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 recalls.
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,’ 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, which is on till 3 May, is an effort 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 years. 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 than 50 woven textiles dating from the 19th century to the early 20th century from a trader 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.