(Last Updated on : 01/01/2009)
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. 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.
The Sholapitha plant is recognised by the shallow layer of leaves that float on the marshy water. These are then dried thoroughly. Good quality pith is pure white and smooth with a soft bark and no nodes. Kath, the Knife, is used to shave the outer cover of the stalk, so that the white core is exposed. The stalk is cut into cylindrical pieces, so that the white core is left after the outer layer is peeled off. Then it is pared and turned into a sheet. Dozen of such sheets are rolled within the other and the consolidated roll is tied tightly at both ends, into two and on the cut side v-shaped indentations are made with a sharp knife. These sides are dipped in colour solutions and dried. From the roll, the worker tears out an inch in length pieces by holding the uncoloured end between the thumb and the index finger, twisting the pith piece into a flower. Once the flat sheets are made, a dozen of these can be tied tight at one end and cut into pieces to create various shapes, both geometrical and floral.
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.
Procedure of making Sholapitha products
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.