Punjab, a simple word creates a vivid image of sarson ke khet flowing with the wind, clear skies and the smell of soil freshly prepared for farming. From this rich fertile region comes the art of Phulkari, which is the most beloved form of folk art for Punjabi women.
Phulkari literally means “flower art”. Mentioned in the eternal love story of Heer Ranjha, Phulkari is coveted by every Punjabi girl, keeping the tradition of gifting a Bagh to the bride of a Punjabi household alive.
When lightly embroidered for everyday use, it is called a Phulkari. When embroidered on full suits to completely cover the cloth, the art form is a Bagh, which means “garden”
Most popular patterns for Phulkari are geometric designs made by darn-stitching the wrong side of handmade Khadi fabric with silk threads. Phulkari patterns also narrate the story of everyday life of Punjabi women. Every woman was a skilled artist who created a masterpiece with her own hands. It gave these women a way of expressing themselves. It is tradition to gift a Phulkari artwork to a bride in her trousseau. The motifs on the Phulkari reflected the bride’s emotions and the number of pieces in her trousseau showed the status of her family.
Modernisation brought along with it the availability of machinery which drastically impacted the market for authentic Phulkari. It takes a woman months to weave her Phulkari, whereas machines now could complete several suits in a day. But machinery could never match the grace of a handmade suit.
Most of the people related to Phulkari business are underpaid and their skills are devalued, because of easy availability of fake machine-made work and intermediaries making their own cut. To combat this issue, the Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation (PSIEC) has worked tremendously to promote and market authentic Phulkari by setting up self-help groups in the regions where this art is practiced.