Punjab Calls! Unfurling the art of Phulkari

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Taking a train to Punjab was one of the most fascinating things I could do. The pack of travelers was enough to offer me with an enticing synopsis of this dynamic hub that I was heading to. Leaving trails of smoke behind, the train rattled past some of the most captivating views that were worth witnessing. Contrasting green fields with yellow mustard flowers looked no less than a tiara. The smiling faces of charming women carrying pots on their head, walking besides the rail heads are still afresh. After an enthralling train journey, I finally stepped onto the platform. I was pretty sure to spend some good time in this bustling state that was none other than Punjab.



I am glad I gave myself a chance to explore this melting pot of colors filled with invariably friendly and outgoing locals.  Threading my way through the crowd at the railway station, I managed to take an auto that guided me to a very economical and contented accommodation. It was a dharamshala that offered me a huge airy room, 3 chaddars and a comfortable spot to ease out. I decided to wander around its vicinity at dusk.    



At sunset I stepped onto the roads. At the very beginning I wanted to uncover this treasure trove by learning about its historic past and gathering little bit of background information. Taking the meandering lanes I came across a tea stall filled with few elderly natives. Sipping a cup of evening tea with them was the best way I could hear fables of Punjab, and this is how it started.



In the aftermath of Partition, this state was carved from the Indian half of Punjab. It was then named after the five rivers, Sutlej, Ravi, Beas, Jhelum and Chenab.  Since then this verdant province homes the largest population of the Sikh community and is a dynamic hub of industry and business. Also known as the bread basket of India, it is extremely fertile and is rich in agriculture. It features a distinctive culture that is somewhat a mixture of Hindu, Afghan and that of the Central Asia. The state of Punjab truly serves as one of the most popular halts for eager roamers.  After a brief historic breakthrough in my journey I now decided to wander across the streets.      


The old cities of Punjab possess lot of character as one can enjoy great food, music and Bhangra dance. I took a rickshaw ride across the old lanes, sampled scrumptious street food including the lip smacking ‘Sarson Da Saag, ‘Makki Di Roti’ and the unparallel ‘Lassi’. Moving forward I decided to visit few of the popular tourist spots of Punjab that seem scattered hither and thither. You won’t find mountains here or places that you would instantly recognize and not even spectacular scenery, yet every specter that you will come across will leave you amazed.



I shuffled across the tourist map and took the gullies that brought me to the sublime marvel. The Golden Temple was a sight in itself. This gleaming centerpiece and a mesmerizing blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture seemed crowded with uncountable pilgrims from places far and wide. I was bedazzled to witness the indefinable beauty in its intricately printed galleries, engraved gold panels and enchanting marble work. My ears resounded with the continuous chants from the Guru Granth Sahib that offered me a unique sense of solace worth experiencing. After paying respect at this divine Sikh shrine, I thought of planning a short trip to few other popular tourist spots across Punjab.  

I spent the night chalking out my travel plan to places like Nek Chand Rock Garden, Jallianwala Bagh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama, Qila Mubarak, Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary and Sukhna Lake. Before initiating this short trip across the vibrant state, one thing I was always fascinated about was to discover the traditional art of Punjab. Phulkari, this is how it is known the world over and as I was a true lover of art, I was pretty eager to unfurl its anecdotes. The very next morning I decided to visit the interiors of Punjab, basically a house of a village Phulkari artisan. After stopping over chaiwalas and talking to few locals, I learnt about Thuha village. Situated 234 km from Amritsar, it would approximately take 4 hours by taxi to reach this place.



I hired a cab to Thuha and it was truly a wonderful ride past lush green fields on both sides, scattered mud houses, heaps of hay, thick growth of sunflowers and hand-pumps. As I came closer to the housing, I asked the driver to halt. On getting down I paced my way towards a mud house, the walls of which were thatched with cow dung. Walking further I got to witness a sight that I had been eagerly waiting for.



Under a shady tree, I saw village women sitting on the charpoys (beds woven with jute strings) busy creating spectacular embroidery. I was fascinated by the intensity with which they were engrossed in their work. Their age must have ranged between 25 to 60 years and the most elderly women caught my sight. Seeing a strange man in her premises, she was nearly taken aback, which I could sense by her bewildered expressions.

To make her feel a little comfortable, I greeted her saying ‘Namaste’. Further I introduced myself to the cluster of beautiful women who after knowing the purpose of my visit felt at ease. I was there to know the history and origin of Phulkari. Gurgling hookah kept right beside her, the elderly women puffed clouds of smoke into the air. That seemed to be quite impressive for an ardent roamer like me and the story began.

Origin of Phulkari

According to few legends the origin of Phulkari dates back to the famous love story of Heer and Ranjha written by Waris Shah (1725 to 1790).  The inception of this art can be traced back to 15 century AD and carries a lot of significance since then. Some people believe that this craft migrated from Persia as Gulkari, the Persian embroidery possesses a similar literal meaning with that of Phulkari. ‘Phul’ meaning flower and ‘kari’ meaning work, Phulkari is related to floral work. Other studies show that the Jat tribes of East Punjab, basically the peasants that migrated from Central Asia are also pioneers of this art. The principle centers of this art were Gurgaon, Rohtak, Karnal, Hisaar , Sialkot, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Hazara.



Phulkari, the explicit Art

Phulkari, the art of Punjab has a long tradition of creating intricate designs on varying fabrics with colorful threads. This art essentially characterizes patterns and motifs of floral designs. The deft artisans of Punjab make use of vibrant color threads to accentuate the floral designs. Apart from the regular apparel, Phulkari is an indispensable element in ceremonies. It forms the most significant part in the bride’s trousseau which is worn by her on the big day.

Throughout the city of Punjab, the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities alike wear apparels adorned with this beautiful art. The main characteristic of Phulkari embroidery is the darn stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth. Beauty of this embroidery is that it entirely covers the garment so that its base cloth is not visible.  

Fabric Used

Phulkari comes to life beautifully on hand-spun or hand -woven Khaddar cloth. The cloth ranges from white, blue, red or black color.



Kinds of Phulkari

There are numerous types of Phulkari that ornament variety of Indian clothes. ‘Suber’ and ‘Chope’ is the one that is presented to the bride on her wedding ceremony. ‘Saloo’ is a plain red or dark red khaddar shawl worn daily as a household wear. ‘Til Patra’ shawls have very little embroidery and ‘Nilak’ is another type of Phulkari embroidery. The most stunning of them all is the ‘Bagh’ that literally means “garden of flowers”. Bagh demands plenty of time and tremendous patience. It is considered no less than a status symbol. It is one of the most expensive sorts of Phulkari.



 Methods& Motifs

Traditional artisans of Punjab use darning stitch in different directions like vertical, horizontal and diagonal. The motifs used are Gobhi bagh, Karela bagh, Dhaniya bagh and Mirchi bagh, these are inspired by vegetables. Chaurasia bagh and Shalimar charbagh are based on famous gardens. Panchrangas are five-colored motifs and Satrangas are seven-colored motifs. The most striking motifs are based on the barley stalks and wheat that grow all over the city of Punjab.


Clusters of Village women work 4-5 hours in a day, weaving and doing needle work that forms a very important part of their chores. The endlessly embroidered exquisite dupattas, shawls, suits, juttis, bedding, home linens, Phulkari jackets, clutch etc, are a testimony to their skill. Phulkari serves as a medium of their livelihood and economic independence. This exquisite art practiced by them encapsulates the heritage and tradition of Punjab. Women artisans in their spare time sing folk songs based on Phulkari that are part and parcel of the Punjab’s culture.

The aged woman named Jasbir Kaur had amazingly narrated me the entire story of Phulkari and i was absolutely amazed by her captivating narrative skills. I was happy to gather all the knowledge she had passed on to me that day. I had never imagined that my journey across Punjab will be so rewarding. After the long conversation was over, I thanked her for sharing her piece of knowledge and she thanked me for patiently listening. We had steaming cups of chai together and then it was time to say goodbye.



One of them asked me where I was heading, to which I replied ‘wherever the roads take me’. I swung my bag on my shoulders that seemed a little heavy than before. It had been laying the whole day on the edge of the old women’s charpoy. I waved a goodbye to the charming women and boarded a bus to Amritsar. On my way I happened to unzip my bag and to my surprise I found a beautiful Phulkari scarf that dazzled my eyes. It was brightly colored, amazingly embroidered.



I just couldn't stop smiling. With bundle of precious memories and a new friend added to my list, I peeped out of the window to take a look at the road that I was leaving behind. Punjab to me was more than a stopover!!



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