The indigenous embroidery technique from the North Indian state of Punjab, vibrant, colourful and pretty Phulkari cannot be missed. If you haven’t yet come across this lovely fabric craft, be sure to chance upon it on your visit to the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar. Also available in the entire North Indian belt, including the cities of Jammu, Delhi, Panipat, Karnal, Phulkari, also commonly named as Fulkari, gets its name from ‘Phul’ or flowers, and literally translates to Phul+Kari – Flower + Embroidery / Hand-Craft.
A visit to Punjab’s boisterous capital city Chandigarh, or to Punjab’s popular cities of Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala, Pathankot, Bhatinda or even to the lesser known belts of Faridkot, Nangal, Hoshiarpur, Batala etc. – is sure to make you understand the importance of this ancient fabric craft.
Considered auspicious, Fulkari work and fulkari suits, dupattas and sarees are an integral part of Punjabi weddings. While Phulkari dupattas are often worn as the traditional chunari or head scarf, during the wedding ceremony by the brides over their bridal salwar suits – Phulkari sarees and Phulkari Salwar Suits are almost always a part of their wedding trousseaus and gifts for important family members.
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The patterns on Phulkari Sarees and outfits are inspired by local culture, environment, nature, and history. Flowers, birds, geometric patterns are commonly created, using colourful satin, silk and cotton-silk threads. While the circular and angular floral patterns, characteristic to this thread embellishment, remain at the centre of the fulkari work, many new designs and traditional patterns of the region can be seen in Phulkari work. Daily and agricultura life inspires the motifs on phulkari saris - you are bound to see thread work resembling wheat and barley crops, if you buy phulkari saris or suits.
There are various styles to phulkari embroidery - chope and subhar being the most common ones, which are generally worn during weddings. Til patra, neelak, chhamaas, and senchi phulkari work patterns are also available.
From the Legends and Folklore
Phulkari is deeply embedded in the Punjabi culture, finding mention even in the famous folklore of Heer Ranjha. It’s said that beautiful fulkari sarees, kurtas and dupattas have been a rage here, since the 15th century. Fulkari embroidered outfits can be seen in many Bollywood biopics, period movies and historical movies, especially the ones timed during the pre-independence era. Globally too, phulkari is one of strongest associations with Punjab.
When you say Phulkari, the traditional head-scarf with vibrant flowery patterns is usually the first to come to the mind. These head scarves – odhanis, dupattas, chunris or chunnis – whatever you call them – were originally made with phulkari embroidery done with hand. The phullkari artists or embroiderers worked meticulously – with great skill and effort – to create masterpieces with unique patterns. These became the family heirlooms, passed on between generations. Phulkari work saris or Phulkari suits are gifted by the girl’s family to the mother-in-law and other important ladies of the family, during the weddings and festivals like Karwa Chauth.
However, the craft, known to provide livelihood to thousands of embroidery workers, is a floundering one. The hand-work Phulkari artisans rarely get their due and deserved compensation – hardly being paid well for the hours of effort-intensive work they do. Owing to which the art has started losing its charm, to some extent. Plus, with advent of digital printing/ stencilling and machines – the hand-work phulkari is fast being replaced with machine work phulkari. This work is nowhere near the original and authentic Phulkari sarees and suits, but obviously, it’s easily available, at a lower cost.
Thankfully, in the recent times, the craft of Phulkari has seen a sort of revival. People of Punjab, scattered far and wide, across the globe – are one of the reasons for carrying this multi-hued, pretty legacy to the world design stage. Bollywood and Indian designers innovating with ancient Indian weaves and crafts are also instrumental in doing so. Online Shopping facility has also made these floundering arts easily available. Shopping Online is the best way to buy good quality and latest Phulkari sarees and Phulkari work materials – at good prices. Websites like Saree.com become a bridge between the buyer and the fulkari artisans, bringing benefit for both the sides. People involved in the craft of making Phullkari saris have benefitted from the digital medium intervention and online shopping destinations.
While the typical Khadi or Khaddar based Phullkari materials and suits continue to be popular for the regional and cultural reasons, there are now endless options available with this embroidery. Plain georgette sarees with dainty fulkari buttis or phulkari borders look super pretty. Many women pair these saris with all-over Phulkari work designer blouses for a chic appeal. Half and half designer phulkari saris are also popular with the cute, multi-hued geometrical patterns making an appearance on the patli (pleats) and pallu.
Red continues to remain the most popular color, with cream or white based traditional fulkari work sarees, shawls, dupattas, coming a second close. The white based fhulkari materials attain an ethereal gorgeousness and vivacity, thanks to the multi-colored vibrancy of Phulkari thread work in bright hues like yellow, green, magenta, orange, blue and even black.