Sholapith craft is one of the primordial handicrafts of the state. Sholapith craft of West Bengal recognized asone of the best example of elegance, exquisite beauty and finest craftsmanship. Sholapith items form an integral part of the major religious rituals in West Bengal. The people engaged as sholapith craftsmen are known as Malakar.
This paper aims at identify the production cluster of Sholapith craft of West Bengal. It is an effort to find out the cultural Significance of Sholapith craft and classify the products according to their uses. The present study tries to understand the production process of Sholapith crafts, the implements and raw materials used in it and technological aspects associated with these products.The data are collected through observation, semi structured, indepth interviews and group discussion. The data were textual and contextual type i.e. the former is from the documents and the latter is from the studied areas.
The term craft is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word craft meaning strength or skill or thoughtful creation of object. Craft includes all activities of human being revolving in or around their social life through the productionof objects by manual means without the use of mechanical aids where individuals and group satisfaction are visible. Anthropologist prefers to signify craft as technology to refer to the process of manufacture and material culture for the artifacts related with the crafts (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences; Vol. 3; 1968).
Scholars opine that it is a skill or manual art (Bark, 1978) and Chattopadhyay (1975) said that it is man’s creation. The craft is mingled with emotion, expression and feeling of the creator in one hand and an integral component for regulating one’s own social functions, economic and religious performance on the other. Craft is the repertoire of symbolic abstractions of emotions (Dhamija, 1977) and exhibit widest canvas of creativity and broadest spectrum of development (Jaitly, 1990). Crafts stands for men’s endeavour to bring elegance and grace in otherwise harsh and drab human existence. Handicraft articles are those which are produced either outof the use of hands or with the help of some kind of tool. It is such an art form which requires more of manual work and less amount of machinery. Such products can be utilitarian, aesthetic, artistic, creative, culturally attached, decorative, functional, traditional, religiously and socially symbolic and significant. Here an attempt was made to analyze the present state of Sholapith craft of West Bengal.
The objectives of the present study are as follows –
(1) Identify the production cluster of Sholapith craft of West Bengal and Classification of Sholapith products.
(2) It is an effort to find out the production process of Shola pith crafts, the implements and raw materials used in it and technological aspects associated with these products.
Sholapith craft is one of the primordial handicrafts of the state. Sholapith craft of West Bengal recognized as one of the best example of elegance, exquisite beauty and finest craftsmanship. Sholapith items form an integral part of the major religious rituals in West Bengal. Fine examples of craftsmanship can be seen during the Durga Puja celebrations. Every community in each village, town and city needs an idol as fine as they can afford, so the craft flourishes there.
Significance of Sholapith craft:
Shola is pure and sacred, because it grow on marshy water logged areas. Sholapith items have some Cultural value. Culturally the Sholapith craft came into being and continues to be practice mainly because –
(a) This Hydrophyte plant is easily available.
(b) Shola is very soft and thin in nature. It is very light by weight. It is suitable for craftsmen to use and depicts some aesthetic sence and imaginary power on it.
(c) Its white colour, suggestive of purity and sacredness. Shola is a symbol of purity and sacredness.
(d) All products have some sacred value. Common people use sholapith item during rituals as a symbol of sanctity and sacredness. Common householders use hanging the decorative products made of Sholapith inside the sacred rooms as a symbol of sanctity.
(e) It has greater durability, if protects from moisture.
Collection of Sholapith:
The best time for the collection of pith is between the months of December and February. Formerly there had been no regular market for sholapith. Recently, however,with the increasing demand, seasonal markets crop up during October-December where villagers bring matured sholastems and artisans and traders collect their yearly requirements.
There are some markets from where the craftsmen collect the sholapith. Malakars of Nadia and North 24 parganas collect shoal from Ultodanga haat (every Sunday), Howrah and Hooghly district collect shoal from Munshirhaat (every Friday), and South 24 pargana district from Pukuria haat (every Saturday).
Now a days, the shola art supplies are available for trading every Saturday from 4a.m. to 7 a.m. at the Pukuria market. Hindu and Muslim farmers from villages like Bankar Dar, Ishwaripur of the Joynagar, Raidighi, Kashinagar, Mathurapur and Magarhat police station bring shola plants for selling in the market. Bundles of shola plants are referred to as Tariin the regional language.
In earlier days sholapith craft used to maintain an economic bondage within the locality as well as outside the locality. It was the center of bondage to maintain the interethnic relationship and also has encouraged the other crafts. There was a direct contact between the customer and the craftsman. The jajmani system is abolished and the transaction exists between the middle man/exporters and the craftsmen that lead to the abolition of economic independence of the craftsmen.It is interesting to note that when modern technological influence is striking in society, the traditional techniques still exist in their society. The workshops, in most of the cases are not generally located in a separate room rather in a separate place adjacent to the living room, verandah or in the courtyard. Most of the cases the condition of the workshop is very filthy, damp, clumsy and unhealthy.It is supposed that the total control in acquiring raw material and selling of the finished goods are under the authority of the traders and the mahajans. Naturally the profits go in favour of mahajans or traders. It is noticeable fact that the artisans do not have any co-operative society, which is very much active among someof the other artisan communities of West Bengal. If the government would take direct responsibility of purchasing and making the artworks, then the middlemen who do not doany of the work would not be able to make these huge profit margins.