but a unique window into the lives of women and their tradition of creating works of art in a family setting.

The Partition Museum in Amritsar has also played an important role in documenting this craft. Some Phulkaris were left behind in the mutual flight across the new borders and many others were destroyed. But those that survived, like Pritam Kaur’s Phulkari of Gujranwala, became a reminder of the happy days left behind and an inspiration for generations to come to remember the craftsmanship that brought mothers, grandmothers and all together. the clan to sing songs and weave tapestries. of incredible value.

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