The main raw material for the craft is stem of the Shola plant. This plant can also be seen growing wildly mostly water logged areas of West Bengal, Orrisa and Assam or in the month of Feb/March seeds are sown in the pit area. These grow up into matured plant in 5-6 months. People collect the plant before the peeth dries up. These are then cut into pieces of the size required to make a particulars product.Outer hard brown skin is removed to get inner soft white portion. This is then created into different shapes and colored if required.
Mostly deities of gods, masks, flowers and other decorative items are made. The beauty of the article depends upon expressiveness of the artist and fine ness with which he works.
Shola Peeth items form an integral part of religious rituals in West Bengal. The garlands, chandmalas, mukuts, conical topors worn by the brides and grooms are made in West Bengal in British times a hat made of Shola peeth to protect themselves from summer sun. In more recent times, sholapith handicrafts have found a wider application in home décor such as Hindu gods and artistic objects.
The product resembles Ivory because of its color but breaks easily unless handled carefully. It resembles artificially created thermocol but is much superior as it is malleable spongy and lustrous. White color is symbol of purity and sacredness. The items are meticulously worked out by the artisans who are also called Malakars, because they make malas from it. Pith flowers are made in Karnataka and Maharashtra also.
Via Antima Khanna
In West Bengal, this craft is mainly practised in the districts of Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Nadia, Hooghly, Malda and south 24 Parganas district. Sholapith craftsmen are known as Malakar, meaning “garland maker”, probably because they made shola garlands for idols and for the noble class.
About 5,000 artisans practice this craft. Craftsmen spend months on each piece. In Murshidabad shola crafts are flowery designs, decorative headwear of gods and goddesses, garlands, figurines such as the faces of gods and goddesses, elephant howdahs, peacock boats and palanquins.Shola products are exported to across the world. In South 24 Parganas, many poor families earn their livelihood from shola products. Big puja pandels of Calcutta are beautifully decorated using shola.
The idol makers of Kumortuli who traditionally produced clay idols have taken to making idols of sholapith and fibreglass. While fibreglass products can cost around Rs 110,000-120,000, those prepared from sholapith cost Rs 90,000. The height of the idols can vary from four to nine feet. These are mostly purchased for Indian community puja organizers abroad.