Cynosure of Punjab’s Heritage: Phulkari and Baagh Embroidery

Thinking of Punjab takes you to the vast expanse of yellow mustard fields with grand rivers adding to its grandeur. The peppy beats of the dhols of Bhangra makes everything boisterous that is associated with this State. But when one thinks of women of Punjab dancing “Gidda” wearing colorful attires with Phulkari and Bagh embroideries one can feel the cultural grandness attached to Punjab.

Phulkari and Bagh embroideries were entirely a domestic art. The ladies of earlier times used to satisfy their creative craving by crafting out intricate and vibrant designs on a Dupatta or a piece of cloth. Phulkari was always part of celebrations, be it a marriage ceremony or be it a harvest festival. Gifting a piece of Phulkari to ones bride was the part of the tradition and it was generally crafted by the ladies of the house only. These damsels used to wait for the harvest season to get over so that the husbands went to sell off their yield and earn a fortune. As the visit to a major city to sell the crop was the time when the husbands picked up the essentials for the house as well as the silken thread to carve out the Phulkaris.

Phulkari means “floral work” whereas Bagh means “garden of flowers”. A lady weaving Phulkari would weave a pattern on a cloth with a silken thread. The choice of cloth was always “Khaddar” which was a hand woven and dyed cotton cloth. To dye this “khaddar” natural dye were used by the ladies of the village. Generally the red color Khaddar was used to make Phulkari for the younger ladies as well as newlyweds. White color Khaddar Phulkari was used for the mature sect and black and blue was kept for the daily use as these two colors are less prone to stains and daily wear and tear.

Phulkari Dupatta

Phulkari Dupatta

The thread used is called “Pat” which was a silken thread. The colors used were very bright because Phulkari was always attached to festivity and celebrations. White color thread has not been used till now. The pattern in Phulkari are generally scattered all over the cloth and the most prominent feature is the border. It is so alluring that everyone gets attracted to the wonder stitch. Once the Phulkari is complete it resembles flowers being strewn on the cloth.

With times changing Phulkari gave way to more elaborate and intricate work which became famous as “Bagh” embroidery. Bagh was also created by the ladies of this region only. Generally a dupatta or shawl of Phulakri can be completed by a lady of the house. But when Bagh embroidery was to be made on a shawl two to three ladies used to sit simultaneously and work on different patches of the cloth. Once a Bagh dupatta is complete it resembles a garden full of flowers and every inch of the khaddar is covered with “Pat”. Bagh was always used to show off the wealth of the lady draping it as the amount of silk thread and the skill required to complete the bagh was tremendous and only ladies of the landlords or higher dignitaries could afford the same.

The most important feature of this needle work is the way the pattern is weaved. The embroider makes the embroidery on the wrong side of the cloth and the pattern keeps forming on the correct side. This was due to the fact that the silk thread was a costly commodity and this was the best way to utilize the thread in best possible way. Indeed the ladies were creative and smart!

Traditionally this piece of art has always been a part and parcel of daily life of a family in Punjab as Phulkari is presented to the bride from the mother’s side which was crafted by the bride’s maternal grandmother and is popular as “Chope”. And when the bride enters the in laws house she is presented a “Vari-da-bagh” by her mother in law. Even to thank god for all his blessings “Darshan Dwar” phulkari was presented to the gurudwaras.

It is indeed a matter of pride to own a phulkari or Bagh but it is utterly important to take care of this piece of cloth. Since it has intricately designed embroidery thus it is recommended to hand wash the Phulkari and not to put it in a washing machine. Try and get that dry cleaned. It is for sure that a well taken care Phulakri or Bagh will stay with you for long and can be presented from generations to generations. Own a Phulakri dupatta or shawl and see the heads turning when you drape it on an occasion. Even you can add to the interiors of your bedroom by spreading a Phulakri bedcover. Whatever way you add Phulakri or Bagh to your life, it is for sure going to be the most favorite and adored piece by you.

Author: Resham Virk

Resham virk has served as a Captain in the Indian army for 5 years and has explored the best parts of India while in the Army. Daughter and wife of an Army officer, her tryst with Indian cultures and heritage is still not complete. She has been part of the retail industry as the Inventory controller of Walmart India stores but presently she is a full time homemaker satiating her desire to explore new things, places and to pen down so as to share.


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