Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shola Pith Craft & its technology

Sholapith is derived from a reed that is available in the marshy wetlands of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam. This craft is popularly known as shoalpith in West Bengal and netti in Tamil Nadu. Commonly found on the marshy lands of Eastern India is a reed called Shola-pith whose scientific name is Aeschymene aspera. Inside the course grey outer layer of the reed is hidden a soft white inner core.
The core of this reed is white in colour and is exposed when the outer layer of the stalk is shaved. The core - light, porous, soft, and pliable - can be shaped to suit the imagination of the artisans. The artisans shape this reed into many objects like scaled down models of churches, temples and mosques, carved images of Maa Durga during Dusserha in Bengal, marriage headgear, flowers and garlands, and toys and mobiles. Flowers of a large variety are made from shola. The crown of the deities is made in paper pulp with the paper decoration fixed on it. It is one of the most impressive forms of ornamentation. Craftspersons spend months on a piece, carefully carving out the details. No part of the Sholapitha is wasted and leftover bits are used for making various designs of flowers, birds, and animal figures. Several flowers are made, like Jasmine, Rose, Chrysanthemum etc. These are strung on a thin wire to make crescent shaped veni stringled flowers with a wire fastener to go round the bun of hair. Slit tin foils are used for extra decoration, which is cut into different sizes and pasted to the pith pieces. Glass beads are also used for this process. Sometimes thin gold and silver threads are strung into the pith flowers to embellish them. The colouring on the finished product is done with bright coloured paint. Sholapith items form an integral part of the major religious rituals in West Bengal. The finest examples of the skill can be seen during the Durga Puja celebrations. Traditionally the artisans have also crafted ritual and decorative items like garlands, conical topors, or the head-dress worn by young boys during their naming ceremony and by bridegrooms, and the mukut worn by the bride. In Tamil Nadu the craft flourishes in pockets of Thanjavur, Karaikkal, Tiruchirapalli, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai and in the Union Territory of Pondicherry. Entire families are engaged in the craft. Artisans from Tamil Nadu even make model townships and replicas of temples, churches, and mosques, along with other architecturally significant buildings, complete to the smallest detail. An interesting feature of the shola is that it was the material used during British times for the production of the Sola Topi which was a necessary article of headwear as protection from the hot mid-day sun.

here in Bengal one of our sister trust "Chitrabon" of Krishnanagar jointly organised a workshop on sholapith topi. the crafsperson is the only surviver. Craftpersons like him with their artistic dexterity curve out a wide range of objects from the soft inner core of the Shola-pith evolving what is known as Shola handicraft of Bengal. Conventionally the Shola products were used in decorating Hindu idols and in creating the headgears of brides and grooms in a traditional Bengali wedding. But Shola handicrafts have in the contemporary time found a wider application in home d cor, as artistic objects with an aesthetic dimension. The images of Hindu deities, temples, churches, palaces, animals, kings and men are crafted out of the delicate soft Shola reed, expanding the creative aspect of a craft that had for long been enclosed in religious festivities.
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