Crafts / Culture / Fashion

Phulkari : A Prized Textile Tradition Of Punjab

When we all are in a hurry to complete our shopping, we tend to hasten the process so much so that we tend to overlook the diligent efforts of each and every artisan who is engaged in the preparation of our attractive attire. All of us owe them a lot for our stunning wardrobes.

By the end of this discussion, all of us would be able to acknowledge the amount of rigour involved in the preparation of the charismatic phulkari outfits. You would also get an opportunity to examine historical facts, cultural significance, distinct variety, major concerns, multiple efforts for the revival and the esteemed status of Phulkari in the Indian Fashion industry in addition to the other interesting facts regarding this traditional textile craft from north india.

Phulkari is a term in Punjabi language which is formed with a combination of two words- Phul (flower) and Kari (work). It is a traditional embroidery technique of Punjab which has even found its mention in the folklore of the state. However, the designs created out of this method are not limited to flowers, they also comprise of various geometrical patterns and motifs.

Origin of Phulkari

In the famous book, Harshacharita of 7th Century CE, Banabhatta mentioned about the wedding outfit of the niece of Harsha. It included elegant floral motifs which were very similar to Phulkari. Even the recitations of Sikh Guru – Guru Nanak Dev Ji emphasised on the significance of this textile art (1469 – 1538 CE).

The regional significance of this craft tradition can be found in the literary texts as well. The iconic love story of Heer and Ranjha written by Waris Shah had a part wherein there was a vivid description of the bridal outfit of Heer. All the characteristics of her attire were quite similar to the majestic textile art of Punjab. It gained massive popularity during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Lockwood Kipling prepared a report on Punjab industry which was published in the Journal of Indian Art. Under this, he stated about extensive trade in Amritsar since the Punjab exhibition of 1881. He also referred to the modified version of phulkari which was manufactured exclusively for the European population where it was used for home decor.

Geometric Designs (Credits : https :// )

Becoming a part of a cultural legacy

Even the folklore of the north Indian state mentions the affection of the women with this embroidery. In Punjab, this craft holds utmost importance in the lifetime of a woman. Originally, it was performed as a leisure time practice by the women in the traditional households of Punjab. It also resonates with the cultural identity of the north Indian state.

The cultural significance of this embroidery can be gauged from the fact that the preparation of a specific type of phulkari began as soon as the girl child was born in the household. During the time of the matrimonial ceremony, the status of the families was determined on the basis of the count of the baghs that were given as dowry to the bride.

A Vibrant Phulkari Motif ( Credits : )

It is present in wedding, birth and all the religious ceremonies. When a girl is dressed up in attire which is embellished by a phulkari, it is not just a matter of aesthetics, it also represents the cultural values of her family. This craft is handed over across generations. It also used as a cover of the holy bookGuru Granth Sahib. This signifies the eminence of this embroidery in the north Indian state.

Dynamic Nature of the Craft

In its traditional form, phulkari was created over the heavy cotton fabric which was referred to as Khaddar. Nowadays, it can be found on diverse materials like Chiffon, Georgette, Chanderi and Silk. Earlier, this embroidery could be found on only shawls and dupattas. With the passage of time, this craft has began to infuse noteworthy creativity in sarees, salwar suits, kurtis and footwears ( juttis ) as well.

Decoding the Meaning of the colours

In phulkari, different colours are used. All of them depict a particular concept which makes the craft all the more meaningful.

1. Red colour signifies excitement and is used for young girls and the future brides.

2. The orange colour of the embroidery depicts a lot of vitality.

3. Blue exhibits tranquillity. It is mainly used for casual use.

4. White colour represents purity. It is used for widows and old age women.

5. The Green colour depicts fertility.

Most frequently used Motifs in Phulkari

More than an embroidery, it is an effective medium of emotive expression. The most common motifs used in this technique are as follows-

  • Belan ( Rolling Pin )
  • Kakri  ( Cucumber)
  • Chandrama ( Moon )
  • Satranga (Seven Colours)

All the motifs are basically inspired from the immediate surroundings and the natural environment including animals, flowers, trees, gardens and birds.

An Intricate Phulkari Design ( Credits : )

Some phulkari designs are also inspired from jewellery items. They include Ranihaar, Kangan, Karan Phool, Jhumkas and Tikka.

The Principal Stitch used in the Craft

Darn stich is the primary stich employed in this embroidery. Each and every design is based upon the aesthetic sense of the creators and their power of imagination. All of them are deeply ingrained in the surrounding environment of the region.

It can be differentiated from other embroidery techniques on the basis of the fact that the darn stitch is applied on the reverse side of the fabric.

Other types of stitches like running stitch, button stitch and herringbone stitch is used for making beautiful patterns on the border of the khaddar fabric.

Darn Stitch ( Credits: https:// )

Diverse Variety

Phulkari is of different types-

I. CHOPE – It is gifted to the bride during her chura ceremony by her maternal grandmother. Its size is quite big and it is stitched on only a red colored cloth. This embroidered piece symbolises the umpteen amount of blessings for profound prosperity of the bride in her matrimonial life through its unique design. It has big triangles at its base and small triangles are present in between the bigger ones in the opposite direction.

Chope ( Credits :

II. SUBERA– It is gifted to the woman for the phera ceremony during her wedding. It is also stitched in only red colour. It consists of five floral designs at each corner and five of them are present in the centre.

III. SALOO– It is a red shawl made out of a khaddar fabric which is used as a garment for casual use on day to day basis. Floral patters are present over them.

IV. TILPATRA– It is an inexpensive shawl which has tiny dots all over its surface. The servants of the families are presented with this on special occasions.

V. PANCHRANGA / SATRANGA– This embroidery has geometrical patterns made from five to seven colours.

VI. RESHMUSHEESHA– Navy blue colour is the base colour of this Phulkari. The geometrical designs are adorned over its surface in white floss which appears like silken mirror which is referred to as Reshmusheesha.

VII. SHEESHEDAR PHULKARI– A specialised type of phulkari in which buttonhole stitch is utilised to attach small mirrors upon its surface. Its base fabric is either red or brown. The threads used in this embroidery are of yellow or blue colour.

VIII. NILAK PHULKARI – As the name suggests, this embroidery is done on a blue coloured fabric. The flower designs are made with yellow and red silk threads.

Nilak Phulkari ( Credits : )

IX. SAINCHI PHULKARI– This type showcases the scenic beauty of nature. Lotus is placed in its centre and the birds and animals surrounds it.

How to distinguish between Phulkari and Bagh ?

The most significant difference between Phulkari and Bagh is the density of the embroidery. In phulkari, the base cloth is quite visible. The literal meaning of Bagh is the garden of flowers. Therefore, the embroidery on the fabric is quite detailed in this technique.  Even the base fabric is covered due to the heavy embroidery in Bagh. A diverse variety of Bagh is available in the market which provides a wide range of buying options to the customers. Therefore, you can get a glimpse of different bagh designs on various special occasions and festivities.

Ghunghat Bagh ( Credits: https:// )

Omnipresence in the Indian Fashion Industry

The famous fashion designer – Mr. Manish Malhotra has time and again appreciated the authenticity of this embroidery. He has also commended the ease with which this traditional fabric can be transformed into modern silhouettes. Further, he emphasized upon the versatility of the craft at Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2017.

Another prominent fashion designer who is involved in creation of contemporary clothes using the heritage embroidery techniques of India is Ms. Kanika Goyal. The feature which attracted her towards phulkari is the symmetrical nature of the patterns used in this craft. She also experimented with the colour palette by using the contrasting colours other than the brighter shades which were originally used within this practice. Her efforts towards inclusion of phulkari within her exclusive range of handcrafted products stems back to her native roots in Punjab. She teamed up with the women trained by the Bharti Mahila Sangh in March 2016 wherein her design inputs ensured an active participation from their side in bringing about a diverse variety of aesthetic pieces with an amalgamation of their craftsmanship and the improvement in their design sensibilities.

She also came up with a different way of producing the intricate phulkari designs in order to enhance the scale of production. Rather than using the age old round frames, she replaced them with the ‘Ari’ technique. Within the Ari technique, the women used the rectangular frames which were raised above the ground. This made the entire method quicker and finally resulted in reasonable pricing.

An outfit from Kanika Goyal’s Lakme Fashion Week Collection ( Credits :

The craft was utilized in a very subtle manner throughout her collection. Although, the motifs were the distinctive feature of every piece, the fashion sensibilities of the potential customers were not at all compromised.

She also substituted the transferrable dyes utilized in the traditional technique with zinc oxide and oil. It helped in eliminating the issue of bleeding of the dye.

The entire collection comprised of crop tops, coats, tops, dresses and skirts along with other attires with an innovative transformation in their silhouettes. The major fabrics used in her collection consists of wool, acrylic wool, leather, cotton, satin and linen.

She has planned for starting an NGO in order to provide training to the women artisans in an extensive manner. All these efforts are based upon her keen desire to develop a better understanding of Phulkari within the artisan community and bringing about noteworthy changes in the entire manufacturing process.

Such initiatives are contributing a great deal in redefining the Indian Fashion scenario.

The Concept of Neo Phulkari

An Elegant Saree from the Neo Phulkari Collection ( Credits : )

The famous designer duo Sukriti and Aakriti Grover unveiled a Neo Phulkari collection at the Digital Lakme Fashion Week in 2020. The ensembles in their collection comprised of cropped jackets, embroidered kurtas, kurtis, ghararas and flared dress along with calf length pants.

An Outfit from the Neo Phulkari Collection ( Credits : )

In order to enhance the demand of the collection on the world map, both the designers amalgamated the Indian silhouettes with the contemporary touch. Their innovative mindset resulted in a vibrant collection. The entire collection honoured the traditional textile art from Punjab in a thoughtful manner.

Enhanced Recognition in the Market

A lot of fashion labels have recognised the beauty of this embroidery. They have incorporated it in their respective collections with an innovative mindset. They include brands like Aab and trumpet vine.

Trumpet Vine was founded by Ms. Tanu Sharma in 2019. It is based in Amritsar which is the hub of the artisans practising this elegant craft. ‘Style’ is the fundamental concept with which this brand is closely associated. All the designs of this brand derive their inspiration from the traditional art of Phulkari. It believes in experimenting with the embroidery style and certain embellishments in order to enhance the acceptance of this alluring craft by today’s cosmopolitan society.

Aab is a new age womenswear brand which is actively engaged in maximizing the appeal of the traditional textile art of Punjab. The label was founded by Ms. Shreya Mehra in 2020. Every motif of the brand is inspired from five varieties of Phulkari- Bagh, Darshan Dwars, Sainchis, Thirmas and Chopes. It collaborates with the local craftsmen of Punjab to develop a creative acumen for producing the authentic attires.  The fact that each outfit of Aab is handcrafted makes it praiseworthy. It launched two collections – Matsya and Trikon which showcase the fundamental principles with which the brand adheres to. ‘Matsya’ comprised of patterns based upon the marine life. On the other hand, Trikon included an aesthetic balance between the cultural heritage and the modern sense of elegance.

Major challenges faced by the Artisans

1. Loss of livelihood due to rise in commercialization of the craft- The diversity of the motifs and the designs as a result of improving technology has also caused a massive reduction in the demand of handmade phulkari.The computer aided designs have led to the rise in the commercial production of Phulkari. They are preferred by the manufacturers due to their innovation, lesser time consumption and flexibility.

2. Shift in the mindset of the people- Phulkari had begun as a creative expression of rural women of Punjab. But, people envisaged it as a lucrative source of income over a period time. This led to a drastic loss in the traditional significance of this craft. The attention of the people gradually got distracted from the cultural heritage associated with it.

3. Gender Inequality – The quality of the craft has reduced due to increased physical and mental pressure on only women to produce the elaborate piece of work.

An Eminent Phulkari Artist ( Credits : https:// )

Revival of the Glorious Tradition

Popular art historian Ms. Alka Pande has worked extensively for the revival and restoration of Phulkari. She has been engaged in its promotion by enhancing its visibility through exhibitions and marketing. She strongly believes in the fact that whenever an art form is introduced in the contemporary market, which in itself makes it come alive. Her active participation in Mela Phulkari reflects her commendable contribution in the textile tradition.

Another revivalist – Ms.  Kirandeep Kaur highlights the close association between phulkari and the day to day life of each and every woman. The old designs of Bagh reflect the life of the people in Punjab before partition and and Green Revolution. For example, Kaudhi Bagh exemplifies fertility and prosperity. She has participated quite actively in the improvement in the quality of this craft.

Mela Phulkari unveiled the diverse variety of products at India Habitat centre, New Delhi in May, 2014. This platform provides an unmissable opportunity to explore the varied features of the culture of Punjab. All the articles incorporated this beautiful craft in a visually appealing manner. They consisted of stoles, footwears, bags, hair accessory and musical instruments. Other traditional products included hand fan, butter churner and brass vessels which are used to store milk.


This initiative was contemplated by Mr. Harinder Singh and Mrs. Kirandeep Kaur, who are fully commited towards restoration of this craft. Their efforts were aimed at increasing the familiarity of the people with this extraordinary embroidery technique.

In this exhibition, more than 180 types of Phulkari were showcased. The period of their creation dates back to the partition and pre partition era. It focussed on developing a comprehensive point of view about this practice within each visitor.

An Everlasting fascination for Handmade

The handcrafted version of this craft is still in vogue. The rationale behind the incessant affection of even the contemporary customers towards phulkari is based upon its quality, durability and its visual appeal.

Lehariya Bagh Shawl (Credits :

Points for Reflection

Phulkari is undoubtedly a salient part of the cultural legacy of Punjab. It has also fascinated the Indian fashion industry with its aesthetic beauty and its traditional aspects. This is evident in the noteworthy initiatives undertaken by a lot of fashion designs who have contributed towards its growth and enhanced its visibility in the contemporary market. All these factors make this embroidery an innovative yet valuable crafting tradition of North India.

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