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[1]The word Phulkari (Punjabi: ਫੁਲਕਾਰੀ) is synonymous with Punjab and its culture. Its relevance, in the lives of the people, has not diminished even today and continues to form an integral part of all marriage ceremonies taking place in Punjab. Phulkari literally means floral work as the entire field is embroidered and filled with flowers. This word first appeared in Punjabi literature in the 18th century. Waris Shah's Heer Ranjha describes the trousseau of Heer and lists various articles of clothing with Phulkari among them.

Phulkari from Patiala

Simple and sparsely embroidered odini (head scarfs), dupatta and shawls, made for everyday use, are called Phulkaris, whereas garments that cover the entire body, made for special and ceremonial occasions like weddings and birth of a son, fully covered fabric is called Baghs ("garden") and scattered work on the fabric is called "adha bagh" (half garden). This whole work is done with white or yellow silk floss on cotton khaddarh and starts from the center on the fabric called "chashm-e-bulbul" and spreads to the whole fabric.

[2]In the past, as soon as a girl was born the mothers and grandmothers would start embroidering Baghs and Phulkaris, which were to be given away at the time of marriage. Depending on the status of the family, the parents would give dowry of 11 to 101 Baghs and Phulkaris.

Ih Phulkari meri maan ne kadhi/Is noo ghut ghut japhiyan paawan (This Phulkari was embroidered by my mother, I embrace it warmly). Folk songs like these are indicative of the emotional attachment the girl had to the Phulkari embroidered by her mother or grandmother, or aunts. [3]


The word phul means flower and kari means craft, thus its name, literally means floral work or floral craft.


Phulkari from Punjab, India, 20th century
Head Cloth (Phulkari) 19th century Punjab LACMA M.64.24.1

There are different theories about the origin of Phulkari. One such belief is that this embroidery was prevalent in different parts of the country as far back as the 7th century but survived only in Punjab. Motifs similar to the ones found in Phulkari are also found in Kashida of Bihar and some of the embroideries of Rajasthan. Another thought is that this style of embroidery came from Iran where it was called Gulkari, also meaning floral work.[4]

Phulkari was essentially a product of domestic work done by the women of the household. Despite the fact that this embroidery was not done on a commercial scale, some of it did find a market abroad. While the women of Punjab used these embroideries for shawls, or ghaghras, they were used to make curtains for European homes. Specimens of Phulkari cloth were sent to Colonial and Indian Exhibition, held under the British regime, from different regions of Punjab, mainly Amritsar, Sialkot, Montgomery, Rawalpindi, Firozpur. There were firms in Amritsar where Phulkari work of any shape or size could be ordered. By the end of the 19th century, Phulkaris and Baghs had found a market in Europe and America. Some of the firms procured orders from Europe for supplying Phulkari on a commercial scale. The newer market dictated the changes in designs and colour combinations.[5]

The fabric on which Phulkari embroidery was done was handspun khaddar. Cotton was grown throughout Punjab plains and after a series of simple processes it was spun into yarn by the women on the charkha (spinning wheel). After making the yarn it was dyed by the lalari (dyer) and woven by the jullaha ( weaver) There were no pattern books and embroidery was worked entirely from the reverse of the fabric. Traditionally, use of coarse khaddar fabric made it easy to count the yarn. The hallmark of Phulkari is, making innumerable patterns by using long and short darn stitches. The designs were not traced. Techniques and patterns were not documented but transmitted from word of mouth and each regional group was identified with the style of embroidery or design[6]

The fabric was woven in widths, which were narrow, as the width of the loom was such. Thus, the fabric had to be stitched lengthwise to make the desired width, which was later embroidered. This practice of stitching two pieces was common among textiles of Punjab in the early 20th century. Textiles like khes were also stitched lengthwise. In West Punjab (now in Pakistan), sometimes joining was done later, leading to distorted designs. Madder brown, rust red or indigo were the usual background colours for a base for the embroideries. Soft untwisted silk floss called pat, was used for embroidery. The thread came from Kashmir and was dyed in the big cities by the lalaris. The village ladies obtained the thread from hawkers or peddlers who sold things of daily needs, from village to village.[7]

The embroidery is done with floss silk thread on coarse hand woven cotton fabric. Geometrical patterns are usually embroidered on the Phulkaris. Phulkaris and Baghs were worn by women all over Punjab during marriage festivals and other joyous occasions. They were embroidered by the women for their own use and use of other family members and were not for sale in the market. Thus, it was purely a domestic art which not only satisfied their inner urge for creation but brought colour into day-to-day life. In a way, it was true folk art. Custom had grown to give Phulkaris and Baghs to brides at the time of marriages. The exquisite embroidery for Baghs are known to have been made in the districts of Hazara,[8] Peshawar,[8] Sialkot,[8] Jhelum,[8] Rawalpindi,[8] Multan,[8] Amritsar,[8] Jalandhar,[8] Ambala,[8] Ludhiana,[8] Nabha,[8] Jind,[8] Faridkot,[8] Kapurthala[8] and Chakwal of the Punjab region. Bagh and phulkari embroidery has influenced the embroidery of Gujarat known as 'heer bharat' in its use of geometrical motifs and stitchery.[9]

There is reference of Phulkari in Vedas, Mahabharat, Guru Granth Sahib and folk songs of Punjab. In its present form, phulkari embroidery has been popular since the 15th century.[10]

The main characteristics of Phulkari embroidery are use of darn stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth with coloured silken thread. Punjabi women created innumerable alluring and interesting designs and patterns by their skilful manipulation of the darn stitch. The base khaddar cloth used in Western Punjab is finer from those of Central Punjab. Black/blue are not preferred in Western Punjab, whereas white is not used in East Punjab. In West Punjab, 2 or 3 pieces of cloth are first folded and joined together. In East Punjab, they are joined together first and then embroidered.

In Phulkari embroidery ornaments the cloth, whereas in Bagh, it entirely covers the garment so that the base cloth is not visible.[11] The end portion of pallav of Phulkari have separate panels of exquisite workmanship of striking design.

The most favoured colour is red and its shades, because Bagh and Phulkari are used during marriage and other festivals. Red is also considered auspicious by Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs.[12] Other colours are brown, blue, black, white. White was used in Bagh by elderly ladies. Silk thread in strands came from Kashmir, Afghanistan and Bengal. The best quality silk came from China.

No religious subject or darbar scenes were embroidered. Phulkari encompassed life in the villages. Creative ability of Punjabi women has produced innumerable and intricate geometrical patterns. However, most motifs were taken from everyday life. Wheat and barley stalk with ears are a common motif.



Bagh (meaning garden) is a style wherein the entire surface was embroidered. By working with darning stitch numerous designs were made by use of horizontal, vertical and diagonal stitches. There were many kinds of Bagh depending on its usage like ghungat Bagh and vari da Bagh. In many cases the designs were inspired by what the embroiderer saw around them. Kitchen provided the designs of many Bagh — Belan Bagh, Mirchi Bagh, Gobhi Bagh, Karela Bagh, Dabbi Bagh. Whereas Dilli Darwaza, Shalimar Char and Chaurasia Baghs revealed the layout of well- known Mughal Gardens.[13]Most of the phulkaris are hand embroidered which give the royal punjabi look. Some phulkaris exhibits beautiful machine work. Hand embroidered phulkaris are far more expensive than machine embroidered. Generally bagh phulkaris flaunt colorful radiance so they can be used either with any color plain suit or shirt with contrast punjabi salwar.

Chope and subhar[edit]

The two styles of chope and subhar are worn by brides. The chope is embroidered on both sides of the cloth.

Chope was embroidered on red with yellow. Two fabric panels were joined that had similar patterns embroidered on both ends. The only motifs embroidered on both selvage were a series of triangles with the base towards the selvage and pointing inwards. The design was worked with small squares in a step-ladder fashion[14].

Antique Chope Phulkari created using the Holbein stitch that results in the same visual on the front and the back of the textile. Courtesy the Wovensouls collection

Only the borders and the four edges of the cloth are embroidered in fine embroidery.[15] The subhar has a central motif and four motifs on the corners.[16]

Darshan Dwar

Darshan Dwar was a type of Phulkari which was made as an offering or bhet (presentation). It had panelled architectural design. The pillars and the top of the gate were filled with latticed geometrical patterns. Sometimes human beings were also shown standing at the gate. [17]


This is the only style where the outlines of the figures were drawn using black ink. It was then filled by embroidering with darn stitch. In other styles, there were no patterns drawn and the work was done only by counting the threads from the back. Sainchi was popular in Bathinda and Faridkot districts. It depicted various scenes of the village life. Sainchi embroidery drew inspiration from the village life. Embroidering household articles and themes like man ploughing, lying on charpoy, playing chaupat,  smoking hukkah or guests drinking sherbet were commonly embroidered. Domestic chores of women, such as churning the milk, grinding the chakki-hand mill, playing the charkha were also common topics.  Women also embroidered scenes which they found interesting, like the scene of a British officer coming to a village; the women carrying umbrella and walking along with memsahib, scenes such as railways, circus as well as scenes from popular Punjabi stories like Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi-Punnu  were among popular themes. [18] Sainchi phulkari was also popular in and around Ferozepur. The sainchi phulkari incorporated designs of birds, jewellery such as bracelets, earrings, rings and necklaces.[15]

Til patra[edit]

The til (sesame) patra has decorative embroidery which is spread out as if spreading sesame seeds.[15] The term til patra means 'the sprinkling of seeds'.[citation needed]


The neelak phulkari is made of a black or red background with yellow or bright red embroidery. The colour of the phulkari is mixed with metals.[15]

Ghunghat bagh[edit]

Originating in Rawalpindi, the ghunghat bagh is heavily embroidered around the centre on the edge to be worn over the head. The embroidered centre is then pulled over the face so as to form an embroidered veil.[15]


The chhaamas phulkari hails from Rohtak, Gurgaon, Hissar and Delhi. The chaamas phulkari incorporates mirrors which are sewn into the cloth with yellow, grey or blue thread.[15]

Phulkari of south and southwestern Punjab region[edit]

The phulkari of south and southwestern Punjab region, has wide edges upon which designs of animals and birds are embroidered. As is the case of the chaup, the edges are embroidered on both sides of the cloth.[15] South and southwestern Punjab region includes the south Punjab, India, south and south west of Punjab, Pakistan.

Revival and modern applications[edit]

The Phulkari too, has faced difficult times. According to textile art historian Jasleen Dhamija, ""The embroidery form became more or less extinct. Nobody promoted these.” [19]

Traditionally, phulkari garments were part of a girl's wedding trousers its motifs expressive of her emotions and the number of phulkari pieces defined the status of the family.[20] Over the years, government has been working towards promotion of phulkari embroidery, by organizing special training programs, fairs, and exhibitions.[11] Since most of women artisan creating phulkari are in the unorganized sector or work through agents, they do not make much money compared to an actual market price of their product, to avoid this lacuna Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation (PSIEC) has formed women self-help groups and cooperatives to sell directly and make more profits.[21]

Handloom products from Patiala

Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) acquired a collection of selected phulkari for its archives in 1994.[22] Some modern fashion designers are incorporating this embroidery into their garments, and its use has spread beyond salwar kameez and dupatta to objects and garments as varied, as jackets, bags, cushion covers, table-mats, shoes, slipper, juttis, and kids garments.[11][23]

In 2011, after a five-year-long legal case, Phulkari was awarded the geographical indication (GI) status in India, which means that after that only registered traders and manufacturers, from Punjab Haryana and Rajasthan states would be able to use the term for the traditional craft, and the patent information centre (PIC) of Punjab State Council for Science and Technology would issue a logo or hologram to distinguish the product.[24]

See also[edit]

  1. ^ The Tribune (Mar 6, 2015). "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  2. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  3. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  4. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  5. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  6. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  7. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sukaadas (1992) Fabric Art: Heritage of India
  9. ^ Naik, Shailaja D. (1996) Traditional Embroideries of India
  10. ^ Phulkari embroidery
  11. ^ a b c "SPIRIT OF ENTERPRISE: Crafting an artistic future". The Tribune. December 1, 2002. Retrieved Apr 23, 2013.
  12. ^ S. S. Hitkari (1980) Phulkari: The Folk Art of Punjab. Phulkari publications[1]
  13. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  14. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Mohinder Singh Randhawa. (1960) Punjab: Itihas, Kala, Sahit, te Sabiachar aad.Bhasha Vibhag, Punjab, Patiala.
  16. ^ Naik, Shailaja D. (1996) Traditional Embroideries of India
  17. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  18. ^ "The past and present of Phulkari". The Tribune. March 6, 2015. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  19. ^ Kannadasan, Akhila (November 25, 2014). "The bloom of tradition". The Hindu. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Everyone's talking about: Phulkari". Vogue India. 15 Apr 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  21. ^ "Phulkari workers get peanuts". The Hindu. Aug 3, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  22. ^ "Phulkari, Then and Now". Indian Express. Apr 19, 2013. Retrieved Apr 23, 2013.
  23. ^ Poonam Bajaj (25 Mar 2013). "Blooming tales of Phulkari". Deccan Chronicle. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  24. ^ "GI status for Phulkari". The Times of India. Jan 19, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2013.

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