INDIA, August 11, 2019 (Outlook India): Shola, the white soft core obtained from the stem of the Shola plant (also known as Indian Cork; scientific name, Aeschynomene aspera), has been in use in Bengal since time immemorial. Traditionally, owing to its divine origin and white color, the substance is considered auspicious, pure, and hence used during religious and social functions. Being soft and light-weight, shola is often used for making the attire, ornaments and other decorations of statues. What most people do not realise is that shola being a natural product is easy to dispose as it is biodegradable. Therefore, even if local customs require you to throw shola products in the water, for example during the Durga puja immersion in the rivers, it will not pollute the water.
Probably influenced by the Mughal court, craftsmen in Murshidabad (capital of the independent Bengal province prior to the decisive Battle of Plassey) had mastered the fine art of ivory carving. But the lack of patronage after the capital's fall from grace and later the ban on ivory trade may have led to the end of this craftsmanship if the artisans had not chanced upon a substitute, the shola. Owing to the whiteness of the material and the fine craftsmanship, you may mistake the shola handicraft for ivory. With the passage of time, like many other traditional handicrafts, the shola craft is also on the wane. The shola plant grows in marshy water bodies. With the decline in the number of wetlands in the rural areas, the supply of the plant has reduced to a large extent.
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