Sola-pith is a milky-white, light weight sponge-wood which is grown in marshy waterlogged areas. The biological name of shola pith is Aeschynomene Indica or Aeschynomene Aspera (bean family) and is an herbaceous plant. Good quality pith is pure white in color with soft surface and no cracks, while poor quality pith is one with reddish core and a hard bark and has many nodes. The pith material is almost similar to thermocol, however pith is much superior to thermocol in terms of softness, texture and luster and is preferred by the artisans. The pith plant seeds are sown in the month of February or March, which grows up into a matured plant within five or six months. These plants become light when dried. The plant grows majorly in the marshy areas of Bengal, Assam, Orissa and the Deccan.
Artisan of Thanjavur, working on this craft purchases the raw materials from Rajmundri in Andhra Pradesh. The pith plant is brought in pieces rate which will start from five rupees. The outer brown skin is removed by cutting with the help of a sharp knife. The inner soft white portion of the stem is used to make the art pieces. The pith locally known as Netti is cut into fine pieces of different designs and shapes as per the requirement of the product to be made. For basic carving long knife is used and for detail and minute carving small knife is used.
The carved pieces are assembled together and stuck with adhesive into one piece of art. Blue prints of the design or photos are used as reference to make the miniatures. It takes one day to make small figures whereas10 to 12 days to finish a detailed designed big Ganesha idol. It takes almost a month to finish set of art piece of a place or temple. Sometimes customers send the reference of the art piece they want to be made. Some pith works are painted with water colors to make it look colorful and attractive. Customers rather demand for plain pith work craft as they resemble to ivory works.
Thanjavur pith work is famous for miniature works of Thanjavur temples and idol making. The finished pith work is generally fixed to a wooden base and covered with glass to protect from dust and moisture. This helps to preserve the works for years. For normal pieces ply wood made stands are used as base, whereas for big and important pieces teak and wood stands are used. Miniatures of rural and urban place are also made, which are decorated with lights. The art pieces made of pith starts at the range of fifty rupees and goes up to lakh.