Origin: The English translation of Shital pati is cool mats. Its name is born out of the fact that it lends a cool surface making it the perfect choice for hot and humid weather. Since ages, during the peak of summer it has been used as a mat for sitting or to hang on doors or windows.
Traditionally, the shitalpati weaving families belong to the Kayasta caste. Artisans across North-Eastern India and West Bengal indulge in making this cool craft.
For centuries, these thin and smooth pliable mats are made from maranta dichotoma, a reed that mushrooms in marshy and water logged areas. Locally, this reed is addressed as Muter, Mostak, Patipata, Patibet, Paitara or Murtha reed. This reed has a long history as being used as sleeping or prayer mats.
Craftsmen claim that their ancestors taught them the secret to judge the quality of these mats. To do this the parameters are glossiness, smoothness and fineness. There’s an age old saying that even a snake cannot glide over the best Shital pati mat.
Present Day: Shital pati or cool mat from Cooch Behar district has been recognised as an "intangible cultural heritage" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) of the State Government introduced 50 self-help groups (SHGs) to help weavers with loans, technical knowhow and marketing domains.
Even today, Shital pati craft continues to be a household industry. The roles of men and women are clearly marked in the craft creation process. Men collect reeds and prepare them whilst women are assigned the task of weaving.
In Ghughumari, a museum displaying various kinds of Shital pati has been set up. New items have been introduced in this craft such as bags, cushions, pen stands etc.
Procedure: Kouna cultivation calls for a smaller investment in comparison to paddy. Once planted, it helps in earning higher income and products for approximately 25-30 years.
The tools employed in the crafting procedure are hammer, nails, needle and knife. Firstly, 2 to 4 inches of steps above the stump are cut. This is followed by drying them in sunlight for one day and roasting it for 2 days. The resultant is a golden yellowish colour.
Post this, the reeds are bundled and stored. For 10 to 15 minutes, they are wet. Next step is to chop the reeds against the size of the moulds. Sized reeds are woven around the mould. Once all the reeds are folded, the extras are removed.
Bring Home Shital pati Craft of West Bengal: To shop for the best Shital pati Craft of West Bengal stop over at Barokodali, Ghughumari and Nakkati-Pushnadanga (all in Cooch Behar) clusters.