Some antique, rare and disappearing phulkari patterns will be on view at a festival aiming to celebrate the culture of Punjab

Even as we live in cosmopolitan cities, we never get a thorough understanding of various cultures that form the basis of these pluralistic centres. We merely get a glimpse. So it happened that Punjabiyat came to be identified by makke di roti sarson da saag, lassi, Gidda, Bhangra and of course everything loud and flamboyant, all thanks to stereotyping by Hindi cinema. Phulkari, the embroidery tradition of Punjab, was way beyond our blinkered vision with just one or two standard phulkari patterns coming to define the age-old technique. But for those who are curious to discover more, herein lies an opportunity to discover the unknown aspects of the Punjabi culture.

On view from April 12 at the India Habitat Centre will be Mela Phulkari, an eclectic assortment of colourful pankhis (hand fans), madanis (butter churners) tilla jutis (footwear), manja (village cots), parandis (the festive hair accessory), musical instruments like rabab, tavus, dilruba, algoza, dhad and of course some exquisite phulkaris. 1469, a quaint store on Janpath in Connaught Place, which has Punjabi culture as the mainstay of its products, has put together the entire show.

“The idea is to familiarise the city with authentic phulkari. When we started in 2005, people barely knew the craft tradition. It has improved, but still not much is known about it. At the store we have really contemporarised it on t-shirts, shirts, skirts, but here we are going to focus on phulkari in its traditional form, while highlighting alongside the numerous innovations possible with it,” says Kirandeep Kaur, who co-owns 1469 with her husband Harinder Singh. The brand that has been featured in several Hindi films like “Highway”, “Rockstar” and the upcoming “Fugli”, draws its content from Sikh faith, popular sayings and humour. As for its name, 1469 holds great significance for Sikhs as the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev was born that year.

Curated by Alka Pande, the selection of 180-plus phulkaris — most of them belonging to Partition and pre-Partition times — will afford the visitor a macroscopic view of the craft practice. So phulkari baghs in different patterns, which we may have never seen or heard of, will be seen. While phulkari is something that with its light presence simply ornaments the cloth, the phulkari bagh comes entirely covered with the embroidery. “We will have vari-da-bagh, ikka bagh, kaudi bagh, etc. on khaddar, because earlier it was done on these thick cotton fabrics mostly. Phulkari wasn’t a commercial activity. It was given in families as a gift on special occasions like marriage, childbirth and festivals. What we mostly see around are the floral patterns, but the festival will exhibit rare and disappearing patterns,” explains Kirandeep, adding that she was introduced to the chope pattern by the women embroiderers of Fatehgarh, with whom the store works. Gifted to the bride by her grandmother, its two sides contain the same design that was created using the holbein (double running) stitch.

Darshani dwar, panchranga, thirma, are the other unusual styles designs on view. “We even have a few phulkaris from Khushwant Singh’s personal collection. They are fine specimens of Pakistani phulkari because they are from Swat Valley,” says Kirandeep.

1469 works with 200-300 woman artisans in Fatehgarh, Sangrur and on the outskirts of Malwa. “Farmer suicides in Sangrur is a common story, so you find several young widowed women in this area. We have tied up with an NGO that supports them. We give them the fabric, threads and the design. Why we get authentic designs is because they are being done by the women who know and wear this textile. There are no traders involved. In serials and films, most of the stuff is acquired in bulk from the traders in Patiala, but what about the authentic designs which are getting lost? Somebody has got to do something about those. So we are even digitising phulkari designs and using it on other fabrics, surfaces like chiffon salwar-kameez and other products, etc. We receive a lot of flak for it but my answer to that is it would have been justified had we been not working with the textile, but we are doing that.”

(The exhibition will be on view from April 12 to 24 at India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road)