Shola pith is a milky-white sponge like core or pith of the shola stem which is carved into delicate and beautiful objects of art. This plant grows wild in marshy waterlogged areas. The outer harder brown skin is peeled to reveal the core which is approximately one and half inch in diameter. Some may say that this core resembles artificially produced “thermocol”. However, shola pith is superior to thermocol in terms of malleability, texture, lustre and sponginess.
In Murshidabad this shola pith craft is used to produce flowery designs, decorative head-wears of gods and goddesses, garlands, exquisite figurines like faces of gods and goddesses, elephant howdahs, peacock boats, palanquins and many more products.
During the time the Zamindari system was prevalent, the craft was restricted to only religious and ritualistic products like wedding headgear, flowers and garlands. Although once the zamindari system was abolished there was a remarkable growth in public Durga pujas, and a consequent growth in the demand for the shola pith products. Skilful hands craft artefacts used for decoration and ornate head-wears of bridal couple. The finest examples of craftsmanship are however seen on images of “Gods and Goddesses” on festivals, particularly the massive decorative backdrops made for “Durga Puja” celebrations. Craftsmen spend months working on each piece and every detail is meticulously worked out.
Artisans practicing this craft, referred to as malakars, perform this simple process with great skill and a steady hand; which are the pre-requisites of the craft. The core which is obtained after removing the outer brown skin is sliced into strips, which are then shaped according to the artisan’s imagination.