Back in the day, you might have heard stories, folklores from your grandparents and village elders about merry women on tree swings during the monsoon season, of the fervour and festivity in the air. The Punjabi name for this season is known as Teej or Teeyaan. But what finds the most mention in the course of Punjabi culture and this season are the beautiful patterns of the world-acclaimed Phulkaris. The word Phulkari comes from the association two Punjabi words – Phull which means a flower, and Kari which means craft. In Iranian culture, it is known as ‘Gulkari’ where ‘Gul’ means a flower.
There is not much evidence about the origins of Phulkari. It is believed to have been first brought to India by the Jat tribes of Central Asia. Gradually, they settled in various parts of Punjab and formed the various styles and patterns of Phulkaris. Broadly, there are two types of embroidery designs, ie the Bagh and Phulkari. The main difference between these two is the intensity of the embroidery on the khaddar cloth. The former has a simple and a scattered embroidery done on it and is worn on normal days, whereas the bagh is used for ceremonial occasions and cover the entire length of the cloth.
Over the years, the art of Phulkari making has gained ground worldwide which was once solely a recreational activity for Punjabi womenfolk. But sadly, as it gained recognition and became a fashion symbol, the poor artisans were taken an advantage of by agents who used to sell them at exorbitant prices in the market and paid the artisans nothing more than nickels and dimes. To fill this lacuna, the government formed Self Help Groups or SHG’s for the welfare of Phulkari artisans.
One such self-help group located in a small town known as Bassi Pathana, District Fatehgarh Sahib is making marvel phulkaris and is also helping women in becoming self-reliant. Started under the aegis of a retired builder, Professor HS Mejie in 2005, The Mehar Baba Charitable Trust since its inception has adopted 187 villages with a population of 2,09,339 people. The trust today boasts of training 700 girls and boys every year.
The Phulkari Makers, a division of the trust, responsible for spearheading the campaign for phulkari embroidery provide a six-month course and trains about 150 women students. The manager for vocational training, Ms Raj Rani pioneers this work by going door to door in all the 187 villages. “We also have boys turning up to us for learning the art of Phulkari making, but we do not accept them since our main motive rests on women welfare,” Ms Rani tells. There is no age group for the candidates. Amazingly, a 50-year-old lady was also a part of the institution!
Pagg, Parandi and Phulkari are the 3Ps that rhyme with Patiala’s name. During the pre-partition era, most of the Phulkari and embroidery work here was done by the Muslim craftsmen. When the bitter saga of partition happened, these master craftsmen migrated to Pakistan and the Phulkari work here was adopted and brought back to life by people who migrated from Bhawalpur, Pakistan. So, most of the embroidery work at Phulkari Makers, Bassi Pathana and Patiala region has an element of southern Punjab’s culture.
The most striking and notable piece of work, the institution specialises in is the ‘Baavan Bagh’ and sixty-eight-coloured Phulkari. The ‘Bavan Bagh’ has 52 designs or motifs as its name suggests and is one of the Phulkari forms, while on the other hand the sixty-eight-coloured is in itself a jaw-dropping artefact. It has a total of 68 colours and proudly they state “Anybody who can count the colours of the Phulkari get a discount of fifty per cent!”
Apart from making Phulkaris, these geniuses design small and quirky artefacts such as tea cosy’s, tea coasters, bookmarks, shagun holders and even clutches for our generation of party savvy people. Now fading, they had a beautiful collection of the traditional ‘pakhiyan’ (hand fans) and ‘potlis’ (small bags) that could multiply your drawing room’s grace. Ms Rani tells us that these items sell off like hot pancakes and are in a heavy demand by people. The success of this endeavour can be gauged from the fact that all the proceeds that come from the selling of the products go into the reimbursement of the candidate’s stipends.
Another part of Punjabi culture, and a ready to see item in Punjabi homes ‘Durries’ is slowly fading into oblivion. The main reason for this is the lack of skilled artisans, who used to do this job of weaving durries. Phulkari Makers are doing their bit to save this already dwindling art. They are providing training to women in the sphere of durrie weaving. This place produces durries in various designs and sizes which can readily spruce up your living room.
The institution boasts of clientele across countries like the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. They also have clients throughout India. The Phulkaris are priced, beginning from Rs 2500 to the type of work the customer wants. The products can be ordered online on their website www.mbtrust.org.
Text by Gurbir Singh Sidhu