SHOLA CRAFT IS THE ART OF MAKING DELICATE, INTRICATE, DECORATIVE OBJECTS FROM THE SOFT, SUPPLE, POROUS AND LIGHT WEIGHT CORE OF THE SHOLA STEM. SHOLA IS AN ANNUAL AQUATIC HERB WHICH GROWS IN THE WILD, IN MARSHY, WATERLOGGED AREAS AND AT THE SAME TIME WATER RESISTANT. IT IS ALSO REFERRED TO AS THE INDIAN CORK.
Like many other traditional crafts, Shola craft has its origin in the culture, rituals and religious requirements of everyday life. The craft is an age old tradition of Bengal. It is the art of making delicate, intricate, decorative objects from the soft, supple, porous and light weight core of the Shola stem. It is light weight and resistant to decay from water. Shola is an annual aquatic herb which grows in the wild, in marshy, waterlogged areas. It is also referred to as Indian cork.
This rare craft is used for making impressive decorative items, like ornate head-gears of the bride and the groom, garlands, decorative fans, animals, birds, dolls, images of gods and goddesses, elephant-howdahs, peacock-boats, palanquins, flowers and various kinds of crowns. Rituals and festivals are the platforms, the epicenter for the emancipation of such artistic traditions and an opportunity of patronage, promotion and propagation of the traditional skills of the grass root artisans.
Shola is a traditional craft and livelihood tradition in Burdwan. Total 171 artists are involved in the craft in Bankapasi village of Mangalkot block in the district.
The nearest airport to the location is in Kolkata. The road connectivity of the district is also very good. Interstate bus services connect the city, with key destinations in India, on a regular basis. Well-maintained four-lane GT Road is there for those who want to drive down to the location.
Shola (scientific name – Aeschynomene aspera) grows in the marshy areas. The carving of the stem is an intricate process and needs a considerable level of expertise.
The stems are submerged in the water and are very stout compared to rest of the plant. The plants are first uprooted and then dried until the stems turn brown. The artists then peel off the brown skin to use the soft core. The white soft core is ideal for carving. The core is cut into thin slices. These dry slices are then cut into decorative pieces. These pieces are then joined together with adhesives to make the final decorative items. The products are sometimes delivered to distant places and packed properly in an airtight glass case with black tape.
For making the Sholapith items craftsmen used 2 methods- engraving method and painting method. By engraving method the craftsmen produce Topor-Sithimukut, mask, Sholapith toys and dolls, ornaments of deity etc. it is very difficult work for the craftsmen to depicts or engraved the designs on soft material like sholapith. There is a high chance of accident if any mistake occurs. But they are habituated with this skill by hereditary. On the other hand, they used colour on some items. They colour on Shola sheets in their own traditional process of painting. The finished products are representations of the aesthetic sense of the craftsman.
There are 70 Shola craft units in Bankapasi, Mangalkot of Burdwan district. These units are mainly run and managed by the leading crafts persons. Usually 5 to 10 persons work in a unit but the number rises to 10-15 during peak season. A seasonal contract is made between the artists and the unit head and the artists are paid their salary in advance.
The Shola artists, known as Malakars, do some exquisite, intricate work by cutting and carving the reed to make decorative items and masks. The Malakars claim their descent from Vishwakarma, the Hindu God of craftsmanship and manufacturing. In the early 20th Century, before the first Partition of Bengal in 1905, a group of Shola crafts persons from Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) migrated to Bankapasi of Bardhaman district and started making ornaments and other decorative items from Shola pith.
The traditional Sholapith crafts person enjoys a respectable position in the society. They traditionally used to supply flowers and decoration accessories to the temples.
FOR THE 117 ARTISTS WHO PRACTICE SHOLA CRAFT AS THEIR PRIMARY LIVELIHOOD. THE CRAFT TRADITION IS FAMILY-BASED. SHOLA ARTIST, ASHISH MALAKAR HAS RECEIVED THE PRESTIGIOUS PRESIDENT’S AWARD. HIS FATHER, LATE ADITYA MALAKAR, AND GRANDMOTHER, LATE KATYANI MALAKAR, ALSO HAD RECEIVED THE PRESIDENT’S AWARD. LATE ADITYA MALAKAR WAS ALSO AWARDED SHILPAGURU PURASHKAR. HARA GOPAL SAHA AND KUMKUM MALAKAR HAVE RECEIVED THE STATE AWARD IN RECOGNITION OF THEIR CRAFTSMANSHIP.