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Phulkari: A Story Woven With Silken Threads

     Phulkari: A Story Woven With SilkenThreads

This embroidery is a riot of colours

                                 A lady wearing a Phulkari dupatta

Punjab– The Land of Five Rivers, is a jewel in the crown that is India. In fact, the very word ‘Punjab’ come from the Persian words, ‘Panj’ meaning ‘five’ and ‘Ab’ meaning ‘waters’. It is not just a state, it is an experience. This land is steeped in history and culture. It is known for its hard working people, its farmers, music, dance and the arts.Today, let’s look at one of the most stunning example of art from the state- Phulkari. Literally translated, Phulkari means ‘flower work’.

How It All Began

Earlier, women would gather around and create beautiful Phulkari embroidery

                                           Women creating intricate designs

It is believed to have originated in the 15th Century AD. It started off as a simple embroidery done by women to pass their free time. In earlier times, ladies of the neighbourhood would gather to create magic with the silk threads. With time, this seemingly simple embroidery found popularity outside the state too.

Technique Used

    Different types of stitches are combined to make a design

The basis of the Phulkari is a seamless amalgamation of the button-hole stitch, running stitch, darn stitch and cluster stitches. Only one strand is used at a time. The vertical, horizontal and criss-cross stitches give a light and shade effect. The base cloth is generally homespun and dyed. Since the cloth is sturdy, it doesn’t need a frame to work with. Some patterns are so intricate that the colour of the base cloth becomes invisible. Let’s take a look at some of the patterns and designs that have evolved.

Phulkari and Bagh

                                                                 An intricately embroidered suit

Phulkari is generally done on fabrics used to cover the head like dupattas, scarves and shawls. Whereas, Bagh pattern is done on garments that cover the whole body.

Types of Phulkari Designs and Patterns

There are many intricacies associated with the designs as well and the different designs are meant for different occasions.

Apart from geometrical designs, natural motifs are also popular

                                                            A flower motif pattern

  • Neelak: The background is black or red and the embroidery is yellow or bright red.

  • Ghunghat Bagh: It is specially done as a head adornment. So, once it is pulled down to cover the face, it looks like a veil.

  • Chope: This variety is presented by the grandmother to the bride, before the wedding. It has embroidery on the sides and the centre is left plain.

  • Darshan Dwar: This is for adorning the walls and homes, especially when the Holy book of the Sikhs, Guru Granth Sahib is brought. It has designs of flowers, animals, birds etc.

                                             A rare example of a 19th Century Darshan Dwar pattern

  • Chhamaas: In this pattern, mirrors are sewn into the cloth.

    Phulkari design with mirrors

                              A dupatta with Chammaas work, where mirrors are sewn into the pattern

  • Subhar or Suber : The embroidery has a central motif and at the four corners.

  • Vari da Bagh: It is usually done with golden yellow thread, done on a red cloth.


    This is one of the earliest patterns of Phulkari

                                                                    A classic Vari Da Bagh design

  • Bawan Bagh: Contains fifty two different patterns.

  • Surajmukhi: Incorporates Sunflower as the main motif.

  • Panchranga: It is made with threads of five different colours.

Relevance of Phulkari in Modern Times

Phulkari can now be seen on many household objects and accessories

             Bedspread with Phulkari work.

It is heartening to note that unlike many indigenous crafts, this craft has been able to hold its own. The intricate designs now appear on many accessories like handbags, shoes, stoles, purses, wall-adornments, cushions etc. Many fashion houses have incorporated it in their designs.

          A handbag with Phulkari

Cushions look extra bright with these designs

                                      Beautiful designs with Phulkari

In a major fillip to the craftsmen, A-list Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, has whole-heartedly endorsed this beautiful art in her recently released movie, Phillauri. Many artisans are now involved in this industry which not only cater to the domestic market but internationally too. This craft has grown from a simple cottage industry to being a full-grown industry.

The movie 'Phillauri' brought Phulkari to the masses

                                 Anushka Sharma looking resplendent in traditional Phulkari work

                              Making its presence felt in Bollywood too

Where to get Phulkari outfits and accessories?

There are many online portals that bring this embroidery to its lovers. Here are a few sites worth checking:

Among offline ones, FabIndia and GoodEarth also have a great collection of Phulkari-based items.

As with any traditional craft, it is imperative to re-invent and innovate to suit the demands of changing times. Phulkari, with its gorgeous thread-work has stood the test of time and can be seen on practically everything imaginable. To put this beautiful craft on the world map, it needs a powerful impetus. Till then, Phulkari-enhanced garments will continue to bedazzle us.

Content Developer, Creative Writer & Author


  • Ankita Datta
    June 8, 2017

    Wish to get such Phulkari dupattas in my place too. A wonderful article all over. 🙂

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