Sholapith Craft Documentation

Page 1


Craft Documentaion by Shohini Dasgupta and Sahaj Khetrapal Guide V. Sakthivel 1

Digital publication of a student document For private circulation only B.Des Textile Design 2012 National Institute of Design, Paldi, Ahmedabad , India Text Shohini Dasgupta Sahaj Khetrapal Photographs Shohini Dasgupta Sahaj Khetrapal Mapping Freddie Thaprii All rights reserved under international copyrights conventions .No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any other information storage and retrieval system without prior permission in writing from the publisher. Guided by V. Sakthivel Design Shohini Dasgupta Sahaj Khetrapal



Craft Documentaion by Shohini Dasgupta and Sahaj Khetrapal Guide V. Sakthivel 3


Acknowledgement The project would not have been possible without the help and kind support of various individuals. Every person we met or spoke to helped us in moving a step further towards the betterment of this project. Firstly, we would like to thank V. Sakthivel for guiding us through the process of documenting the craft and going through multiple presentation ideas. Also, we would like to thank Swasti Singh Ghai for making us realise the imporatnce of crafts and sharing valuable information in the form of research papers and articles. She has always been quick to respond to clarify our doubts on research methodologies. We are grateful to Mrs. Aditi Ranjan for introducing us to this craft as well as giving us the motivation to go ahead with it even though it is different from textile crafts. Our heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Manidipa Roy, retired Prof. at Visva Bharti University and an acclaimed dancer, for providing us with a place to stay and her constant support. She took a keen interest in our project and was a constant source of motivation and guidance, she even introduced us to important publications related to the craft. We extend our gratitude to Lalon Bagdi who escorted us to various locations and constantly shared his experiences with the craft. All the craftsmen, Sri Kamal Malakar, Indrajeet Debnath, Ashish Malakar, Ananto Malakar and Shambhunath Malakar for sharing their experiences and work with us, be it through pictures or actual demonstrations. The learnings from this trip to Santiniketan have been very valuable. And a very special thanks to our parents, friends and family for supporting us.



Storage area at Ashish Malakar;s house

INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 FOCUS OF STUDY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 BENGAL ABOUT THE STATE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 CLIMATE AND SEASONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 HISTORY OF THE STATE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 SHOLA IN THE PAST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 DAAK-ER SAJ POST NAXAL PERIOD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19 MAPPING OUR JOURNEY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20



HEART OF BOLPUR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24 BORO BARI. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 FESTIVALS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27 THE FOLK OF BOLPUR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 SANTHAALS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30 PONDS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31


THE RELEVANCE OF SHOLAPITH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 OTHER CRAFTS OF THE REGION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38


WHERE IT ALL BEGAN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 WHAT IS SHOLAPITH. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 PROCESSING THE PLANT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .46 TOOLS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .49 PROCESS OF CREATION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 HAND MOVEMENTS AND TECHNIQUES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 ANALYSIS OF THE MATERIAL. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 ROUTINE CYCLES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78 KUMARTULI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 MOTIFS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84


GLOBAL SCENARIO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .88 SHOLA APPAREL. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90 LEARNING PROCESS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92 HERITAGE TEXTILES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94 DESIGN INTERVENTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 - 103


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .104 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108



Introduction Craft Documentation at National Institute of Design is made part of the curriculum to enhance the students’ research, communication and documentation abilities in their particular area of specialization. Craft is a job or activity that needs special skill in planning, making or executing. According to George C.M. Birdwood, “Crafts are representative of crystallized tradition, not affected easily by foreign fashions.” ‘Handicrafts’ is a sector where useful and decorative devices are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools. Usually the term is applied to traditional means of making goods. The items often have cultural and/or religious significance. No craft was ever purely decorative, crafts have instead emerged as products out of community work related to agricultural or household needs. Artisans and craftsmen in India belong to a caste, tribe or religious community and yet each worker is an individual with his/ her own past and particular hopes for the future. Looking at the increasing global craft recognition we choose to spread awareness about Sholapith as a craft, to a larger audience by the means of this document. Kulos with Durga face moulds at a workshop



Focus of Study The unique properties of shola, its pure white delicate look

We therefore intend to collect some firsthand

as well as the intricate workmanship inspired us towards

information regarding the current practice of this craft

knowing more about this rare craft, that we have grown

and pick up some of its core techniques during the course

up seeing during Durga Puja and as an integral part of all

of the documentation. Getting a basic understanding of

Bengali weddings. The main focus of our study intends to

the culture as part of this study is a key factor to be able to

be the material itself, its journey from the time that it is

experience their livelihood to some extent and the

cultivated until the final product is made, as well as the

relevence of this craft in the region.

way that it is processed at the various stages before its final outcome.

Lastly, it is important for us to document multiple uses of the same material as far as possible.Other than its

A few other important aspects of our study include the

exchange value, our intention as part of preserving this

history behind this craft, its origin, and the

craft will be, to get an indepth understanding of what

communities which continue practicing this craft as part

meaning the craft holds for the craftsperson, so as to create

of their livelihood, recent evolution in the product range

awareness amongs a larger audience, such that they value

of this particular craft, a market study of where all it is sold

the craft as much as the craftsperson would.

and exported as well as its very recent entry into the international market also is a potential area of introspection as part of our craft documentation.



Streets of Kolkata



About the State West Bengal is a state in eastern India and is the nation’s fourth-most populous state, with over 91 million Inhabitants. Spread over 34,267 sq mi (88,750 km2), it is bordered by the countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, and Assam. The state capital is Kolkata. Together with the neighboring nation of Bangladesh, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. It is noted for its cultural activities and the presence of cultural and educational institutions; the state capital Kolkata is known as the “cultural capital of India”. The state’s cultural heritage, besides varied folk traditions, ranges from stalwarts in literature including Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore to scores of musicians, film-makers and artists.

West Bengal on Indian political map (i)


Climate and Seasons West Bengal’s climate varies from tropical savanna in the southern portions to humid subtropical in the north. The main seasons are summer, monsoon, a short autumn, late autumn and winter. While the summer is noted for excessive humidity, the western highlands experience a dry summer like northern India, with the highest day temperature ranging from 38 °C to 45 °C . In early summer brief squalls and thunderstorms known as Kalbaisakhi, or Nor’westers, often occur. Monsoons bring rain to the whole state from June to September. Heavy rainfall of above 250 cm is observed in the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district. Winter (December–January) is mild over the plains with average minimum temperatures of 15 °C . The seasons are divided according to the solar calender, their new year called Pohela Baisakh saround April of every year. 1. SUMMER

April-May : Boishakh

May- June : Jyoishtho


June- July : Asharh

July- August : Shrabon


August- September : Bhadro

Sptember- October : Ashbin


October- November : Kartik

November- December : Ogrohayon


December- January : Poush

January- February : Magh


February- March : Falgun

March- April : Choitro

Plains visited during the visit


History of the State The region of Bengal is one of the most densely populated regions on Earth. The Bengal region is renowned for its rich literary and cultural heritage as well as its immense political and intellectual contribution to South Asian hisCoin of Ancient Bengal Sultanate (ii)

tory through the Bengal Renaissance. The origin of the name Bengal is unknown. One theory suggests that the word derives from “Bang�, a Dravidian tribe that settled the region around 1000 BC. The word might have been derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga (or Banga). Ancient Bengal was the site of several major janapadas (kingdoms). It was also part of large empires such as the Maurya Empire (second century BC) and Gupta Empire (fourth century AD); and part of the regional Buddhist Pala Empire (eighth to 11th century) and Sena dynasty (11th–12th century). From the 13th century onward, the region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu kings and Baro-Bhuyan

Birth of Buddha: Ruins from the Pala Empire (iii)

landlords under the suzerainty of the Mughal Empire, until the British East India company took control of the region from the Mughals in the late 18th century.


The company consolidated their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and Battle of Buxar in 1764 and by 1793 took complete control of the region.

Pioneers of Bengal Renaissance: Raja Rammohan Roy (iv) and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar(v)

Kolkata (or Calcutta) served for many years as the capital of British controlled territories in India. The early and prolonged exposure to British administration resulted in the expansion of Western education, culminating in development of science, institutional education, and social reforms in the region, including what became known as the Bengali renaissance. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided during India’s

Streets of Kolkata during the British reign (vi)

independence in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities: West Bengal—a state of India—and East Bengal—a part of the newly created Dominion of Pakistan that later became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Brutal genocide in Bengal War of Independence, 1971 (vii)


Shola in the past The shola pith helmet—also known as the sun helmet, topee, shola topee, salacot or topi, is a lightweight helmet made of shola pith, with a cloth cover and a particular design and thickness designed to shade and insulate the wearer’s head from the sun. It was formerly much worn by Westerners in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Transjordan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, and other tropical and subtropical British colonies until the late 1960s. Later this style of hat became associated with colonial oppression and was slowly abandoned by the military, government, traffic police, etc. The Shola-style helmet has, Shola hats with leather belt(viii)

however, recently acquired popularity among traffic police in cities such as Chennai as a favorable attire during the summer as they insulate the wearer from the oppressive South Asian summer heat. These styles of hats feature puggarees, air vents, khaki or white covers, and green inner brim liners. Some have chin straps made of leather, in others they are made of cloth. Some Shola-style pith helmets feature a thin leather belt that runs from under the puggaree across the top. The chin strap commonly runs across the front brim. Shola-style pith helmets are still being sold in Indian, Pakistani, and Nepali polo-equipment stores, though they are seldom

Muslin covered pith helmets (ix)


used in actual polo matches.

Daak-er saaj Post Naxal Period The term Naxalites comes from Naxalbari, a small village

The ornamentation of the Durga idol done in sholapith,

in West Bengal, where a section of the Communist Party

is known as ‘Daak er saaj’, and is considered one of the

of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) led by Charu Majumdar, Kanu

purest, and indigenous forms of ornamentation. It exudes

Sanyal, and Jangal Santhal initiated a violent uprising in

a simplicity and sophistication, that of a woman rightly

1967. On 18 May 1967, the Siliguri Kishan Sabha, of which

respected, who everyone can connect with. Such is the

Jangal was the president, declared their support for the

respect and admiration that the people of Bengal have

movement initiated by Kanu Sanyal, and their readiness to

for the Godess Durga. This is the period when sholapith

adopt armed struggle to redistribute land to the landless.

‘Daak er saaj’ became known and is still practiced in many

The following week, a sharecropper near Naxalbari village

parts of Bengal, it being the traditional craft of

was attacked by the landlord’s men over a land dispute.

ornamentation for religious purposes.

On 24 May, when a police team arrived to arrest the peasant leaders, it was ambushed by a group of tribal people led by Jangal Santhal, and a police inspector was

The commoner’s goddess: adorned in red and white (x)

killed in a hail of arrows. This event encouraged many Santhals and other poor people to join the movement and to start attacking local landlords. During this period, due to the unrest, celebrations and festivities were banned. Post the Naxal period, once the social scenario was stabilized, people slowly started celebrating Durga Puja at an extremely small scale and did not have the afford-ability to invest in it. During this time, the idols became a reflection of their own state of mind and hence they kept ornamentation minimalistic and pure white in sholapith, reflecting the image of a simple Bengali woman in her cotton ‘tant’ sari. 19

Mapping our Journey The Shola plant (Aeschynomene aspera) grows mostly in the states of Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Deccan, but the best quality shola is said to come from Bangladesh. In Bengal it is mostly practiced in the districts of Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Nadia, Hooghly and other parts of the state. Birbhum is the northernmost district of the Burdwan Division. This land of red soil, has a cultural heritage that is quite unique. Birbhum is primarily an agricultural district with around 75% of the population being dependent on agriculture. The name Birbhum probably comes from the term Bhum (land) and Bir in Santhali language means forests, meaning the land of forests. Santhal tribes are majorly found in this region. The climate of the district is generally dry, mild and healthy. Burdwan is bounded on the north by Birbhum and Murshidabad districts, on the east by Nadia District, on the southeast by Hooghly District, from which it is separated by the Ajay river.


1. Kolkata to Bolpur station in train, then visiting Senkapur Digripara, a village on the borders of Bolpur- Illambazar home to Nepal Das, a farmer. 2. Surul gram where the celebrated shola artisan Kamal Malakar resides and works from, also where the workshop of Indrajeet Debnath is based.

3. Bonkapasi in Bardhaman district, home to Ashutosh Malakar. 4. Kirnahar, where Ananto Malakar’s workplace and home.



Sonajhuri Haat on a Saturday



Heart of Bolpur Bolpur-Santiniketan is a municipality in Birbhum District in the state of West Bengal. Santiniketan (meaning “Abode of Peace”) has a unique cultural identity. It was originally selected by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore in the 1860s for a residence and a prayer hall. Later Rabindranath Tagore started an experimental open-air school known as ‘Patha Bhavan’ here with the objective of educating the student in close liaison with nature. In 1921, the university Tree bark carved into birds at the Haat

named Visva Bharati came up as a centre of Indian culture and the meeting place of the East and the West. In 1951 it became a Central University and is specially known for the teaching of fine arts – music, dance and painting. Bolpur is rich in culture and diverse crafts. All these can be seen in one place at the weekly ‘Haat’ on Saturdays in the midst of the ‘Sonajhuri’ forest. Sonajhuri is situated very near to the northern side of Visva Bharati, Santiniketan. The traditional life of the Santhali community with their local art and culture make Sonajhuri a heritage destination.

Variety of ceramic products at the Sonajhuri Haat


Today the influence of Rabindranath Tagore can be seen on the people residing in Santiniketan, as every household follows the principles of living as introduced by Tagore where dance, songs, food, festivals, everything has mass participation and awareness of all cultural events is seen in people of all ages, thus making it a rich source of study. The Visva Bharti University at Santiniketan, established by Rabindranath Tagore is one of the things that Birbhum District is internationally renowned for. Rabindranath Tagore believed in open air education and had reservations about any teaching done within four walls. This was due to his belief that walls represent conditioning of mind. Tagore loved the land and the people, and spending most of his life here at Santiniketan. Students of Visva Bharti

Staue of Sri Rabindranath Tagore


Boro Bari Zamindars were the landholders of demarcated areas, and lived in Baris. Bari means a physical area that includes Bari courtyard: Property of the Sarkar Family

one’s home, and it could also be the area where a group of families with a common ancestor lives. They were responsible for collecting revenue for the monarchy and rose into prominence during the British colonial era, owing to the opportunity availed by the British in India. Mostly credited with cultural, architectural, educational, economical development and urbanization of Calcutta and discredited for exploitation of rural Bengal. The Zamindars had the priviledge to celebrate large scale Durga pujas within the compound of the house itself.

Place where Pujos are held

These zamindars trusted the Malakar community, (who practice the craft of sholapith), with all their religious and festive requirements. Though the Zamindari system no longer prevails in most areas in and around Bolpur, those of the Zamindar families live abroad presently and continue to order sholapith idols from these entrusted Malakars, and ensure that they carry out Durga Puja even today in their property which they have left behind.

Bari Pujo


Festivals The numerous fairs of Birbhum start with Poush Mela, beginning on the 7th day of the month of Poush at Santiniketan and at Dwarbasini on the day of Makar Sankranti follows through the Bengali month of Poush

Tribal dance performance (xi)

(spread across December and January) till Makar Sankranti. Particularly lively is the fair at Jaydev Kenduli, with the participation of bauls, the itinerant singers, in large numbers. Poush Mela is one of the most famous fairs in the state, drawing people from all over as well as outside the state. It is held toward end of December, marking the foundation day of Santiniketan. Holi, or Basanta Utsav, as it is called here, is another

Basanta Utsav celebration in Santiniketan (xii)

popular festival here, which is observed with all the colours and fervour. In this unique celebration, spring is welcomed through music and dances. Teachers and students greet each other with colours. All visitors take part in this revelry called Basant Utsav, which literally means ‘festival of spring’. This beautiful way of celebrating spring through an ‘utsav’ was started by Rabindranath Tagore.

Poush Mela in Santiniketan (xiii)


A Baul singer at the Haat


The folk of bolpur This district saw many cultural and religious movements in history. Bauls - the minstrels – epitomizes the voice and language of the people of the land. Kenduli mela a fair of bauls - held in mid January, provide an unique backdrop for these people’s singers and artists to share the pleasure, pain and life of the rural people. Baul performance

The Baul songs are a very specialized branch of Bengali folk songs. Baul song has a kind of hippie-like attraction to it. It is unique in itself, yet it seems to hold in it a lot of elements of the other branches of Bengali folk musical traditions. The word Baul means “afflicted with the wind disease”, minstrels, uncaring travelers, selfless wanderers, lost in search of their souls, street walkers, ones with no fixed address, ones who find happiness in richness of their minds, etc. Much of the Bengali society looked upon the bauls as strange people who forsake all comforts and binds of the family life and chose streets as their home and austerity as the way of life. Customs and traditions

Before Rabindranath Tagore, the Bauls were not regarded well by the Bengali society, for most considered them vagabonds and beggars as Bauls lived itinerant lives wandering from door to door in rural Bengal mostly subsisting on meager foods offered by householders. Tagore, was much influenced by the Baul music and philosophy in his poetry, music and thought. The Baul is also the man who can express what he sees with equal clarity, his imagery and metaphor drawn from everyday things, the river of life, the marketplace of the world, the once majestic house of the body crumbling into decay”.

they leave behind on the wayside.


Santhaals Santhals are the third largest tribe in India. They are mostly found in the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Assam. The livelihood of the Santhals revolve around the forests and ponds that they live in and around. They fulfill their basic needs from the trees and plants of the forests. Apart from this they are also engaged in the hunting, fishing and cultivation for their livelihood. Santhals posses the unique skills in making the musical equipments, mats and baskets out of the plants. This talent is safely passed on from one generation to the other. Our interaction with the a few tribal families was with regard to procuring the raw material as they are primarily cultivators. (from top) woman and kid through the woods, washing utensils near a pond, santhali girl, village house, lotus plantation, fishing is a daily activity, ducks in the pond serves as a source eggs and meat.


Ponds A general local term ‘Para’ means a colony of houses lo-

Fish and ducks bred in these are a major source of

cated usually in the vicinity of a pond. Paras developed

nutrition. The major occupation of people in this area is

over time around these ponds as they are centric to their

agriculture. The crops grown include, rice, genda flowers,

daily activities. There are many water logged areas where

lotus and sometimes shola can be found growing as a weed

the cultivation of rice and lotus can be found. In fact ponds

which only adds as an extra source of income.

play a major role in their lives of the local inhabitants of the region. The ponds are usually a few steps away from houses



Temple Mural near Boro Bari showing Durga in her various forms



The relevance of sholapith Durga Chala during Pujo (xiv)

Sholapith is used for making impressive decorative items,

Durga Puja is a five day festival where Godess Durga along

like ornate head-wears of bridal couple, garland,

with her children Lakhsmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartik

decorative fans, animals, birds, dolls, images of gods and

are worshiped. Godess Durga descended on the earth and

goddesses, elephant-howdahs, peacock-boats, palanquins,

killed the demon Mahishasur who was disguised as a

flowers and various kinds of crowns. However, the finest

Buffalo. Durga puja celebrates her victory and people

Sholapith works can be seen during Durga Puja, when the

thank the goddess for saving mankind from all evil. The

massive backdrops of the temporary temples are built as

preparations for this festival start much in

the stage.

advance, which involves making life size Durga idols which

As Part of the Bengali culture, the most significant festivals

are made predominantly in Kumartuli, Kolkata and trans-

include Dugra Puja, Kali Puja, Lakshmi Puja, the Benga-

ported to various places around India and also exported to

li new year Poila Boishak. In the Bengali culture, one of

other countries.

the foremost things one would get to hear about is ‘Durga Puja’ which happens annually in the month of October.


Sholapith is also extremely significant in a Bengali wedding as both the bride and groom wear headgears made of Sholapith, known as Topor and Mukut which is an integral part of the Bengali culture. It has a specific role to play, as the Shola is a sign of purity and the motifs have symbolic connotations to the marriage. Nowadays the Shola craftsmen have also indulged themselves in large scale projects like wedding decorations which fetch them a higher income. A topor is a type of conical headgear traTopor, Mukut in a Bengali wedding (xv), Closer view of Topor (xvi)

ditionally worn by grooms as part of the Bengali Hindu wedding ceremony. The topor is typically fragile and brittle, made of sholapith and white in colour.

The making of these idols involves multiple stages of work

The topor is traditionally given to the groom by the bride’s

and crafts people are proficient in such type of work. This

family. The groom dons the topor before the main cere-

includes- making the internal structure with hay, clay

mony begins. It is believed to bring good luck. Brides will

sculpting, painting and finally the ornamentation and in-

typically wear related, but differently-shaped, headgear

tricate decoration, known as ‘Daak er saaj’.

(Bengali: mukut).

Though ‘Daak er saaj’ has evolved over time,

As explained to us by one of the master craftsman,

predominantly post the Naxal period in most of Bengal,

Kamal Malakar, the topor is said to signify a temple of the

Daak er saaj was done using Sholapith. This tradition

sun god. The groom is identified as the son of the sun god,

has been integrated with other materials, as it continues

who’s spirit, depicted as a free bird is captured on this day

to be made in Sholapith even today. The craft of Sholapith

of the wedding as he is endowed with new

sculpting is still highly used to make the ‘Chala’, which is

responsibilities from this day onward. The topor is made

the decorative backdrop of the Durga idol, as well as the

of seven levels of rings, above which the bird is perched.

Chand Mala which is used as a decorative hanging from

Topors are also worn by infant boys as part of the

Godess Durga’s hands. Some craftsmen use these tech-

annaprashana ceremony, when they are dressed like

niques to create pandals using sholapith. ‘Daak er saaj’ is


still one of the most significant uses of sholapith in the Bengali culture even now.


Besides the significance of Sholapith in the Bengali culture, Shola flowers are used highly in Orissa as a headgear for their Indian Classical Dance form; Odissi, worn by the dancer as a headgear. The crown or Mukoot or Mookut, worn by the Odissi dancer is made only in the devotional city of Puri in Eastern Odisha. The reed is carved by a series of cuts into the pith stem and forms various types of flowers when a string is tied in the middle of the rod and pulled tight. As the string is tightened, the flowers shape into Jasmines, Champa (one of the five flowers of Lord Krishna’s arrows), and Kadamba (the flowers of the tree under which Radha would wait for her beloved Lord Krishna). The Mukoot consists of two parts i.e. Ghoba and Tahiya. The flower decorated back piece, called the Ghoba, sits around the dancer’s hair pulled into a bun at the back of the head. This piece represents the Lotus flower with a thousand petals that lies above the head in the head Chakra, or energy center. The longer piece that emerges from the center of the back piece is called the Tahiya, odishi dancers wearing shola flowers (xvii)


and this represents the temple spire of Lord Jagannath or the flute of Lord Krishna.

alpana (xviii)

general shola gift item

One can always find at least one small scale sholapith idol enclosed in a glass case in any Bengali household , mostly given as gift items. Gift items cover a major part of the production when it comes to Sholapith as a craft. These items include decorative pieces like a peacock shaped boat or Durga portraits made using Shola and are packaged well. Shola Flowers are also used for door hangings as decoration. Also, since the shola flowers are offerings to God they are considered auspicious. Alpana is a traditional form of floor decoration used on auspicious days like Lakshmi Puja and weddings etc. in West Bengal. Similar designs and motifs which are made in the form of Alpana are replicated in Sholapith as well at

shola door at entrance considered auspicious

many instances.


Other crafts of the region KANTHA Kantha Stitching is an age-old traditional craft which has its origin in rural Bengal where it has developed over the decades as a Cottage Industry. The possibilities of Value addition in seamed and seamless apparel via utilization of Kantha Stitch is very high. The rich and exquisite hand embroidery Kantha work has a high appreciation in the international market which needs to be further harnessed for Value additions. The raw materials and tools used for this crafts are cloth, thread, beads, tracing paper, stitching machine, needle, scissors, press iron etc.

Fine kantha stitch on silk (xix)

BATIK Batik is an ancient art. The wax process was brought to India by late Rathindranath Tagore. Son of the famous poet Rabindranath Tagore. The word batik actually means ‘wax writing ‘. It is a way of decorating fabric by covering a part of it with a coat of wax and then dyeing the fabric. The waxed areas keep their original color and when the wax is removed the contrast between the dyed and areas without the dye make the pattern. The crackle effect of batik is the most fascinating part which makes it unique. This results when the cooled wax is cracked to allow the dye to penetrate in the final dye bath. 38

Santiniketan Batik (xx)

LEATHER Leather handicraft is the largest type of crafts being done in the Birbhum District. The uniqueness of the crafts done in this area is the Etching, Embossing and batik styling that is synonymous with Shantiniketan. The beauty of this product is the utilization of vegetable tanned leather, which has the properties of accepting any type of pressure on its surface, which enables the creation of beautiful designs via embossing and etching. Amar Kutir leather products, embossed and block printed

TUSSAR SILK The concept of silk weaving originated many years ago in China. Soon the art traveled to India and became an integral part of the woven designs created in many form of garments, especially saris. During 18th centuries silk became very popular in Europe especially in Britain. In India the silk woven designs acquired their varieties through migration of the craft in various regions, where they evolved and acquired their regional characteristics. It is a thriving art and production of the silk fabrics is very high which requires a large quantity of silk yarns,

Tussar silk embroidered (xxi)

which is consumed by the industry.





Where it all began There are various mythological stories told by the locals that suggest the origin of sholapith. Often linked to religious purposes this craft is sacred and is used for festive purposes. 1. As the legend goes, Lord Shiva decided to adorn himself with a pure white mukut or crown and garland at his wedding with Gauri. But Lord Vishwakarma did not know which material to use. In exasperation, Shiva threw a lock of hair into the pond. From this sprouted a water plant- the Bhat shoal. Again Vishwakarma was hesitant, since he could carve only hard material such as wood or stone, but could not work with soft fragile material like shola. This time Shiva plucked a hair from his arm and threw it in water. From this emerged a young man who was ordered to create Lord Shiva (xxii)


wedding mukut, garland and ornaments. He was called a Malakar, ‘creator of garlands’.

The Malakars belong to the Nabhashakha group of artisans, which include nine comunities called, Kumbhakar, Karmakar, Malakar, Kagsakar, Sankhakar, Swarnakar, Sutradhar, Chitrakar and Tantubaya. The main castes of shola artisans are: Malakars, Pals and Acharyas. 2. Another tale narrated by a Malakar describes the descent of Lord Krishna on earth at a Brahmin’s house. He did not have any flowers in his garden to adorn the Lord, so he quickly made a flower out of the pure white pith of the shoal plant and threaded it into a garland using the sacred thread worn by them called ‘janeyu’ and made a garland for the Lord. This is also the reason for Malakars not wearing a ‘janeyu’ even today, though they belong to the brahmin caste, one of the identifiers of which is the ‘janeyu’. Lord Krishna (xxiii)


What is Sholapith Various names of shola plant are: shoal, bhat in Bangladesh and Kuhila in Assam. Two types of shoal can be found in Bangladesh: kath shoal which is hard and bhat shoal or Bhatua which is soft and light. Shola grows like a shallow layer of leaves floating on marshy waters at a depth of 2 to 6 feet. Pith collector has to wade into the water to collect this reed, which is then dried thoroughly and sold as sticks in length of 2 to 3 feet. Good quality pith has no nodes, is pure white and smooth with a soft bark. Poor quality pith is when it has a reddish core and hard bark. Best time for collection is December to February. Sholapith is very similar to the artificially-prepared Sholapith (Aeschynomene aspera) also referred to as Indian cork is a milky white sponge-wood which is carved into delicate and beautiful objects of art. ‘Shola’ is an annual aquatic herb which grows wildly in marshy waterlogged areas, ‘pith’ means the inner spongy white tissue lining. The plant can grow upto 7-8 feet in length and 2-3 inch in diameter.


thermocol in appearance. However, in terms of quality, the former has an edge over the latter, when it comes to malleability, texture, luster and sponginess. In appearance, Sholapith crafts look quite similar to the expensive ivory items. This is the reason why they are, interestingly, termed as ‘herbal ivory’. The use of Sholapith, instead of ivory, in decorative pieces is considered to be eco-friendly and economical. The places in West Bengal renowned for this craft are Birbhum, Nadia, Hooghly and Burdwan.

Illustration Contributed by: Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, U.S.A.(xxiv)


Processing the plant Shola stems grows wildly in marshy water logged areas, germinating at the advent of pre-monsoon when fields get moisture. Dormant seeds sprout and take 2.5-3 months to become a full grown plant. The cultivator wades through water to uproot these stems. The portion of a shola stem that remains submerged yields quality sholapith having all important traits for crafting. Initially, segmented shola stems are allowed to dry under the bright sun for 3-4 days until lush green stems become brown in colour. These are then ready for either storing or for immediate processing for decorative items. One bundle containing dry segmented shola stems is called Jhapi which has 300 pieces and costs around 200-300 rupees. In West Bengal, it is popularly known as Phool Shola and found growing in almost all districts: Murshidabad, Hooghly, Nadia, 24 Paraganas (South and North), Howrah, Burdwan, Birbhum, Midnapore (East and West), Malda, Bankura, Cooch-Behar, Dinajpur (South and North), Jalpaiguri. The area where we went to study the procurement of the shola plant, was a village called Senkapur Dighirpar near Illambazaar, in Bolpur district.


1. Approaching the area of cultivation,water level rising up to the knees. 2. Searching for the weed 3. At Senkapur Digripara, shola grows within the lotus plantation. 4. Uprooted stems of shola are collected in a bundle. 5. Height of stems reach 6-8 feet in height. 6. The leaves of the shola plant that were above water level. 7. Submerged part of the stem is highly preferable for crafting. 8. Dried shola stem becomes brittle and has to be checked for quality. 9. Once dry the bark and pith can both be used for creating decorative items

































Tools The tools used for crafting sholapith are brought from a local market and then sharpened by the craftspeople in their own workshop, by pouring sand on a piece of wood and then rubbing the knives on it. The knives are extremely light and very sharp. It is made of iron steel and has varying lengths from 28.5-33 cm long x 2.5-3.8 cm width x 0.03-0.05 cm thick, and 10 cm long handle. Usually 5-7 types of knives are required for the entire processing. For other processes such as pasting, sculpting and stem creation make-do household items are

6-7 types of knives used to give shape to this craft

used as tools such as empty pen refill, metal pipe, wooden sculpting tool, etc.



Process of Creation Malakars , the makers of garlands work with shola stem to create a variety of decorative items, but the most important and basic shola product is the ‘Shola Phool’. Used for inexpensive jewelery, garlands, door hangings, Pujo celebration and many more. These days they are often dyed in bright colours to attract customers. The malakar prepares the shola piece by peeling the shola into a long sheet and rolling it back into a cylinder. 1-3: The craftsman holds the rolled sheet tied at the bottom by a string and starts making cuts 3/4th the height of the cylinder (downwards) and finish cutting in one whole circle. 4-6: Adjusting the piece by making the outer layers stay higher than the inner ones, while making sure the string remains tight and intact. 7-9: The malakar ties one end of the string to his toeand pulls the other end in one quick motion. A beautiful blooming shola flower is obtained.

Sola Phool: pure, white and graceful

Other types of flowers can be created by changing the way the cuts have been made.


Hand Movements and Techniques

Embossing using an empty pen refill in a workshop

Cutting the shola, similar to the cutting of vegetables


The hand position while holding the knife

Emossing or creating patterns on the shola piece

Pasting the cutout shola pieces on the decorative giflt piece

Creating shola sheets from a cylindrical piece







Analysis of the Material STRENGTHS



Pure white


Erratic monsoon

The crafts people have the ability to visualize and craft three dimensional products.

Loses colour over time


No functional utility

Increase in the cost of the raw Material

Great variation or range in the scale of work; varying from small gift items to large scale backdrops used during durga puja


Very fine work- highly skilled crafts persons

Labour intensive High level of skill required Excess cost of packaging

Thermocol :a material it competes with over drying Fluctuation in festive trends crafts people Not getting sufficient remuneration

It is decorative in nature Defective or reddened crop The style of crafting varies from one craftsperson to another, resulting in unique styles. Light weight It is waste weed growing in stagnant water which is utilized it is found in water and dissolves in water once again as it is organic in nature. 54




Kamal Malakar at work



: Shurul Village, Bolpur

Type of practice : Individual practice, Master Craftsman. Skill Level Tools Used: Techniques

: Extremely High Skill level Steel knife, wooden sculpting tool : Carving, Sculpting, Miniature work


: Creating the internal Structure, sculpting figures, surface ornamentation, finishing

Type of products

: Small scale decorative products, gift items,topor, mukut, flowers, customized products.


: The ability to create extremely detailed shola pieces, ensuring the correct proportions, finesse,

intricacy and creating surfaces

with minute details

Showcased works in his workplace



Kamal Malakar is a renowned artist of the Surul village of Bolpur. He is the son of Lt. Bijoy Malakar, who many years ago established their family profession of crafting Shola under the patronage of the Sarkar family (zamindars), who belonged to the Boro Badi of Surul Gram. That is where the mastery over this craft began and it’s proficiency is still continuing through the hands of Kamal Malaker. The Sarkar family still continues to get their Durga idols decorated by the Malakars. Kamal Malakar belongs to a lineage of Malakars, and is continuing to keep up the name of the Malakar family in the society, which they have gained for themselves over a period of time on the basis of their expertise in this craft, Sholapith.

Miniature Durga idol as part of a chala


Kamal Malakar, a gentle and soft spoken person is highly indulged in his work, even at the age of 54 years. He works in his studio from eight o’clock in the morning, takes rest during the afternoon and continues his work until late in the night as per the demands of the order. He believes in speaking the bare minimum so as to concentrate entirely on the piece that he is working on without any flaws. Kamal Malakar is one of the few craftsmen working with this craft, who is truly indulged in his work to the extent of understanding the symbolic significance of every aspect of the created object and trying to make a spiritual connect between himself and his creation.

(a)Sculpting the face of Mahishasur to be placed in the chala (b)The craftsman’s assistant who is responsible for cutting and slicing smaller shola pieces


Kamal Malakar, works on a single piece for 3-4 months so as to create as much detail as possible and ensure no errors in the final product. He believes in quality work and testing his own skill to it’s greatest extent. In his words, he says ‘ I would want to see, what is it, that I cannot make out of Sholapith”. As per him, if one has a strong hold on the material and this craft, it is possible to mold it into any shape or form. He believes in constantly challenging himself, innovating, and exploring to create variety in his work. An example of such expertise is a decorative item that he had been working on during our visit to his workshop. He had already spent about 3 months on this project and was in his finishing stage of creating an idol of Balaji, which his client were to gift Mr. Ratan Tata, as shown in the adjacent image. It involves hours and hours of concentration, precision and mastery over the craft to be able to create such a piece, the making of which which we were fortunate enough to see. All the detailed pieces used for the surface ornamentation are seperately sliced using special metal tubes and the regular shola knives by his assistant, and are then assembled by Kamal Malakar himself with a great deal of concentration and expertise. He has experience in various other crafts as well, from earlier days. eg. Toy making, Batik, weaving, needle work to name a few. He doesn’t seem to have left any Intricately detailed Balaji Idol reaching upto 2 feet in height

craft untouched. His work is sent to many places around India and exported to other countries as well. The Bengal central government has also sent him to Oman and Boston for exhibiting his work. Other than this he has traveled


abroad on various other occasions.




Shurul Village, Bolpur

Type of practice : Workshop Skill Level

: Medium

Tools Used

: Sholapith knives, make do tools


for embossing, eg. pen caps etc. : Creating small units of basic shola motifs and assembling them.

Type of products


: Traditional ornamentation and

mass produced decorative items for

for large orders.


: Entrepreneurial, being able to carry

forward the craft simply because of

his interest, and being able to

manage a workshop consisting of

eight or nine people.

Khokhon’s workshop, finishing an order


Apart from the skilled craftsmen there are various small scale industries creating souvenirs and cheaper shola decorative products. We found one such workshop headed by Indrajeet Debnath aka Khokhon Da. He does not come from a lineage of Malakars, but having been inspired by this craft he chose to build on his skills in this craft. Along

Durga Kulo as a gift item

with 9-10 more people, Indrajeet Debnath (Khokhon) works in a rented workspace to complete orders from places like Kolkata or sometimes as far as Bangalore. He has been making Shola decorative pieces for about 15-20 years now and has good connections in Kumartuli (potter’s colony in Kolkata) and his business has been consistent. Aashish Bagdi, Abhijeet Basu, Shanku Das, Kishor Bagdi, Chottu Bagdi and Chandana Das, are a few of the permanent people working in his workshop.


Kali in a Kulo

Indrajeet, when in Kolkata in his childhood got inspired by this business at an early age and left his studies to learn Sholarkaaj from Kamal Malakar and Aurobindo Dada, who both reside in Shurul Village. He decided to remain in his own village and start his business in this craft, as Chandana Das, the only female artisan in the workshop

he had previously made contacts in Kolkata to supply to. Their time of working varies on the amount of pieces to be finished for the order. Sometimes during the festive season they have to sit through day and night to complete the orders. Recently he was sending 500 pieces of Durga on a ‘Kulo’ to Bangalore. The designs are made according to drawings approved by the person ordering, or based on examples of previous orders. The Kulo is sourced from near villages and are made by santhaal tribes. They use dried palm leaves and bamboo to make these, only to earn an extra amount apart from their everyday occupations of agriculture and fishery.

Motifs that will be sliced from these shola chunks





Type of practice : Family tradition Skill Level

: High Skill level

Tools Used

: Iron Steel knives


: Extremely intricate ways of

creating detailed jali work using

paper backing and shola sheets.

Type of products

: Traditional ornamentation, large

gift items, large scale backdrops for

Durga Puja


: Being able to create good quality,

detailed work and the ability to

adapt to a great deal of variation in

small scale creations. The unique

speciality of his, is to include the

external brown bark to give an


Shola storage space in the house



Ashish Malakar is from a village called Bonkapasi that lies in the Burdwan district of West Bengal. He comes from a family of three generations of National award winners in this craft of Sholapith. Ashish Malakar, his wife and his brother together still continue to make large scale ornamentation for the seasonal Durga Pujas, as that is their specialty, what is known as ‘Daak er Saaj’. This family of Malakars have innovated a new style of crafting sholapith with integrating the bark as well, giving it highlights of brown in places. This has a contemporary look, yet is organic and traditional due to their way of crafting the sholapith. The first to win the National award from their family was his grandmother, Katyayini Devi Malakar who was handed over this award by V.V.Giri, the then President of India. Katyayini Malakar took up this craft, brought up her entire family and stood up on her feet solely on the basis of her craftsmanship after the loss of her husband. She not only supported her family through the means of practicing this craft, but also ensured that she passed on the craft to her future generations, who until today are able to retain the quality that she had in her own work.


Idols and intricate cutwork using shola with its bark

Jaya Jaitly, in the book Vishwakarma’s Childeren, speaks of the ‘Story Unconcluded’ with regard to the injustice faced by craftpersons, particularly, ‘Women in crafts production’. She writes, Early writings pay little or no attention to the role of women in handwork, whether they were individual producers of goods or helped the menfolk by collecting the raw material or processing the product during certain stages of its manufacture. After the 1970’s, as the world became more conscious of gender justice and womens rights at the workplace, some sporadic reports and studies of women artisans, highlighted their unequal position. Amongst those under the poverty line, women have played the part of providing a supplementary income to the family by artisanal activity. A considerable number of women also head households as the sole earners in both towns and villages. Their enterprise and perseverance as well as inherent skill in handicraft activity have sustained and helped many to achieve a degree of financial security. (above) Shola sheets prepared in advance (below) Units prepared for Daak er Shaaaj


Among many such women was Lt.Katyayini Malakar,

Ashish Malakar is of the opinion that people outside

the grandmother of Ashish Malakar, who single handedly

India have greater appreciation and love for this craft

brought up her children and sported the family by the

after having traveled to Zimbabwe, Milan, Singapore, South

means of the handicraft, Sholapith.

America, and Scottland in the last five years. The village

The women of this family continue to work with

Bonkapasi is one of the few villages in which nearly all the

Sholapith even today. They are given a lot of importance

families continue to practice this craft.

and respected a lot in this family and in the village, since the time Katyayini Devi made the villagers proud by set-

Ashish Malakar explains that most people in the village

ting an example of the potential of women craftspersons.

are either trained by his father, or he himself has taught many people of this village. During the time of Durga Puja,

Aditya Malakar, son of Kayayini Devi, was of the next

the entire village remains pre-occupied with working on

generation, to have won the National award, making his

sholapith orders.

mother proud. From then on, till date, his son Ashish Malakar has continued the traditional craft work. This family is mostly involved in working on large scale decorations for which their preparations start much in advance.




: Kumartuli

Type of practice : Family tradition Skill Level

: High Skill level

Tools Used:

: Iron Steel knives


: Making units for ‘Daak er Saaj’ with

paper backing, gift items using

sculpting techniques. Process

: Creating the internal Structure, sculpting figures, surface ornamentation, finishing

Type of products

: Traditional ornamentation, large

gift items, large scale backdrops for

Durga Puja and wedding

decorations. Specialty

: Being able to create good quality

idols, detailed work and

the ability to adapt to a great deal

of variation in scale in the creations.

His specializations lies in large scale

projects such as wedding Mandaps.

His workplace and shop in Kumartuli



Born in a Malakar family, he learnt Sholarkaaj since childhood and also has many contacts in his business. He sends contracts to Indrajeet Debnath as well. He believes that Malakars were born to do this craft and to take it forward from generations to generation, but it is a growing concern whether the current generation wants to take this craft forward as their full time occupation. Owner of a shop filled with Sholapith art pieces in Kumartuli, Shambhunath Malakar works with his son and has a lot of people working under him as temporary labour, who he calls as and when required. He sells a variety of Shola pieces like Durga faces, shola garlands, gift items, does ornamentation for large scale durga idols, takes up large scale projects such as weddings and also gets quite a few projects for making items for export. Shambunath Malakar feels, that though the export market is bringing in a lot of remuneration for him over and above his regular orders, he finds it difficult to communicate his ideas sometimes to people outside West Bengal due to the difference in the language.

(above) Durga Kulos being sold at Kumartuli (below) Durga face decorated using jute fibre


Though the market trend of ornamentation changes from one year to the other, just the way the world of Fashion sees constant changes, however Shambunath Malakar continues to get his yearly orders from his regular customers who follow the traditional means of ornamentation ie. Daak er Saaj. He says, “ Traditional families come to us on the eve of Mahalaya every year for purchasing the crown for the Durga idol. They are interested in pure shola work rather than varieties.� The specialty in his work is the scale. As seen in his picture album, Shambhunath along with his team work on projects such as mandapams for weddings and decorate them with Shola, sometimes using thermocol and paper in addition, at times due to the extreme price hikes. However he describes that using thermocol or paper is actually offensive to the craft. Shambunath Malakar designs units and divides his work by getting multiple smaller units made in various other villages in and around kolkata, and then receives them and executes the final project by assembling it at the venue itself in most cases.

(above) Shambhunath Malakar’s son standing at a mandap site (below) Mandap for a wedding, red and white being auspicious colours at a wedding










10:00PM-12:00AM 2:00PM-6:00PM 8:00PM-10:00PM

6:00PM-8:00PM On the basis of our study of the craftsmen of different villages, skill levels and styles, this is the generic work pattern of shola craftsmen on a day to day basis, especially in and around Bolpur. 78















This study reflects the Annual schedule of procurement, crafting and ordering of raw material as well as finished shola products for weddings and festive season. 79

KUMARTULI Kumartuli is traditionally potter’s quarters in north

Clay modelers belong to the Hindu caste of Kumars, or

Kolkata. This Kolkata neighbourhood, not only supplies

potters one of the nine artisan classes of Bengal, whose

clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses for pujas in

rank stands just beneath the Brahmans and Writers. These

Kolkata and its neighbourhoods, but a number of idols

‘Kumars’ or ‘Murtikars’, skilled to make idols share the

are even exported. It is located in Ward No. 9 of Kolkata

surname Pal. There are at least 450 workshops in

Municipal Corporation, mostly between Rabindra Sarani

Kumartuli- mostly run by families that have been into

(formerly Chitpur Road) and the Hooghly River.

idol- making and pottery for generations. During the Puja

Kumartuli images are generally ordered well in advance

season, they hire extra hands from across Bengal because

and there a few for off-the-shelf sale. Nowadays,

making the idols of Goddess Durga is a grand affair.

Kumartuli’s clientele has extended to America, Europe and

Kumartuli is known to create close to 4,000 sets of Durga

Africa, among the Indian communities living there. Durga

idols every year.

images made out of shola pith are also flown to different

A typical Kumartuli idol is made of bamboo and hay, the

countries. Weighing only between 2-4 kilograms these are

bamboo serving as the skeleton and hay the flesh. Once

ideally suited for air travel.

the structure is ready, it gets a skin of entel maati, a sticky

In Kolkata, the icon-artisans mostly dwell in poor living

variety of clay procured from the bed of the Hooghly.

conditions even though some artisans have been in the

Once it dries up, the finishing touches are given with bele

business of idol making for a long time. Kumortuli’s own

maati, a finer variety of clay which also comes from the

Durga Puja dates back to 1933.


The preparations for Durga pujo begins as early as August and there is continuous hard work till October. The lanes were quite empty when we had gone there. Taking a metro till Shobhabazar, we walked towards Kumartuli as directed on the streets. Its like a shopping mall for festive items like Shola mukut, Daak er saaj, Shola idols, Kulo, Shola gifts, Chandmala, etc. 80

Making of clay idols in process


Hay Structures for idols


The goddess must be accompanied by her four children, the lion she rides and the curly-haired, muscular demon she is shown slaying. Among the assemblage of gods and goddesses is Kartikeya, the God of War, who rides on a peacock. He is a bachelor, and means to remain so all his life. Simple village folks say that everything was settled for Kartikeya’s marriage, and that the marriage procession actually started for the bride’s house. Ere it had gone far, he remembered that he had left something behind at home. So he came back and surprised his mother in the act of eating hurriedly, not with one hand only, as gods and men usually do, but with ten hands, the extra eight having been produced to meet the extreme urgency of the occasion. He pressed his mother for an explanation of this act on her part. With much reluctance she informed him that as daughters-in-law starve their mothers-in-law, she was making the best of the little time now left of her absolute rule over the household.. ”Mother, if it is so, then I will never marry,” said the dutiful son. The Durga form of the Goddess of Energy has therefore ten hands.

(a) Glittery decorations in market these days (b) A typical Kumartuli shop showcasing decoratinve products


MOTIFS 1. Chakra - a small circular motif with spokes along the

6.Shankha- Depicting a conch shell which is an integral

egde used as a small unit comining many of which, larger

part of the Bengali culture and played by the women on

surfaces are developed.

any auspicious occasion.

2. Chandmala - This larger circular unit is used as a com-

7. Phool- The basic flower used in this craft which is strung

bination of three such units, which are hung from the

together to make garlands.

hands of the Durga idol, depicting that she protects all the three worlds.

8.Teen Phota- This is similar to the phota- Three small units combine to make a decorative piece used on larger

3. Moyur - Depiction of Peacock as a small unit used

surfaces when comined.

for larger surfaces for making the chala. ie. backdrop for Durga Puja idols.

9.Phota - small decorative unit in the shape of a drop of water.

4.Shingho - A Lion face, used along with the Balaji idol. The Lion is said to scare anyone who comes near him.

10.Moyur Nouko- This is a commonly used in this craft. This is an amalgamation on the form of a peacock and a

5.Kolki- A mango shaped decorative unit used for larger surfaces.


boat which are thoughtfully combined.












Shola flowers made by a86 Visva Bharti student



Global Scenario Today, globalization is at its peak. With many Indians settling in other countries, there has been an increased demand as well as flow of money into the craft sector. Shola idols and souvenirs are also included in this. Potpourri brands sell special Indian cork, scented Sholapith. The white is preferred by the global market because of its simple and minimalistic look. Being lightweight it can be conveniently transported to many countries, if it is packaged with care. Shola flowers have been in the global market for the longest time as it has its simple appeal and blends in almost every market.

Shola dry flowers for export(xxv)


Shola potpourri for export(xxvi)


Shola Apparel Renowned designer Sahil Kocchar launched this collection, Phuler tora, which means “Bouquet of Flowers� in bengali celebrates the craftsmanship of the Shola Pith Malakars, originating from a strong fabric tradition, aesthetics and artistry, as part of the Willslifestyle India Fashion Week Autumn Winter 2014. The shola pith craft beautifully lends itself to being turned into a unique version of ivory and gold 3d hand cut embroidery. Every piece meticulously cut and shaped to fit into its perfect place.

Shola embroidered collection (xvii)


Sahil Kochhar at the Fashion Week (xviii)


Learning Process Slicing Sholapith

Our learning process included not only visiting the workshops and houses of craftsmen but also getting a hands on experience with the tools and shola. Lalon Bagdi, now a Dokra craftsman used to work with Sholapith and sell his products every week in the haat. He changed his line of craft since according to him, the sales of Shola products went down. But a hand that has already been trained can hardly forget a skill. The learning process was met with numerous challenges like working with the Shola flower made by a Visva Bharti student

brittle shola, using the sharp knives to get an even slice of the pith, etc. On interacting with a student of Kala Bhavan, we saw the possibilities of products from this simple stem. These students regularly have workshops with different craftsmen, including Kamal Malakar.



Shola flowers for decoration purpose


Heritage Textiles Design Project on Heritage Textiles required us : -To understand textile crafts which embody the values of the Handmade, using local materials, indigenous processes, traditional knowledge system and which provide cultural continuity. -To develop craft products relevant and desirable for contemporary lifestyles. -To position craft as a high value product which the consumer will cherish and appreciate for its intrinsic qualities and which will rectify the economic and social inequality faced by people in the craft sector. -Co-designing products to reciprocate craft communities’ sharing their knowledge as craft documentations. This would require identification of unique features of the craft, design vocabulary, materials & processes, creativity and innovation in the tradition. -To identify new opportunities for product innovation through user study, research & explorations on materials, processes, trends. -To build on the USP of the craft, in synthesis with user /market needs. This contempory aspect of the craft can be achieved through Design Approaches like Revival, Innovation, Social Design, Fair Trade or Global. 95

design Intervention intervention Design BY SHOHINI DASGUPTA

The market that I would like to target would essentially be the export market, as well as the urban sector by introducing utility based products in this craft sector. This would not only provide the crafts person with a platform to generate a greater income, but also bring about awareness of this interesting material and high levels of skill to a greater audience. Keeping in mind the other crafts and indeginous materials of the region, I would wish to explore the combination of materials with sholapith, as I see the possibility to bring some new products to their existing range in terms of home accesories and toys for children as the material is child friendly. As this is a craft material is very fragile,packaging becomes a potential opportunity area . Giving this craft an identity by working upon branding and ensuring that it’s story reaches out to many more people is also something I wish to explore. While working upon all these elements, it would be essential to strike a balance between maximizing the craftspersons skill level as well as offering them new possibilities, however ensuring that craft identity remains 96


These were to explore the possibilities of introducing colour along with Sholapith in an interesting way, and figuring out a colour palette tht works best with the pure white colour of Sholapith. Here, the interaction of the sholapith sheets along with light, has been explored to see the product possibilities of creating lampshades as a new product line.


The following images show an extensive exploration of flower forms of the local flowers of Bengal, the idea behind this was to bring about something new to the existing product line, keeping it as local in nature as possible.


This set of six coasters is based on the theme of florals as that is centric to the traditional craft itself, however trying to give it a contemporary look for the export market, yet using flowers of Bengal to keep it as local as posible.

This set of six coasters not only is a good gift, but also shows the transformation of the material from it’s initial stage to the traditional motifs. The concept behind this is that it brings a utility based product to their existing product line, at the same time communicating the unique properties of the material and making more people aware of the craft.


Design Intervention


Sholapith for me is an inspiring art form that makes full use of the materials in our immediate surroundings. Also, the craftsmen with medium skill level or newcomers to this craft who have been exposed to other techniques can still flourish in the market if they have designs or product ideas that can even be used in off seasons. Hence, utilizing Shola to the fullest and reducing the waste generated. Since Shola is an insulating material (like the shola hats), it can be re-used to provide shade in our houses. The main focus of this project is to bring the cultural value of this craft in our daily lives. Due to its immense range of characteristics, this material can be used for the betterment of the clusters that depend on shola. A major threat to this craft is the lack of recognition. In this project I tried to revive the cultural significance and bring it into our normal day to day life, by promoting the very material at the core of this craft. This can be achieved by designing products and a system that can bring awareness about the highly valuable material to this craft, i.e., Shola.


Exploration: creating stamps using sholapieces, opportunity to learn Bengali alphabets for kids

SHOLA sourcing Using leftover shola cutouts/ pieces

Cultivators who obtain shola as a favourable/ unfavorable (weed) in their plantations.

Recycling usable Shola already used in Mandaps, etc. instead of getting discarded.

requirements/ input


Mid-level skill level who wish to work on shola products for a different market OR Weavers who wish to find employment/ work with exciting new range of raw materials


Places that sell multiple craft products and have workshop facility and selling facility under the same roof, for eg. Amar Kutir in Bolpur district


Through workshops conducted at concerned organizations, like Amar Kutir.



Such a workshop will result in Woven shola blinds, that have insulating properties 101

The final product was arrived at for this project by trying to use the shola in a form that it is often disposed off in. Tiny strips of shola regardless of its length or quality were Woven Shola sample

woven using cotton warp. It gave a beautiful texture as an outcome and blocked light with a pleasing effect in the room. Also I tried weaving shola in strips recreating the Jamdani extra weft effect through shola. With insulating properties it provides for an excellent room divider or window blind.

Woven Shola sample against light Extra weft technique using


Mapping of shola blinds



INTEGRAL PART OF RELIGIOUS PRACTICES Sholapith, a material centric craft and one that requires high level of skill to be crafted, is a craft that holds great significance in the religious and cultural context, especially in the state of West Bengal. Whenever this craft is referred to, its identity lies in its usage either in the Bengali wedding as the head gears worn by the bride and groom or, as part of the idol ornamentation during Durga Puja which is one of the greatest celebrated festivals in the state. Therefore, it being an integral part of the cultural and religious practices, gives it a reason enough to be continued as a craft till date. MUTUAL BENEFIT OF THE CRAFTSPERSON AND THE POND OWNER Though sholapith is simply a weed that grows in stagnating water bodies, once put to use, not only cleans up the pond, it also fetches some income to the pond owner once it is sold for making sholapith products. At the same time, it benefits the crafts people as well, as they are able to get some amount of remuneration through their practice of this craft. The mere transformation of the sholapith from the stage of growing as a weed, which seems to hold no value, to being converted to something that is crafted with a great deal of detail and finesse, exudes purity like no other craft for its pure white nature, giving it importance in religious practices. This unique feature of the craft along with the extremely high level of skill acquired by the crafts people keeps the craft in practice. Moreover, religious practices are such that do not change drastically over the years and traditions are consciously kept as close to their origin as possible. This is one of the reasons for this craft to sustain its demand over time immemorial, just as the religious practices.


GIVING THE MALAKAR COMMUNITY A SOCIAL STANDING This craft is primarily practiced by the Malakar community in West Bengal and they are the few families that are pioneers in the craft till date. The Malakars gained a great deal of respect in the society, since the Zamindars and those higher up in the social and economic strata trusted in them for all their religious practices due to their mastery in this craft. The craft became their identity and their sole practice and livelihood. The ‘Pujas’ and weddings happening through the year provides them with sufficient amounts of work, and till date they have not found reason enough for giving it up as they feel that this practice gives them their social standing in society even today. EMERGENCE OF A GLOBAL MARKET There being certain changes in the market demand and market trends, the crafts people practicing this craft have now moved on to catering to the global market demands such as those of the Indian people living abroad and refusing to let go of their traditional practices. Sholapith is an extremely light weight material that can easily be transported in parts and assembled where required. This property allows the crafts person to explore a greater market. The crafts people also find greater appreciation for this craft in the outside market as opposed to the current trends in the Indian Market for loud colors and ‘Bling’. However there is always a niche market of regular customers that do not move away from traditions and the appreciation for this craft. Therefore the trend for Sholapith ornamentation, ‘Daakersaaj’ as it is called, never really goes out of fashion. THE CRAFTSPERSON’S URGE TO INNOVATE Some craftsmen who have practiced this craft for nearly all their life, and have mastered their skills are still challenging themselves by continuously trying to innovate and bring something new to the craft by creating new forms and sculpting new techniques using sholapith. This constant urge to bring something new to their collection is also ensuring the survival of this craft till date.


Glossary Kulos- Rice Winower made from palm leaves by the santhal tribe, which are used as a backing to place the durga idol faces, which together are used as gift items. Daak er saj- ‘Daak’ meaning ‘call’ Zamindar- Land lords/land owners Malakar- The community practicing the Shola craft. Bauls- The Baul are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal which includes Indian State of West Bengal and the country of Bangladesh. Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition. Howdahs- A seat for riding on the back of an elephant or camel, typically with a canopy and accommodating two or more people. Annaprashana- A ceremony held when a child is fed his or her first meal. Nabhashakha-Nine classes of artisans. Kumbhakar- The community which specializes in clay work. Karmakar- The Karmakars are traditionally blacksmiths or goldsmiths by trade.


Malakar- The community which practices the Shola craft. Sankhakar-The community practicing the craft of shell carving. Swarnakar-The community of goldsmiths. Janeyu- A sacred string that the people of the highest caste wear which acts as an identity to prove they belong to the Brahmin (highest) caste within the society. Kath shoal- The hard quality sholapith which cannot be crafted. Bhat shoal- The softer, white, good quality sholapith. Shola Phool- Sholapith Flower. Mandapams- a pedestal created for a marriage among the hindu’s upon which the wedding ceremony takes place around a sacred fire. Entel maati- Variety on clay procured from the bed of the hoogly river to give volume to the clay idols. Bele maati- A finer variety of clay also from the Hoogly river which is used to give finishing touches.


Bibliography BOOKS - Jaitly, Jaya. Viswakarma’s Children: Stories of India’s Craftspeople. Institute of Social Sciences and Concept Publishing Company. 2001. Print. -Pye, David. The Nature and Art of Workmanship. Cambridge: University Press, 1968. Print. -Agnihotri, Anita. Kolkatar Pratima-Shilpi(Prabandha). Ananda Publisher. Print. -Ranjan, Aditi and Ranjan, M.P. Handmade in India: A Geographic Encyclopedia of India Handicrafts. Abbeville Press Inc.,U.S.; 1 edition. 2009. Print. - Tagore, Rabindranath. Gitanjali. Rupa. 2001 Print. CRAFT DOCUMENTS - Kumar, Saurabh. Flower of the Wood. Ahmedabad, National Institute of Design. For DCS, MSMEs. - Zadeng, Patricia; Shah, Binoli and Vivapathy, Sakthivel (Guide). Tangalia: The Art of Dana Weaving. Ahmedabad, National Institute of Design, 2015 Print.


WEBSITES -Arts And Traditions Of West Bengal - Ghosh, Biswanath. The Godmakers of Kumartuli article2458906.ece -Nag, Ashoke. Visit the place where gods are on sale. -Heritage trail in Bengal -Santhals Tribe -Shodhganga, Electronic Publication -Nandita Palchoudhuri, About Shola 109

-Craft revival, Sholapith craft -Important india, Sholapith Craft (West Bengal Art and Craft) -Antima khanna, category: Sholapith -Kundan Ghosh, Sholapith Craft of West Bengal: An Overview IMAGE CREDITS (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) (vii) (viii) (ix)


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