Rich textile from the land of five rivers

Punjab is not just about butter chicken and taxi drivers,” announces Kirandeep Kaur as she welcomes Metrolife inside Open Palm Court gallery, India Habitat Centre. 

The tukka (fodder cutter) welcomes the visitors at the entrance of the exhibition that is rightly titled ‘Mela Phulkari’.
 
Inside, the gallery is transformed into a mini Punjab with a kitchen set up in one corner with a triangular pile of phulkari odnis that are intuitively placed to attract more women.

 In no time, two elderly women gather in the area and inspect and name the various artefacts such as a sandook (treasure chest), martban (ceramic container to store pickles), tall brass glasses (used to serve lassi) and madhani (butter churner).
 
Few visitors find it difficult to take their eyes off a collection of old fans, records, 
manja (village cots) andparandis (ornamental hair accessory).

However, it is the Phulkari was never woven for commercial use. It came into existence to create gifts for the family and therefore has a emotional connect. 
 
Like the ‘Chope’ (one of the many stitches) is mostly passed on by a grandmother to her granddaughter. 

Similarly, a ‘Vari-da Bagh’ is gifted to a new bride by her in-laws,” explains Kirandeep as she picks up each variety and points out the difference between a square pattern of ‘Kaudi Bagh’ and diamond pattern of ‘Suraj mukhi’ phulkari traditionally done on khaddar (coarse cotton fabric) to be wrapped around the head and shoulder.    
 
To add to the list, there is also the ‘Parantha’ (triangular pattern that covers the whole of the fabric) and the  ‘Panchranga’ (five colours). 

But in the absence of a detailed documentation on phulkari, even Kirandeep finds it difficult to explain the reason behind each name.
 
She adds, “It is a task today to find women who used to do these phulkaris. We are thus coming up with a bigger coffee table book where we can recount stories of craftswomen from Punjab.”
    
Along with her husband Harinder Singh, Kirandeep has taken the initiative to display the traditional craft of ‘Phulkari’ on which the women of Punjab embroider their dreams at different stages of their lives. 
 
“It is said that the entire life of a woman is entwined in these stitches,” philosophises Kirandeep as Harinder comments on the attitude of foreigners: “To them it sounds funny that Punjabis also do art! Phulkari is a blessing which represents the complex web in which the crafts and culture of the land are enmeshed.”
 
He looks up at the ceiling as if thanking the Almighty for endowing them with this craft and Metrolife spots colourful pankhis (hand fans) and old musical instruments (dilruba, sarangi, iktara, dhad etc) hung from the ceiling.      
 
The music in the background fills the room with notes of popular folk song ‘Latthe di chadar’ and the rich embroidered textile forays into the contemporary world as young girls try phulkari stoles – in chiffon and chinon fabrics – which have 
replaced traditional ‘odnis’.    
     
Though the collective culture and population of Delhi is considered to be Punjabi 
by default, it is in this display that the culture of the land of five rivers finds its true representation.
 
‘Mela Phulkari’ is on display at India Habitat Centre till April 24.       

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