Sital means cool in Bengali while Pati means mat. These mats are made from the soft slips of Maranta dichotoma, a locally grown cane, split lengthwise into fine strands.
Sitalpati is integrally linked with Bengali lifestyle. From the cane, the bust fibre is extracted in various layers as the quality of the Pati depends on the different layers of the cane used.
The cane, locally known as Murta (a local word for Mukta, Bengali word for pearls, as the seeds resemble pearls) is grown in the backwards of almost every household and the stems of the same are used to make the cane strips. The cane slips are processed and often dyed in different colours and fine designs are woven. At times, especially in Kamalkosh, the weavers make intricate designs which often ate animal motifs: peacock, butterfly, bird, cat, etc.
Sitalpati is traditionally used for sleeping and sitting. There are various kinds of Pati like, Kamalkosh (the best of the Patis, in terms of finesse) Mihi Sital, Bhushnai Pati, Mota Sital, Dalar Pati, etc.
The sleeping or sitting mat is still the main product. Other than this they also make bag, folder, hat, mobile cover, table mats, coaster, lamp shades, panels and other home décor items.
Cooch Behar, as a whole, district captures the bygone glorious past in the moods of local people even today. The peace loving people of Cooch Behar take pride in narrating the stories of the Maharajas. The district is a culturally rich district of West Bengal.
Ghughumari is 8 km away from Cooch Behar town. Cooch Behar is well connected by train and bus from Kolkata (12 hours journey). The nearest railway station is New Cooch Behar from where Ghughumari is 14 km by road. One can also reach Cooch Behar by flight. Bagdogra airport is 115 km away from Cooch Behar.
There are many places of tourists’ interest in Cooch Behar. The Cooch Behar Rajbari idealised from the concept of classical European style, the adjoining royal buildings as well as the endless royal facts and stories associated with it are fascinating. The palace also has a history museum.
The district, as a whole, district captures the bygone glorious past in the moods of local people even today. The peace loving people of Cooch Behar take pride in narrating the stories of the Maharajas. Cooch Behar is a culturally rich district of West Bengal.
The surface texture is silky smooth with minimal apparent fiber. For making Sitalpati the cane slips are kept in rice water for 24 hours and then boiled in the same. Then it is washed in water and kept in sun light for drying. After drying, it is left on the ground for the night dew to accumulate on it to increase on the finesse of the fibre.
Introduction of the process:
The process of weaving Sitalpati is a complicated and time bound one.
Preparing the cane strips: After harvest, the crop is soaked in water and sliced length-wise to obtain strips according to one’s specific needs. The cane is stripped in layers. The tough pulpy interior is first discarded and used for fuel when dried. The ash, when diluted and strained is said to be an excellent detergent and have strong bleaching qualities. The top layers of the stem and the branch are then sectioned into separate qualities of cane. The first cut that is obtained is called “chhotu” which is used for rough work owing to its extremely low and fibrous quality. The layer above that is referred to as Buka. Buka can be further layered down to another level to obtain the finest quality of cane that only contains the shiny top layer of the crop. This cut is used for finest works and provides or a smooth and uniform finish. The surface texture is silky smooth with minimal apparent fiber. For making Sitalpati the cane slips are kept in rice water for 24 hours and then boiled in the same. Then it is washed in water and kept in sun light for drying. After drying, it is left on the ground for the night dew to accumulate on it to increase on the finesse of the fibre. There is another variation where the cane sleeps are kept in water for 6-7 hours and not boiled.
Weaving: Women do the weaving: 2 dimensional flat weaves. Common weaves are mostly diagonal. 2 or 3 slips overlapping 2 or 3 slips respectively (called 2 or 3 gachha). The open ended slips of this weave are closed on themselves. This is called muri bandha. Simple geometric patterns are developed using white (sada sital) and red (laal sital) slips of pati in both straight and diagonal weaves. The open ends of these weaves are closed on separate slips running parallel to that side. Straight woven patterns (chiknai) are rare currently. Complex imagery is also developed using the diagonal weaves (peacocks, lakshmi’s pot, elephant, deer, fish, etc). Such skill is rare in the community. Extremely fine slips are used to develop delicate designs and intricate patterns called Bhushnai. Such skills are also rare.
Colouring: The colours of the strips are obtained after their slicing through various methods of processing. The natural reddish brown hue of the cane is obtained by soaking and sun-drying the strips alternatively over a whole day. The natural white tone is created by boiling strips and then sun-drying them. Natural White and Reddish brown hues of Pati.
The craftsmen have adopted, after the design trainings, the dyeing of Sitalpati strands with natural and vegetable dyes. However they nowadays use Azo-free dyes to add vibrant colours to the weave. The process involves cutting the strands, making appropriate bunches, mixing colours in proportion and adding to boiling water, soaking the strands in the boiling water with the dye and then drying them in the sun.
The families of the craftspeople migrated from Tangail, Mymensingh and other areas of present day Bangladesh and settled in this region during and after the Partition of Bengal. They bought along their traditional Pati weaving skill and survived through this craft.
There are presently 14,000 families weaving Pati in Ghughumari and its surrounding areas in Cooch Behar district. Among them around 527 craftspeople in 351 households from 9 villages are engaged in this craft in Cooch Behar I block alone. The families of the craftspeople migrated from Tangail, Mymensingh and other areas of present day Bangladesh and settled in this region during and after the Partition of Bengal. They bought along their traditional Pati weaving skill and survived through this craft.
Generally men are engaged in growing and extracting fibre while women are mostly engaged in weaving. The Sitalpati weavers mostly have school level education and many have good quality of life. Young generation is completing school education and is going for higher education. The crafts persons live in brick houses with electricity and sanitation coverage.
The intervention with Sitalpati has dramatically changed the livelihood landscape of this area. The economy has been boosted; the intervention has definitely managed to create an impact. The living standard of the villagers has improved substantially during the past few years, owing to the training and market linkages. The women who never ventured out of their village are now attending training programs and participating in fairs and festivals showcasing and selling their products.
Sitalpati artisans have participated in many fairs and festivals across India. The exposure has given them the much needed confidence, better understanding of market requirements, improved quality of products and new innovations. Linkages have been established with various major craft retailers like Biswa Bangla, Sasha, Manjusha, etc. The craft has taken them to far away France: participated in the Gannat Festival in 2015.
Leading Sitalpati crafts persons are Tagar Rani Dey who has won national award, Gouranga Dey, Aruna Dutta, Nitya Ranjan Dey, Gitarani Pal, Jyotsna Dhar who have won state and district level awards.