‘Phulkari’ takes me back to childhood: Gursharan Kaur

New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) The accomplishment of a Punjabi bride, her mother and the affluence of the family were traditionally judged by the number of ‘phulkari’ and ‘bagh’ textiles – two ancient thread crafts of Punjab and what is now Haryana – they made.

Gursharan Kaur, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife, said Tuesday phulkari took her back to her childhood.

“We had a trunk of phulkari. It was a tradition to give the bride a phulkari at the time of marriage. My grandmother, whom we called ‘beiji’ said girls could embroider phulkari’ in the moonlight. We accepted her explanation. But then I saw girls embroidering phulkari in the moonlight,” Gursharan Kaur recalled.

Inaugurating an exhibition, “Phulkari – From the Realm of Women’s Creativity” at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) Tuesday, she she remembered her grandmother applying ‘surma’ till the last days of her life. “She would stand in front of the looking glass and put surma around her eyes and I think that was the secret of her good eyesight”.

“Every household had a spinning wheel and then would spin cotton,” Gursharan Kaur said, adding that “phulkari and bagh were not just special from the point of view of handicrafts but also for its social, emotional and cultural values which were rare”.

The exhibition, an effort by IGNCA to promote traditional Indian and culture, is celebrating the legacy of the craft and the problems it has been facing in the last 20 years with workshops, seminars and demonstrations of the craft. It is one of the silver jubilee initiatives of the centre, which turned 25 last year.

The collection of colourful hand-spun textiles embroidered with phulkari and bagh in rich colours of red, blue, yellow, white and gold has been curated from the archives of IGNCA . The centre purchased the collection of more 50 woven textile dating to the 19th century and the early 20th century from a trader dealing in traditional northern textiles in 1994.

The embroidery traditions of Punjab and and what is now Haryana date to more than 500 years and have been battling to survive in the face of resource constraints, exploitation by middlemen in villages and competitions from synthetic fabric and designer wear.

Embroidered with silk thread, phulkari is a shawl made by the mother for her young daughter and daughter in-law. Phulkari literary means floral work and is sometimes known as “bagh”, which means a garden.

They are known for their geometric and figurative iconography.

“The earliest mention of Phulkari can be found in the Guru Granth Sahib in the 15th-16th century and in the popular Punjabi epic of Heer Ranjha by Waris Shah. Not many earlier phulkaris – more than 200 years old – have survived because of the perishable nature of the material,” exhibition curator Krishna Lal told IANS.

Phulkari is embroidered in two styles. The bagh or garden is a dense embroidery in which the base is not visible on the home-made ‘khaddar’ cloth. The “chhop” is made of double-darn stitch on a reversible red base with yellow thread. They are embroidered along the border and in the body of the textile as small triangles, Lal said.

“They did not make ‘pallus’ (shoulder drapes) in saris embroidered with phulkari for unlimited prosperity and wealth,” he added.

It was not a commercial craft traditionally, Lal said. “The ‘chhop’ was draped around the girl by her grandmother during the ‘chuda’ ceremony. The Vari da Bagh – a heavily embroidered drape – was given to the daughter-in-law by the mother-in-law after the ‘pheras’. Each occasion had a special phulkari drape,” Lal said.

The tradition is looking for patronage outside its home state, said the president of IGNCA Chinmaya Gjarekhan. “While women sweat on the textiles, it is the middlemen who make most of the money,” Garekhan said. Nearly 300,000 women are employed in the trade in Punjab and Haryana.

Award winning Phulkari craftsperson Lajwanti , who was felicitated by Gursharan Kaur said “the craft requires money to survive. The women do not make money. They are poor. But the craft is in demand worldwide,” she said.

The exhibition will be on till May 3.

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