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A shola Christmas tree? Why not?

22 December, 2021 19:44:04
A shola Christmas tree? Why not?

The plant species bearing the intimidating name Aeschynomene is much more familiar to us as the humble 'shola', the dried milky-white plant matter that craftsmen from Bengal have long pressed and shaped into exquisite objects of art. Beneath its hard outer bark, the plant's inner core is soft and spongy, lending itself easily to hand crafting. 

While traditionally used to decorate Hindu idols and create the 'topor' (headgear) of brides and grooms for a typical Bengali wedding, shola handicrafts have, through the years, found a wider application in home décor and even jewellery. 

But a Christmas tree made of shola? Why not, actually? Such a tree has been put up at the plush hotel ITC Sonar on EM Bypass. Made out of the plant that grows wild in many rural areas of the state, particularly in the Sundarbans, this Christmas tree is a typical representation of West meets East, as well as a popular symbol of Bengal's cultural heritage. Adding to the homegrown effect is alpona (hand painting with rice and flour paste) on the floor to resemble snowflakes, and traditional cotton 'gamchhas' draped around gift boxes, more examples of typically Bengali symbols married to a Western concept. 


The other thing of interest about the festive decorations at the hotel is a tree hand painted by local artist Soumyadeep Roy, who has recreated a traditional Nativity scene depicting baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary in the 19th century Dutch-Bengal style. This somewhat curious school of art came up as European colonists made themselves at home in Bengal, and began inserting themselves into the local cultural scene. The Dutch, whose trading outposts in Hooghly and Chinsurah were fairly prosperous until the British took over, commissioned local artists to produce oil paintings that reflected the aesthetics of both the creator and the buyer. 

Most of these artists imitated contemporary European styles even when the subject matter was decidedly local, such as depictions of gods and goddesses. Thus was produced a hybrid of Indian mysticism and European realism, also sometimes referred to as Early Bengal oils. Apart from deities, the artists also prroduced portraits of European lords and ladies, and even household pets, not to mention Bengal's riverside landscapes in European style. 

"At ITC Hotels, our WelcomArt initiative celebrates indigenous art, providing a platform to local artists. Our handcrafted Christmas trees imbibe modernity, while rejoicing in the cultural heritage of the region," said Tejinder Singh, Area Manager East, ITC Hotels.

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