Shola Pith flower making
Shola plant, also known as the Indian Cork ( Aeschynomene Aspera) is a milky white delicate spongy plant. It is an annual aquatic herb that grows in marshy, waterlogged areas. The soft and supple core of the Shola stem is used to make delicate and intricate decorative items.
This craft is practised in parts of India and is known by different names. But popularly referred to as Sholapith craft, it is tied to the tradition, folklore, religious rituals and day to day life in West Bengal. Shola refers to the plant, while pith refers to the inner spongy tissue.
Various folklores deem the plant to be of divine origin and due to the milky white colour of the plant, it is considered pure and auspicious and hence used during religious and social functions. From the topor and mukut worn by the groom and the bride in weddings, flowers, garlands and other decor peices to Idols and puja items, Sholapith products are a staple in Bengali weddings, rituals and pujas.
To make Sholapith products, the plants are first uprooted and then dried until the stems turn brown. The brown peel is then discarded and the soft white core is carved into thin slices and then these slices are manoeuvred into the desired design and joined together with adhesives or tied with strings to make the final product.
The making of flowers out of the Shola plant is one of the predominant portions of the craft. The craftsmen to this day are known as ‘malakar’ or garland makers traditionally. Various flowers such as jasmine, rose, chrysanthemum, Kadam Phool and so on are made and strung onto a thin wire to be used as garlands to adorn hairstyles. Sometimes gold and silver threads are stitched into the flowers to embellish them and bright coloured paint is used to give it a pop of colour if desired. But the use of Sholapith flowers are not limited to garlands, nowadays they are also used in bouquets and unique decor pieces.
As far as craftsmanship and ingenuity go, Sholapith craft is above board. The craft empowers the community to keep on creating and innovating. But what truly makes Sholapith products superior to others is their impact on the environment. It is easy to dispose of these products as they do not create toxins in the environment. Even if customs and rituals demand the disposal of products used, it is easy to do so with Sholapith products as they are biodegradable. The possibilities of products that can be made from this material are yet to be explored. The craft is a true gem waiting to be brought into the limelight.