Phulkari (phool-kaari) literally means 'flower-work' is a form of traditional hand embroidery by the rural women of Punjab as a ceremonial veil or shawl for special occasions. It is part of a bridal trousseau and usually created by the women of the bride's family, now increasingly outsourced. The groom's family also presents the bride with a phulkari piece to welcome her into the new fold. Phulkari is usually embroidered with silk thread on coarse cotton and looks like the reverse of a darning stitch. Red is an auspicious colour, hence it finds prominence in the workmanship. The most common motif is the sheaf of wheat and geometric patterns. There are also figurative pieces with scenes from village life, that are used as panels rather than shawls. When the embroidery is done all over the body of a piece, it is called 'baagh' or garden. Since it is painstaking work, it also tends to be very expensive.
An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's October 2012 Issue.