Study of the Cultural History of Phulkari Textiles of Punjab
A EXPLORATORY STUDY ON THE
CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE PHULKARI TEXTILE OF PUNJAB
For years my lovely antique phulkaris (that number over a hundred) have beseeched me to go out to their homeland and find out more so that I may comprehend them better.
A motif here, an inscription there would beg me to understand them deeper.
And I’d make some effort that would yield some answers but satisfy neither of us (me & the phulkari). When the questions came up in our conversations (between me & the phulkari) late at night, [like those with nagging children who never forget the promises we make of the great things we’ll give them ‘tomorrow’ – it’s always for tomorrow – the day that never comes] I’d once again pacify them and myself with the oft-repeated “someday soon”.
For, as my poet-husband wrote “life is forever in debt of plans“.
Well in Jan 2019, the time came for that particular debt to be squared.
So in January 2019, I headed to a wintry Punjab to explore the cultural significance of the Phulkari Textile.
Facts arising from books, independent observations and conversations dot the canvas of my knowledge on the subject. The patterns that these dots form when I connect them in my head need to be confirmed or debunked. And the only people who have the knowledge are the people who created and used them as a part of their culture.
Dealers are good preliminary sources but they have their limitations. And books offer a good starting point but for every book, the starting point, its route and the destination of the author may not always match the reader’s. So it is important to do some primary research to satisfy one’s own curiosity.
Certain observations in the Phulkari textiles in my collection had piqued my interest in their traditional usage at the time when they were made i.e. early 1900s and before.
So I went in search of grand old ladies – the ones who still hold the stories of their mothers and grandmothers that were alive in the early 1900s.
I went armed with questions about the vanished lifestyle that was filled with the romance of love conducted through hidden glances and veiled suggestions. I went seeking me a glimpse of the world in which the metrics of wealth are very different from the metrics we use today.
Given the uber-urbanisd culture of present day Punjab, I wondered where we would find the old women that I am seeking to meet.
But serendipity had a most-pleasing answer to that question: we visited the remote rural regions of Punjab – including a hamlet called Sahouli near Nabha and the small town of Jaito.
When angels takes you on their wings to fly with them into the realm of the best of all possible worlds – this is what the itinerary looks like: