Anu H. Gupta and Shalina Mehta on Phulkari from Punjab

Rich, colourful threads weave patterns of life as girls embroider phulkaris, each a unique expression of the imagination, dreams and artistic inclinations of the individual embroidering a part of herself with silk threads on a rough khaddar cloth. The authors, both Chandigarh-based anthropologists, have produced a richly visual book. History, tradition, craft and business are all explored in the text. The academic credentials of the authors add heft to the volume, but the illustrations that show various kinds of phulkaris steal the show at first glance. Phulkaris transcend the geographic confines of present-day Punjab and remind us of the common well of tradition and culture that binds the wider region, both in India and Pakistan. Present-day revival may rile up some purists, but tradition always evolves with the contemporary to remain relevant.

Colourful designs of the phulkaris leap out of the pages. Motifs show birds, animals, flower and nature. Each is unique, even as it dips into the rich legacy of the region from which it originates. The choice of design, colours, styles of embroidery all work together to present a visual narration. We learn about the intricacies of phulkaris where motifs are embroidered sparingly, bagh with intricate work that covers the entire fabric, chope, which is yellow embroidery on red khaddar, and Tool ke Phulkari, heavily embroidered on end pieces (pallas) and has borders with small floral and bird motifs in the field. The authors have done well to go beyond the past. Even as purists despair, phulkaris have evolved to fit into the needs of the present-day patrons.