Sitalpati, literally cool mats are popular, aesthetic in design, luxurious in their feel and more expensive than other mats made from reeds and natural fibres. Sitalpati mats are crafted from the marantra dichotoma or mutra reed and it use is ubiquitous – from sleeping to sitting on, as a floor mat and a prayer mat and as a wall hanging.
A relatively new design development has been the use of sitalpati mat cuttings as an embellishment on bags of all varieties, on pen stands and other table top items.
Exceptionally well suited to the warm humid climate of Bangladesh these mats are as prized for their comfort as for their exceptional beauty. It is said that the best type of sitalpati mat is so silky that a snake cannot move across it as its smoothness allows no friction to the wriggling body of the reptile, without which it can make no progress.
TECHNIQUE AND PROCESS
Maranta reed grows wild in marshy places and for the purpose of making the reed mat, the artisans first make fine strips of the reed which are then seasoned and cured by soaking them in water before they are slashed into thin strips for making the pati – this first step will eventually reflect in the quality of the pati, the time taken for its weaving, and the softness, pliability and durability of the mat while in use. The natural golden shade of the warp is interwoven with maroon slips in the weft to create a timeless pattern of colour and design. Bordered with two or three lines of geometric patterns, the mat is divided into four or six sections with a stylised birds, animals or flowers woven into each to complete the arrangement.
The reeds are woven in a diagonal criss cross to produce geometric patterns with lines, diamonds, chevrons and quadrangles. Maroon strands are alternated with natural ones to weave stylised designs of deer’s, birds, tigers, a mosque, or a star motif. The pati is so soft and pliable that a large piece measuring over 6 feet can easily be folded into a small roll of six inches.
In Balaganj in Sylhet, Shatoir in Faridpur, and Jainpur in Mohanganj where the most smooth and well designed sitalpatis are made, the finest quality are renowned for their cooling effect. The figured sitalpati mats made in the districts of Faridpur and Sylhet are especially famous for their superb workmanship and excellence of design. In Sylhet mats are also made which are decorated with beads and stripes of ivory.
Regional variations and styles exist in the making of a mat. In the case of Sylhet sitalpati the weaving starts from the middle of the strips and ends by bending at the right upper most corner. In the case of Boalmari and Jhalakathi sitalpati one side of the pati is closed by stitching it with a red cloth. The Botni pati is woven from the bottom left corner ending at the right top corner with a plait. Most commonly, except in case of very fine natural colour pati, there are geometric patterns and motifs of flora and fauna. Sylhet produces the best sitalpati in terms of softness and finesse, closely followed by the open ended fine sitalpati of Boalmari and Jhalakathi. A fine quality sitalpati of 6’ x 4’ size of this variety can be squeezed into a closed palm.