Flower power

Alisha Shinde
Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Sholapith artist Rina Samaddar, who will be holding a four-day workshop in the city, explains the cultural significance and the intricate craftsman skills associated with the art form

In an art workshop to be held in the city, meet the malakars, who will teach you how to make pretty, intricate designs from Sholapith. For the uninitiated, Sholapith comes from the name of the plant Shola or Kuhila, which is a wild plant growing in the wild marshy areas of West Bengal.

After a brief visit to Murshidabad and understanding their art form and documenting it, the Hands On Studios team has invited two master artisans of Sholapith carvings —  Rina Samaddar and her daughter, Suparna, to hold workshops in the city.
Before the workshops begin on April 18, we catch up with the artists who tell us how they learnt the art form and how it improved their economic status.
The Journey 
Rina says that Sholapith spells economic independence for her; it’s more than a mere art form. Says she, “I joined the training programme initiated by the West Bengal government to learn the art form as a way to support my husband and children. Prior to that we were working on limited wages, so you can say that Sholapith really boosted our finances.”
Rina adds that she picked up the ancient art form because the trainers at the centre began teaching simple carvings before moving on to the complex ones. “It is very important to first get your basics clear before advancing in any art form to excel,” adds the artist. 

When asked how did her daughter, Suparna pick up the art, Rina replies, “My trainer asked me to bring along a family member to the class so that they could see the process of making Sholapith carvings. Since the time she attended her first class, Suparna got hooked on to it and pursued it just the way I did. Now both of us want to teach the art to several other people because it is not only pretty to look at but also interesting to make.”  

How to make it
In the carving workshop, participants will be making intricate, decorative flowers from the soft, supple core of the shola stem. These light weight and water-resistant aquatic 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 which is ideal for carving. The carving of the stem is an intricate process and needs a considerable level of expertise which will be taught in this four-day workshop.

“The craftsmen and women are called malakars and they traditionally supplied shola flowers and decoration accessories to the temples. Even today, idols of various gods and goddesses are attired with shola work,” she adds. 

When asked what is the process of making Sholapith, Rina explains, “The Sholapith is the core of the plant and it is the inner soft, milky-white and spongy material. The main raw material used in the craft is the stem of the plant. Once the plant grows, people are expected to collect them before the ditch, in which they are planted, dries up. These plants become light when dried and then we cut them into fine pieces or pith, as it is commonly known, as per the requirements of the carving to be made.”
Culturally significant 
Rina says that Sholapith is not just an art form with pretty, delicate and intricate designs and patterns. It has cultural and religious significance too. “Sholapith forms an important part of many religious rituals in West Bengal including the mukut (crown) of goddess Durga during Durga Puja, as well as Saraswati Puja and also the headgear that brides and grooms wear during the wedding rituals. Till date, idols of various gods and goddesses are attired with shola work in Bengal and elsewhere,” adds the artist. 

At the workshop, Rina and Suparna will teach how to carve out 10 different types of flowers with and without the skin of the shola stem. “It is at these workshops that I can give back what the art form has given me — respect as an artist and my livelihood. The work is so delicate that it also helps in concentration and releases stress,” she points out. 

ST Reader Service
Sholapith workshop will be held at University Women’s Association, Gokhale Nagar, April 18-21 from 10 am to 1 pm and at Malaka Spice, Baner from 3.30 to 6.30 pm. For details, visit the Hands On Studios Facebook page

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