ROOTS: PHULKARI

Ques: What is Phulkari? Some of us may know the answer and some of us may not. Basically Phulkari is a rural tradition of handmade embroidery, literally meaning ” flower work “. It was perpetuated by the women of Punjab (North-west India & Pakistan) during the 19th century and till the beginning of the 20th century.

The origin of Phulkari cannot exactly be traced. But it is said that it was probably brought to the Indian Subcontinent by the migrant “Jat” people of Central Asia in ancient times. It is said that popularity of Phulkari goes back to the 15th century, during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and not to forget it is also mentioned in the famous tale of Heer-Ranjha by the poet Waris Shah.

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There are several kinds of Phulkari, one for every occasion. But I thought lets just talk about the Phulkari that was used for weddings, learning that Phulkari had a major influence in the bridal trousseau.

1. Chope

The bride’s maternal grandmother (Nani) will starting chope’s embroidery as soon as her granddaughter was born. Instead of the common darning stitch, she was using the Holbein stitch which has the specificity of creating the same design on both the sides of the khaddar (fabric). This can be interpreted as the grandmother’s wish to make her granddaughter equally happy in her life and after her death, on the two sides of her existence. Chope was made to wrap and dry the bride after the ritual bath she would take before her wedding. Its khaddar was invariably dyed in red or orange colour, symbol of passion and happiness. It is worth noticing that chope was never bordered so that this happiness could be unlimited.

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2. Suber

Is a piece of cloth that is worn by the bride in the wedding ceremony while taking the “feras” around the Guru Granth Sahib or the sacred fire. The cloth has five motifs embroidered one in center and the other four on each of the corners.

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3. Vari-Da-Bagh: 

“Vari”: gift offered to the bride by her in-laws. It was gifted to the bride by her in-laws when she was entering their house, her new home, on the wedding day. It is an exceptional fact as all the other Phulkari were part of her dowry and, thus, were provided by her own family. Vari-da-bagh is always made on an orange-reddish khaddar and, except for its border and sometimes a small decoration, it is always embroidered on its whole surface with a single golden or orange coloured pat. Its fascinating to know that the bride was wrapped in this bagh by her mother in law when she was receiving the keys of her new house, thereby meaning that the bride was becoming responsible for the maintenance of the house.

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“Ih Phulkari Meri Maan Ne Kadhi, Is noo Ghut Ghut Japhiyan Paawan”
(“This phulkari has been embroidered by my dear mother, I affectionately embrace it again and again”)
(Traditional punjabi song (Quoted from S.S.Hitkari: Design and Patterns in Phulkari)

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4 thoughts on “ROOTS: PHULKARI

  1. I love phulkari! Have some beautiful vintage pieces I was going to up cycle into kaftans. You’ve made me think twice now!

  2. I think I will. I will link to your piece in my blog. Should actually showcase them, they have been lying in my cupboard for ages!

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