Shola Pith Carving
The soft stem of a wild-growing water plant Shola (Aeschynomene aspera) is used to craft statuettes, and three- dimensional sculptures, known as the globally renowned Shola Pith Craft. The objects made from the pith weigh little; contracting, and expanding with changes in temperature. Since the 11th century, the craft finds its tradition in the Jagannath Temple, where the adornment of the idols and their decorations are done with Shola Pith. The community working as Shola Pith craftsmen is known as Malakar, meaning ‘maker of garland’, probably because they made garlands made of shola for idols, and the noble class.
Shola Pith craftsman explains, “The most common colours used by the craftsmen are reddish-brown and white, and the Shola Pith products are made with dense intricacy, as the ornamentation requires skill and experience.” He adds that the flexibility of the material allows for great finesse, and detail.
The master carver revealed that the pith plant is recognized by the shallow layer of leaves that float on marshy water. A pith collector like himself wades into this water to collect the reed, which then is thoroughly dried, and sold. “Good quality pith is pure white and smooth with soft bark, while poor quality pith has a reddish core, with a hard bark.”