The Embroidery of Emotions - Phulkari Bagh's of Punjab

Explaining the traditional folk art of Punjabi Phulkari bagh along with its revival in Multan. The Punjab Province has always been distinguished for its culture and heritage. Multan is considered the oldest city of South Asia. The area from Delhi to Afghanistan was of Punjab province of Indian Sub-continent. The art of traditional Phulkari was originally practiced solely by the women of Punjab. Phulkari has always played an important role in the lives of Punjabi girls. The technique of Phulkari passed from generation to generation, especially girls used to embroider their imaginary world, dreams and aspirations onto a canvas of khaddar. Phulkari has been a precious gift meant for special family occasions, to welcome a new-born into the family or to gift the daughter during her nuptial ceremony. The designs and motifs are innumerable. This study focus's on the historical background of Phulkari and the variety of Bagh's.

Embroidery is a decorative form of art that is the richest expression of emotions, aesthetics and textiles. In the Indian subcontinent, embroidery has been practiced for centuries not only to adorn the textiles for temples, houses, clothes and draperies for animals, but also for symbolic and traditional purposes. In the rural tradition it is an integral part of the dowry and was considered a symbol of the ethnolinguistic group and its ritual tradition (Harvey, 2002). The craftsmen of Punjab excelled in hand embroidery on cotton, silk and wool, creating products that won admiration in Punjab. Phulkari and Bagh were traditional embroidered shawls from Punjab province. The word Phulkari comes from two Sanskrit words "Phul" meaning flower and "Kari" meaning work (Hitkari, 1980). This embroidery began in Punjab in the 15th century and continues till now. Bhag literally means that the garden is a type of Phulkari. The word Bagh was used to refer to embroidery fabrics made in Peshawar, Sialkot, Jhelum, Rawalpindi and Hazara, which are now in Pakistan. The difference between phulkari and Bagh lies in the phulkari embroidered fabric whose base is visible. In Bagh, the fabric is so closely embroidered that the silk threads cover most of the fabric ground, so that the base is not visible (Randhawa, 1960.) The phulkari embroidery made with border and multipurpose design of traditional motifs. The fabric of Cham and khaddar were the fabrics selected for using design on them. Numbers of techniques like, hand embroidery, machine embroidery, hand painting and screen painting were applied to the Phulkari designs, equality of embroidery, threads of various colours were applied (Michael, 2000). Extant phulkari vary widely, mainly in design and colour but also in the type of fabric, method of manufacturing and size. The khadi was usually painted at home before the embroidery was added, with black red, chocolate brown, indigo-blue and black as the most common colours. Bright colours were the norm for embroidery thread, with yellow gold, purple, orange, green and white dominating (Maskiell, 1999).

Embroidery was done on articles of apparel used by both men and women. Most common motifs used in embroidery were floral and birds. With the passage of time man changes in embroidery were reported with respect to design, quality of embroidery, colours and also the kinds of threads (Das, 1992). This narrative provides the landscape in which this research is shaped. Phulkari is not just a beautifully embroidered fabric, but it is an essential part of a Punjabi woman's life. It was used as a surface decoration on scarves, jackets, covers, pillow cases, table covers and girls who used to embroider them since childhood so that they could prepare and collect good quantities of objects for their marriage. The primary focus of this study is to examine the phulkari designs in Multan and especially phulkari baghs in Punjab. It will provide an overview of patterns used in phulkari baghs and details of baghs.


Origin of Phulkari:

The women of Punjab made the traditional Punjab Phulkari after completing their chores. They sat in groups called "Trijan" where all the women involved in embroidery as well as dancing, laughing, chatting and weaving. The traditional Phulkari was made from fabric called "khaddar", handmade and using high quality silk thread called "Pat", in bright colours such as red, gold, green, yellow, pink and blue. It took a year to make a special type of phulkari "Vari Da Bagh" where embroidery covers the entire surface of the fabric (Paine, 2014). In eastern Punjab the women embroidered Phulkari's with pattern of humans, animals and plants as well as other jewellery patterns. There are number of stitches used in Phulkari which are, satin stitch, herringbone stitch, cross stitch, chain stitch, blanket stitch, backstitch, stem stitch and running stitch were also used in Phulkari embroidery.


Design and Traditional types Phulkari's:

In Punjab the traditional forms of embroidery have following four distinct styles are recognized: Phulkari in which motifs are embroidered sparingly. Chope embroidery done on red Khaddar, which is identical on both sides. Chope Phulkari another form is a big sheet in red colour with triangular designs made on to the two lengthwise borders with small triangular motif extending into the middle of the fabric. The size of the chope is bigger than the Phulkari and Bagh in length as well as in width. Chope usually has a bird motif which was called as chope di chidi. Chope is considered as wedding Phulkari (Pal, 1955).

Chope Phulkari.png

Chope Phulkari

(Picture credit -

Tool di Phulkari was a type of phulkari which was done on a lightweight fabric called tool.


Salu is plain red or dark red khaddar shawl known as salu. It is used for daily wear.


Darshan Dwar or Darwaza is the Phulkari used as "Bhet" presentation for religious institutions. The design is worked out in panels which later draped over the entrance gate from where people can see their deity.


Darshandandawar Phulkari.png

Shishedar Phulkari is found in eastern Punjab presently the state of Haryana. This type of phulkari which is combined with glass pieces embroidered all over red or brown background cloth which gradually extinct.

Shishedar Phulkari

(Picture credit -

Sainchi Phulkari is a type which depicts the true rural life of Punjab where the motifs are traced, outlined in black ink before embroidering. The motifs are a visual communication which depicts the activities of rural life. The whole life of villagers is exhibited through colourful sainchi phulkari. The women from eastern Punjab made phulkari with animal, plant, jewellery and human motifs, drawing the outline in black ink and filling them with a darning stitch. The elephant was considered a royal means of transport. Horses and lions were important because of the association with royalty.

The peacock was famous for its adorable colours, its proud dance. Thus, people's emotions are reflected by the phulkari pieces. The females used every element of the daily routine from which the drawing can be extracted. The designed surface was an imitation of real objects. Some of the shawls were a combination of organic and inorganic patterns. It is the skill of the worker who makes the connection between the objects and their formation in the form of drawing. Punjab is an agricultural province so in case of phulkari such events of daily life are embroidered.

Sainchi phulkari.png

Sainchi Phulkari

Nilak, as the name indicates, is a type of blue colour. This phulkari is done on blue khaddar with embroidery of yellow and crimson pat though glaring but exhibit beautiful contrast colour combination. Sometimes it is also done on black khaddar. The motifs used in this phulkari are of like comb, fan, umbrella and flowers.

Nilak Phulkari.png

Nilak Phulkari

(Picture credit - Artsy)

Til Patra is kind of phulkari which means sprinkled sesame seed, scarcely embroidered. It has numbers of tiny embroidered dots on the surface of khaddar. It is usually presented to the maids on their wedding or any other traditional occasions.

Thirma is a kind of phulkari made in white khaddar, commonly called thirma, a symbol of purity. It is preferably worn by older women and widows. The pat of subtle are used on the surface of the fabric. The type of phulkari is simple and the patterns are well organized. The designs included floral and triangular patterns. The two main features are that it has two vertical zones on each side, separated by a series of herringbone stitches with green thread and the pallu being embroidered. This phulkari represents the humble and indefinable life of older women and widows.

Thirma Phulkari.png

Thirma Phulkari

Phulkari and Bagh had innumerable designs that showed imagination, originality and excellent knowledge of colour mixing. Gulkherain di Phulkari was a phulkari flower because Gulkhera means phul khile hon (blooming flowers). The shapes and designs of Gulkherain can vary. The women refer phulkari to their local textual names such as Kapah di tindya (Cotton Balls) and Ladoo Phulkari (sweet Balls) (Anu, Shalina 2014).

Bagh phulkari in which embroidery is so close that one cannot see the base of fabric. The Bagh's were designed in a very different way, with a single thread of base material separating one design from the other. Bagh had carpet appearance due to the full coverage of the fabric with silk thread. The embroidered bagh in eastern Punjab was much more complicated and had golden pat. The Bagh's in western Punjab were very colourful and often had several shades of yellow, gold, orange, gulanari, angoori and white.

The bagh is the most precious of the phulkari completely covered with embroidery with a little show of background surface. It was embroidered by groom's grandmother to present it to the bride and it took years to finish it. Bagh is presented to the bride as a symbol of fertility: the new life becomes a garden filled with blooming flowers. From a historical point of view, it seems that it is only after a certain time that people are passionate about phulkari in the second half of the 19th century. Bagh cannot be considered as a technical outcome of the art of phulkari construction. Most silver and gold were used for embroidery. The symmetrical geometric accuracy of the design reflects the accuracy of the needle work. It presents the social value and the status of the individual.

The most common patterns come from everyday life and, as a result, it received very literal names, such as gobhi and mirchi bagh. Shalimar and chaurasia bagh are reminiscent of the famous Mughal gardens, while ikka bagh is inspired by playing cards (diamonds). Dhoop chaoon (sun and shade), laharya (wave, kite), saru (cypress), suraj mukkhi (sunflower), panchranga (five colours) and satranga (seven colours) are among the most common patterns. The dang bagh depicts a series of blue wavy stripes on a white background, while the chand bag recalls the play of moonlight with small white or beige lozenges on dark red field.

Bagh Phulkari.png

Bagh Phulkari

The most celebrated baghs are as follows:

Vari Da Bagh:

Vari refers to as the clothes and jewellery presented to bride from the groom’s side and bagh is the elaborately embroidered article made by the grandmother of the groom. It takes four years to complete as an important item of the vari. This special phulkari shawl symbolizes the responsibilities which the new member of the house has to take. Vari Da Bagh means the original home place of new bride. The bagh is the speciality of west Punjab. The design of this phulkari is organized in such a way that as one side of the shawl is heavily embroidered, the other side has only one design unit. The systematic division of the design symbolizes that a new person is going to join a new group of people in her life. The red ground fabric is covered with tiny lozenges, usually embroidered with yellow colour. The whole surface is covered with diamonds, each enclosing a smaller diamond. In especially good pieces three sizes of concentric diamond are found, various pattern works in various colours. Apparently, these patterns were divided into three parts. The outer part was associated with the year, the next one was linked with the city and the last was considered as a family house.


Vari Da Bagh Phulkari.png

Vari Da Bagh Phulkari.

(Picture credit -

Bawan Bagh

Bawan Bagh is one of Phulkari's most complex styles with a spontaneous pattern for harsh events to come in one's life. In Punjabi, Bawan means fifty-two. It is a kind of mosaic that has fifty-two different geometric patterns. The whole surface is divided into fifty-two equal boxes embroidered with a different pattern and bright colours used. Shawl boarders have different types of designs.

Bawan Bagh.png

Bawan Bagh.

(Picture Credit -

Kudi Bagh

The patterns used in this bagh included the chains of small White Square which represented stylized cowries. The shells had been used as currency in old times but now it is only used for the purpose of ornamentation. The shells have resemblance with female genital. Kudi bagh were often worn by the female who want to increase their fertility.

Kudi Bagh.png

Kudi Bagh

Satranga Bagh

As the name indicates, satranga means seven colours. The decoration of the bagh is done with seven colours. The satranga bagh is mainly used by the ladies on the occasion such as marriage ceremonies, engagements and the child birth. The bagh is highly decorated and inspired by nature, refers to the seven natural colours of the rainbow. The zigzag pattern gives a sense of movement and sometimes the inspiration taken from Ralli (ethnic patchwork of rural areas). It has similar pattern like Ralli: every motif stands on its individuality and rich in colour.

Satranga Bagh.png

Satranga Bagh

Panchranga Bagh

The panchranga bagh has five colours. This bagh is decorated with chevrons of five different colours.

Panchranga Bagh.png

Panchranga Bagh

Meenakari Bagh or Ikka Bagh

This type of bagh is often made with gold and white coloured pat. It is decorated with small multi-coloured lozenges referring to enamel work (Meenakari) or diamond shape like playing card suit.

Meenakari or Ikka Bagh.png

Meenakari or Ikka Bagh

Ghunghat Bagh

A special type of three-cornered shawl used by the bride to cover her head. It is a traditional shawl to draw ghunghat (Veil) in presence of elderly people. The embroidery is done in triangular patches. In eastern Punjab a similar bagh is known as sar-pallu, it has elaborate embroidery. The background is in red colour on which golden yellow and multi coloured motifs are used.

Ghunghat Bagh.png

Ghunghat Bagh

Velanian Da Bagh

The name of this bagh is given on the basis of the traditional motif, rolling pin which is kitchen device, quite a popular motif. The design has rows of rolling pins which are distinguish through various colour combination. The rolling pins are sometimes insert with consecutive rows of zig-zag lines or small circular lozenges, which produce the image or shape of rolling pin.

Velanian Da Bagh.png

Velanian Da Bagh

Suraj Mukhi Bagh (Sunflower Bagh)

The Suraj Mukhi Bagh is covered with geometric designs, built up with lozenges, each composite lozenge has three small lozenges which are arranged diagonally. These lozenges have another smaller lozenge in the centre, the outline is emphasized with dark colour. The boarder and the outer most lozenge are lined out with double running stitch. It is popular in eastern Punjab.

Suraj Mukhi Bagh.png

Suraj Mukhi Bagh

Phulkari Work in Multan

The city of Multan has a rich historical past and has hosted various cultures including the Indus, Greek Mauryan, Gupta, Muslim and then British Empires. The most notable influence on the culture of Multan came from the Sufi tradition in the Subcontinent. From twelfth century onwards, the cultural developments in Multan were characterized by the Sufi doctrines and poetry. The city is blanketed with shrines, tombs and mosques. The Sufi tradition would have contributed to the development of crafts in the region since most of the crafts particularly the thread craft are associated to cultural events that largely draw their substance from Sufi teachings. The thread crafts of Multan, broadly speaking, are an expression of human desire to decorate himself. Wilferd Lambert, an expert on ancient cultures, establishes that the most ancient decorative expressions, whether in terms of surrounding, built environment or human body are intimately connected to religion, mythology, magic, and identity. Amar Tayagi while exploring the handicraft tradition of India also emphasized that people decorated themselves with feathers, seeds, cowrie shells and stones with a belief that they contributed to their power over things. Both these claims suggest an important link between crafts and cultural formation. A brief overview of history reveals that as we entered into civilization, aesthetic considerations seeped into cultural formations. Mankind moving beyond mere necessity and belief, started using decoration for beautification, however, with an underlying paradigm of consolidating personal, cultural, social or political identity. Thread crafts of Multan is one of the major crafts of subcontinent and is popular because of its religious, mythological, political, cultural and aesthetic paradigms which nurtured the desire of decoration of human instincts from primitive times. Thread crafts have a rich ideological basis, colour symbolism and express a diversity of techniques and forms. This study will be focusing on the analysis of the thread crafts of Multan from aesthetic point of view particularly, embroidery; and the most used pattern of Phulkari. Embroidery work developed in Multan with a distinct identity, which expresses the rich cultural heritage of the region. The city of Multan is rich in culture in which textiles plays an important role. The city is hub of various crafts such as pottery, tile and embroidery work. Tahira Khan a local resident of Multan, is experienced in embroidery work and in phulkari. She has experience of over twenty years and she knows about different stitches which have been used in various areas of Multan. The Pashtun tribe in Multan has a tradition of making embroidery shawls - Sargah, for the bride which is presented to her on her wedding day. The different casts of Pashtuns like Gardezi, Khakwani and Durrani's usually owns this tradition. The Sargah is made in different styles which has the white base colour and embroidered with multi-coloured thread. The shawl is decorated with darning stitch along with many other stitches. The overall look of Sargah is similar to the baghs of phulkari. Each region in Punjab has different kinds of Phulkari Baghs. The visual communication through embroidery is a tradition which dates back to ancient civilizations. Khan is also planning to open a boutique to exceed her business on big level to get commission work. Khan lives near Ghanta Gher Mohala Kiri Akhwanan, Abdali Road and according to her, the main centre of embroidery work is Nang-Shah which is near to Multan. Twenty to twenty-five homes linked with embroidery tradition in Nang-Shah. There is another woman who was working for thirty to forty years, she is old now and not able to work further. Her name is Kulsoom and she lived in Rasheedabad. In Multan, Adda bili wala and Laar there are ten to fifteen women who are working in embroidery. She said initially we have to choose fabric, colour, design with my own sensibility keeping local aesthetics because in villages people like dark and bright colour and in big cities people like light colours. She also said that I invest a lot of money in experimentation of different design and combinations to make sample to get order. According to her, this profession needs a lot of time, money, aesthetic sensibility and trips to villages and then different cities to make clientele. There are also centres in Government level, for instance, Poly-technical College Mumtazabad, Shehnaaz Bibi works there for ten years and she trained so many students in that time period. Sanat Zaar is also another centre of embroidery and other local crafts to teach skills to girls and women to earn money.

References A. Banerji. Phulakris: A Forlk Art of Punjab. Marg, Vol.8, No.3, 1955. Beste Micheal. Hopes and Dreams- Phulkari and Bagh Embroideries of Punjab. First Published in Hali Magazine, 2000. Hitkari S.S. Phulkari: The Folk Art of Punjab. Phulkari Publication, New Delhi, 1980. J. Harvery. Traditional Textile of Central Asia. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 2002. K. S. K Dongerkery, The Romance of Indian Embroidery. Thacjer and Company Ltd, Bombay, 1951. Khurshid, Z. Phulkari: A dying Folk Art of Punjab. Lahore: Lahore Museum Bulletin V (1), 1992. M. Paine. Textile Classics. Mitchell Beazley Publishers, London, 1990. Maskiell M. Embroidery the Past Phulkari Textiles and Gendered Work as "Tradition" and "Heritage" in Colonial and Contemporary Punjab. The Journal of South Asian Studies, 52. 1999. Pal, Ram. The Phulkari, a lost Craft. Delhi, Delhi Publisher, 1955. Randhawa, M.S. Editor-in- chief. Punjab (In Punjabi) Bhasha Vibhag Punjab, Patiala, 1960. S. D Naik, Traditional Embroideries of India, A. P. H. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, 1996. S. Das. Fabric Art: Heritage of India. Abhinav Publication, New Delhi, 1992. Tondon, Parkash. Punjabi Century 1857-1947. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.


Acknowledgements to: Wardah Naeem Bukhari PhD Scholar, College of Art & Design, University of Punjab, Lahore


Credit to:

The Embroidery of Emotions

Darshandawar or Darwaza Phulkari

(Picture credit -

Shishendar Phulkari.png