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Baisakhi: Celebrating embroidered love and all the colours of Punjab with phulkari

From Philadelphia Museum of Art paying tribute to phulkari with a special contribution by designer Manish Malhotra, to Bollywood’s love for the colourful embroidery — here’s a look at varied shades of the art, on Baisakhi.

fashion and trends Updated: Apr 19, 2017 18:53 IST
Snigdha Ahuja
Snigdha Ahuja
Hindustan Times
Baisakhi,Anushka Sharma,Phulkari
Actor Anushka Sharma sported phulkari in her recent film, Phillauri.

The art of storytelling has many forms, and this embroidery that finds its roots in Punjab, has a big role to play in not only history, but also in classic and contemporary fashion. As we celebrate the harvest festival of Baisakhi today — also the Punjabi new year — here’s a quick lesson in Phulkari and Bagh kadai (embroidery).

The art of this threadwork goes back centuries, marking milestones in a woman’s life. Traditionally, the embroidery was done with silken thread on hand spun fabric by women of the village to commemorate birth, weddings and was worn at auspicious occasions. While phulkari, as the name suggests, connotes the flower motif, bagh (garden) is a variant that includes motifs of birds, plants, intricate geometric shapes, taking over the entire length of the fabric.

Using the phulkari technique, here’s a Sangrur Bell in making.

Apart from these, there are many styles of phulkari and bagh embroidery, based on the type of stitch done and what it aims to depict. These include chope (embroidery done on the borders), reshmi shisha (embroidery that includes mirror work), sainchi (embroidery that includes figurines and scenes), thirma (embroidery done on a white base) and darshan dwar (embroidery depicting gates of a temple).

The word phulkari was born in the literary domain, when Sufi poet, Waris Shah narrated the tragic love story of Heer and Ranjha in the 18th century. Fast forward to the present day and Bollywood has also shown love to the textile by reviving it on the big screen.

From Kareena Kapoor (Jab We Met) to Priyanka Chopra (Teri Meri Kahaani) and Anushka Sharma (Phillauri) — Bollywood’s leading ladies have represented Punjab with the help of Phulkari.

From Kareena Kapoor Khan in Jab We Met (2007) to Anushka Sharma in Phillauri (2017), the embroidery has helped represent Punjab. It was also reported that Anushka sourced phulkari odhnis from local markets and weavers in Punjab.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, phulkari has taken centrestage with an exhibition that took off in March and will go on till July. Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection has on display rare pieces of the art that ranges between the periods of mid 19th century and 1947.

It also has on display the works of designer Manish Malhotra, who showcased a collection in Delhi back in 2013, which saw his interpretation of phulkari .“I’ve been invited to speak at the museum on April 28 and I’m overwhelmed with the honour. It’s a matter of pride that our traditional art and craft is not only being respected, but also being honoured on a global platform,” says Malhotra. Some of his phulkari designs with a contemporary twist are a part of the exhibition.


Phulkari odhnis, a mix of hand-embroidered and machine-made, clicked at a store in Patiala, Punjab.

Traditionally, phulkari had more than 50 varieties, depending on what the design connoted and who it was gifted to or made for. Now, the needlework has gone beyond classic odhnis, with cushion covers, keychains and varied interpretations of the art on offer. While hand-done phulkari is highly priced, its machine-made interpretation is cheaper.

First Published: Apr 13, 2017 07:39 IST