NEW DELHI — The resplendent art, culture and handicrafts of Punjab thrived at the fifth annual ‘Mela Phulkari’ drawing high-ranking government officials, exceptionally gifted artistes and a discerning audience to the lush and sprawling grounds of the India Habitat Center in the heart of India’s capital city.
MaryKay Carlson, current Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Delhi and former acting ambassador, said she was enjoying serving in a key diplomatic post in the capital city. “The US-India partnership is vital”, she underscored. “It’s really hard to think of a more consequential relationship right now in the world. So, it’s an exciting time to be here”, she said.
About Mela Phulkari, she enthused, “The culture and the vibrancy, you just can’t beat it”.
The event, primarily comprising an exhibition to preserve the handicrafts and heritage of Punjab, is being held February 10 to 19 in the Open Palm Court gallery. It is organized under the ensign of Punjabi concept store 1469 established by Harinder Singh and his wife Kirandeep Kaur, with Dr. Alka Pande, an art historian, serving as curator of the fair. This year, the theme is ‘Panj Pyaras’ — the exhibit highlights the five loved ones, and the symbology of five in the land of five rivers.
Mela Phulkari 5 kicked off Saturday with a riveting cultural show featuring stellar performances at the enchanting outdoor amphitheater. Headlining the event were: Sufi singer Rabbi Shergill; legendary songstress Gurmeet Bawa of Amritsar; Punjabi singer Jasbir Jassi; director Imtiaz Ali of ‘Jab We Met’, ‘Love Aaj Kal’, ‘Rockstar’, ‘Highway’ fame; Sardars of Sangrur, a traditional folk music group led by Major Singh; and Denmark-based artiste Christine Meier who performed with the Delhi-based Ashke Bhangra Crew. Radio jockey Jassi and aspiring actress Naila Grewal served as eloquent co-emcees.
In keeping with the mission of the Mela, the Sardars of Sangrur, clad in bright orange-colored outfits and yellow turbans, enthralled the audience with their mastery of rarely heard folk instruments including the doru, tumbi, daria, ransingha, dhad, algoza, khanjira and khartal. Music to the ears, such pure and unadulterated sounds!
“It’s absolutely mesmerizing”, gushed DCM Carlson.
Former Union Minister and Chief Election Commissioner Dr. M.S. Gill commended the Sardars of Sangrur for highlighting instruments which are seldom heard today and, in the process, reviving the rich culture and tradition of their homeland. Lamenting that such music is rarely heard in modern-day Punjab, he hoped some high-ranking officials from the state could hear the group and promote their art.
Meier, who leads a workshop ‘Bhangra by Christine’, was on a month-long trip to India. “I came here to Delhi to perform with 1469 today and show my bhangra skills”, she told us.
Meier is relatively new to the dance form: she has been performing bhangra for the last five years. In her teenage years, she dappled with hip hop, ballroom and belly dancing until she found her true calling.
“I saw a bhangra team on television”, she said. “I love Punjabi music, Indian music in general. So, I decided to pick it up and bring it to Denmark”. Her enthusiasm for the vibrant dance form took her to Mumbai where she attended dance classes in bhangra and the Bollywood style. Subsequently, she kept visiting Delhi and Chandigarh to hone her skills in bhangra.
Incidentally, Meier is the only instructor for this dance form in her native country. “There was a lot of misunderstanding about India some five years ago”, she told us, explaining that “Some people do not know who the Sikhs are, why they wear turbans. I want to show how many nice things you can find in India”, she said.
“Even I was scared when I went to Mumbai for the first time”, she admitted. “But, India has so much to offer. That’s what I want to show the people in Denmark. India is not just about food and Bollywood films”, she said.
About the size of the Indian community in Denmark, she informed us that it is small (estimated to be nearly 12,000 expatriates), of which Punjabis comprise a really small percentage. “But, I manage to gather people together and forge friendships”, she said.
Meier was delighted to be in Delhi for Mela Phulkari where she teamed up with six talented artistes of Ashke Bhangra Crew to present an energy-packed performance on the enchanting outdoor stage.
Phulkari is the popular embroidery technique of Punjab, but it denotes much more than that. Dr. Pande notes, “Phulkari is a metaphor” not just for a “textile on which the women of Punjab embroider their dreams and their lives, but a leitmotif that represents the complex web with which the crafts and culture of the land are enmeshed”.
A statement from the organizers reads: “Phulkari is an expression of women marveled by the gift of life, narrating festivity and fertility, or just the endeavor of women, engulfed in struggle and hardships, to find joy. Phulkaris could be crafted over cherished conversations about children and marriage, or women indulging in sincere devotion to the Almighty for the sanctity of life. Each Phulkari has a story to tell. Each story is a heartfelt enchantment”.