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Phulkari is a handmade embroidery design art associated with Punjab. It involves making flower designs on a fabric. It has a history that can be traced back to the ancient times when phulkari was actually a synonym for exquisite embroidery. Phulkari literally means floral craft (Phul = flower and kari = craft or work)

Through the origin of this art form cannot be traced to a precise time era, the Punjabi form of this embroidery is at least 2000 years and belongs to the Vedic ages. The art form gained popularity in the 15th century, during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was a part of the bridal wear of those times. Today, different kinds of phulkari are available for use on various occasions. It is believed that the art form was first created by women of North-West region of the pre-partitioned India.

Phulkari in the Olden Days

In the olden days, Phulkari was given great prominence while dressing up for special occasions such as festivals, marriage and gatherings. The art form was practiced primarily in the rural areas and that’s why the techniques are not documented but spread by way of mouth. Also, each region or village had their own unique way of creating patterns and designs which was influenced by local factors and lifestyles.

The Salient Features of Phulkari

The distinctiveness of Phulkari embroidery is the use of colored silken thread stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth. The women were adept at conjuring up an inestimable number of appealing designs and patterns with their skilful treatment of the darn stitch. The approach to designs and colors vary in different parts of the state. However the colors used signified clear symbols. Red color was used to symbolize passion, yellow or golden for desire and white denoted purity. Green was used to express fertility and abundance while blue signaled serenity. Blue color was used to signal calmness while orange symbolized divine energy.

Regional Preferences for Colors While Creating Phulkari

In Western Punjab the coarse cloth used is finer than the ones used in Central Punjab. Black and blue colors are generally avoided in Western Punjab, whereas white is not used in East Punjab. In West Punjab, two to three strips of cloth are folded and sewn together before doing the phulkari work. In East Punjab, they are joined together first and then embroidered.

Types of Stitches Used to Give Variations to Phulkari

The most frequently used technique to make phulkari was the darning stitch. The quality of a piece of work could be measured by the width of this stitch. The narrowest stitch denoted a finer piece of work. To infuse an element of creativity and uniqueness, unusual designs or borders were created by making use of various types of stitches such as the Holbein stitch, button-hole stitch, herring-bone stitch, or the running stitch.

Typical Types of Phulkari Used in Punjab

The Thirma or white-colored phulkari comes from the northern region of Punjab and used as a symbol of purity. It was often worn by elder women and widows but the white coloured khaddar was also used for aesthetics. Darshan Dwar or the gateway to the Lord is another type of phulkari used specifically as an offering to God to acknowledge fulfillment of a wish.

Sainchi phulkari is another popular form of the art and makes use of figurative pieces to narrate about the life in the villages of south east Punjab. Vari phulkari is a bagh type phulkari offered to a new bride by the groom’s parents while entering their new home on the day of the wedding.  Bawan phulkari is an assortment of fifty two diverse patterns which decorate the artwork while Suraj-mukhi which means sunflower in Hindi refers to the flowery pattern of this phulkari.

There are many other types of phulkari available in different regions of Punjab, each one having its own signature theme and social relevance.

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