Shital Pati: A Traditional Handicraft of Bangladesh

Weavers in Sylhet pose with a shital pati © New Age

Shital pati (literally “cool mat”) is an age-old traditional handicraft item of Bangladesh, which is sometimes used as alternative to bed sheets. For generations, people living in the Northeastern districts in the country, such as Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Sunamganj, Netrokona, and Brahmanbaria, have been making the popular craft item either from the finest types of cane or murta plants (Schumannianthus dichotomus) growing near bodies of water in the region.

As a traditional craft practice, the making of shital pati is championed by families. It becomes the the only means of livelihood of around 8,000 people in the prolonged monsoon when cultivable lands in the vast low-lying areas go under water. Every member of shital pati–weaving–families takes part in preparing the raw materials and in the actual process of weaving.There are three varieties of shital pati: normal, jamdani, and nakshi pati (“decorated mat”).

Typically, it takes five days to make a normal one; eight to nine days to make a jamdani mat; almost a month to weave an embroidered mat. Their price varies from Tk 500 to Tk 2,500, depending on design and size. The product is sold throughout the year in the rural market and outlets of different chain stores located in the posh areas.

The craft item was inscribed on the national list of Intangible Cultural Heritage by People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 2007. The country has also applied to UNESCO for its inscription on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity with the title “Traditional Art of Shital Pati Weaving of Sylhet”. The application will be examined in the twelfth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage to be held in December 2017 in the Republic of Korea.