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Darshan Dwar Phulkari

Artist/maker unknown, Punjabi

Made in Punjab, eastern Punjab, India, Asia

20th century

Handspun cotton plain weave (khaddar) with silk and cotton embroidery in darning, pattern darning, herringbone, cross, buttonhole, stem, Cretan, and double-line/zigzag stitches

7 feet 9 1/2 inches × 52 1/4 inches (237.5 × 132.7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Phulkari Collection

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The large, abstracted yellow doorways or gateways found across the body of this phulkari give it its name: Darshan Dwar (Doorway to the Divine). Devotees presented this type of phulkari to temples or gurudwaras (Sikh places of worship) as prayers or offerings in exchange for which their wish would be fulfilled. It is unclear exactly what these gateways are intended to depict in terms of actual architecture. They certainly echo much older religious buildings in the general region, for example the pointed entryways seen on eight- to ninth-century Hindu temples in Kashmir, the region just to the north of the Punjab. If religious structures are the origin of the form, the figures inside the arched openings could be worshipers carrying offerings in pots on their heads. Alternately, the line of gateways could illustrate a street scene: rows of houses with women standing in each doorway, watching as a train with its passengers—shown in the center of the cloth—passes through town (two even more stylized trains appear in the end border).

Suspended above the heads of many of the figures in the doorways and spotted around the cloth are large and small images of jewelry. The motif of wedding jewelry—including elaborate earrings, necklaces, bracelets, nose rings, and hair ornaments—is often found on figurative phulkaris such as Darshan Dwar and Sainchi. What is striking about the representation of jewelry in this phulkari is the sheer amount: ornaments appear both inside and outside the large doorways, in some cases surrounded by animals as if being protected by them, such as the oversized lion who guards a shringar patti (forehead ornament) on one side of the phulkari.

Phulkari is the name given to a style of embroidery originally made throughout the Punjab region of present-day India and Pakistan. It loosely translates from Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu as “flower work” or “flower craft” (phul means flower, kari means work). Women covered large cloths with this type of embroidery for themselves and their families to use as oversized shawls or veils (odhinis), wall hangings, or bed covers. Phulkaris are characterized by the use of brightly colored un-plied (un-twisted) silk thread, known as pat, that is embroidered onto handspun, handwoven cotton fabric, known as khaddar. The khaddar base cloth used to make a phulkari was spun, woven, and dyed locally, while artists purchased the pat from traveling merchants who brought silk from Afghanistan, Bengal (eastern India and Bangladesh), and China. The dominant embroidery stitch in phulkaris is the darning stitch. However artists used a range of stitches when making a phulkari, including running, chain, herringbone, buttonhole, stem and Cretan stitches. There are several different styles of phulkari each with a unique set of motifs and names, such as thirma phulkari, bagh, sainchi phulkari, chope, and darshan dwar.

Traditionally women learned the art of embroidering phulkaris from their mothers, grandmothers, or older female relatives and friends; a girl began to embroider at a young age, and eventually was tasked with making phulkaris to be included in her dowry upon marriage. Phulkaris were an important part of a woman’s material wealth that she brought with her to her new home after marriage. In addition to being worn as odhinis, phulkaris were also used as bistre (bedding fabrics), layered with chaddars (thin sheets) and dhurries (thicker woven rugs) to create cushioning on a charpoy (woven cot). For special social functions or religious ceremonies phulkaris were hung on the walls of homes and temples.

The earliest extant examples of phulkaris date only from the nineteenth century, though references to them in earlier writings suggest a much older origin for this type of embroidery. At the time of independence from Great Britain in 1947, the Punjab was partitioned. The western portion became part of Pakistan, the eastern part of India. Thanks to this upheaval, phulkari production declined significantly in both halves. Today, phulkaris are made and used on the Indian and Pakistani sides of the Punjab, but in a dramatically altered form.