One of the most innovative crafts in India is the Sholapith. Shola or the Indian cork is a dried, milky spongy plant matter, which can be pressed or shaped into beautiful and delicate objects of art. Sholapith craft mainly finds it’s roots in traditional Bengali weddings, and is also used for idol decoration in West Bengal. The makers of this craft are called ‘malakars’ as they sell these items used for decoration. This craft is in huge demand abroad too.
Sholapith is more superior to thermocol in terms of malleability, texture, lustre and sponginess. Shola is a herbaceous plant, originating from the bean family and grows in the wild, marshy, water-logged areas. It can be found particularly in the marshy areas of West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and the Deccan. Sholapith is the cortex or core of the plant, and is 1.5 inches across.
Sholapith is traditionally used for decorating idols of Hindu deities, and also the head-gears of brides and grooms in traditional Bengali weddings. In West Bengal, the craft is mainly practiced in the districts of Hoogly, Nadia, Bhirbum, Murshidabad, Bardhaman, Malda and 24 Parganas.
The making of craft items out of Sholapith is a tedious, elaborate and intricate process. In Murshidabad, the Shola craft is mostly exquisite pieces in flowery designs, decorative and ornamental head-wear of Gods and Goddesses, garlands, faces of deities, elephant howdas, peacock boats and palanquins.
Idol makers of Kumortoli who traditionally used to make clay idols, now use fibre-glass and Sholapith to make the idols. Fibre-glass idols are more expensive at Rs.1.0 to Rs. 1.2 lakhs. Sholapith idols cost around Rs.90,000. They are mostly purchased by Indian community puja organizers abroad.
In recent times, Sholapith craft finds more resonance in home artifacts. Products of Sholapith crafts are being exported to other countries too. Sholapith crafts quite resemble expensive ivory artifacts. They are interestingly termed as ‘herbal ivory’. The use of Sholapith instead of ivory is considered to be eco-friendly and economical, and has gained the attention of the global market.