Sholapith: Creativity unlimited

Sholapith: Creativity unlimited


Sholapith: Creativity unlimited

Created out of a whitish sponge-like matter which constitutes the pliant and soft core of a plant (called shola or sola) that grows in marshes in specific districts of West Bengal, as well as various other states, sholapith (or shola pith) creations resemble ivory due to their similar colouring, lustre and finish. Used widely in West Bengal, it is an important commodity in the region.

Once the plants are collected from their habitat, the outer covering of the plant is removed in order to extricate the core. It is dried before being shaped by specialised craftspeople (known as Malakars) adept at working with this fragile raw material. Using tools such as knives, they create finely detailed ornamental pieces that hold an affiliation to the sensibilities of the people of West Bengal.

Garlands, fans, figurines of gods and goddesses, palanquins, flowers, crowns and other items needed for interior décor, or for use during festivities, are some of the uses of sholapith. Statuettes of Goddess Kali, Durga and Saraswati encased in glass, decorated boats, ornamented elephants carrying noblemen, peacocks and bullock carts are just some of the sholapith figures that make for great presents. Their stark off-white colouring, with a hint of sheen, touch upon an essence of overall sophistication whilst lending subtle power and elegance to their surroundings.

Sholapith looks almost like thermocol, but of a finer quality. Sholapith creations are used for light as well as extensive ornamentation. Although brittle, sholapith pieces possess an ethereal quality that envelops the spaces they decorate. Bengali brides and grooms wear stunning ornate head crowns made of sholapith. In fact, no traditional Bengali marriage ceremony is complete without the use of the beautiful and customary headdress (called topors). Varying in design between that worn by the bride and the groom, topors look like large Indianised tiaras. The delicate finesse with which the pieces are crafted provide for a graceful application of artistry appropriate not only for weddings, but for numerous other occasions too. It is no surprise that pieces of sholapith craftsmanship form an integral aspect of the traditional and cultural facade of festivities in West Bengal.

One of the charms of sholapith workmanship is its duality of simplicity and intricacy. Beautiful complicated designs, shaped in a simple material, provide the craft its unique element. Tiny lines and delicate shapes, perfectly in tune with the larger contours, stand testament to the high degree of skill involved in sholapith workmanship. Retaining detailing and elaboration despite the fragile nature of the material, sholapith pieces are accompanied by a quietness of style and daintiness.

The colour, intricacy and craftsmanship involved in making sholapith pieces make them a unique substitute for ivory. Created without the poaching of animals, sholapith works undeniably stand at the helm of a harmonious co-existence between artistic beauty and the preservation of nature.