Pith Work from Tamil Nadu

Pith Work from Tamil Nadu

Shola pith work was once a traditional art form in Thanjavur district. Like many other traditional crafts, it had its origin in the ritual and religious needs of the people.

The shola, a herbaceous plant, grows wild in marshy and waterlogged areas. In recent times, the pith craftsmen in the State buy the long and sturdy stalks of the plant collected from the tanks on the Chennai-Andhra border. The stalks are dried, and cut into small pieces each two to three feet long, and are despatched in bundles to the craftsmen by middlemen-merchants.


The deftness with the craftsmen work is remarkable as they use just a couple of knives, a pair of scissors, and a few moulds. The dried white core of the stalk is cut into cylindrical pieces, after which the outer layer of brown skin is peeled off. The cylindrical pieces are then cut to form a roll of pith sheaves layer after layer without a break and this is used for making the magnificent pieces.

The craftsmen first make a rough model of the object be it a temple tower, or a fort with undulations depressions and projections. To make the structures resemble temple towers, or other images, the pith is cut into rectangles, squares and triangles and fixed on the original model delicately using gum. The model is given finishing touches by carefully removing the outermost portion to give it a natural ivory cover.


The pith was originally used in Thanjavur for making garlands out of slices beautifully cut into cylindrical and round shapes and then dyed with different colours. Bulls and buffaloes were garlanded during Mattu Pongal, the harvest festival.

For all the popular representations, the shapes of temples are kept as cardboard cutouts that serve as templates. The pith work is generally stuck to a wooden base and covered with glass. Usually, the natural colour of the pith is preferred to be retained.


Pithwork is among the many handicrafts in our country, which once was part of a rich heritage and provided a means of livelihood to craftsmen, but today struggles to survive. This is due to changing tastes, and marketing problems. The craftsmen of Tiruchi, Pudukottai, Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, are especially famous for making highly delicate, decorative and artistic objects in pith. The pith replicas of the Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur, the Mahamaham tank, Kumbakonam, the Rockfort, Tiruchi, and the Rajagopuram of Srirangam are fine examples of creativity.