India is a land of original and unique art and craft. The cultural quintessence of Indian art and craft is evident with quotidian objects like pot, mugs, jewellery, bed-sheets, etc. The objects are created with extraordinary artistry that portrays eloquent work of art. Indian art and craft are ancient. Presently the Indian art and crafts are thriving with a touch of contemporary designs and patterns which are entrenched with the rich craft customs from the past. The uniqueness and queerness of the industry lie in ingenious ways.
Meenakari is the art by adorning a metal surface through enameling. It is commercially practiced in India and widely known by the term Kundan. It is putative for its magnificent designs and its exquisite colour combinations. The artisans are known as ‘Meenakars’. The art form mainly includes making colorful jewellery. Other objects such as decorative articles, arm chairs, dining sets, etc. are produced by meenakari. The scintillation of the diamonds and other stones is effectively complemented by the multicoloured enamel of the meena.
Global Presence and Historical Background
Enameling is an old and well-established art technology. The ancient Egyptians used enameled pottery and stone objects whereas the ancient Greeks, Celts, Russians, and Chinese used enameled metal objects. Late Romans used to decorate the glass vessels with enamel.
The art was at its prime in the Middle Ages in Europe beginning with the Late Romans and then the Byzantines who began to use cloisonné enamel. From Byzantium, the cloisonné technique reached China in the 13-14th century. Enamel became the primary choice of artisans for jewellery and bibelots because of its bright and jewel-like colours.
How Enameling Became a Part of Indian Art and Craft
The art form originated in Persia. It was prevalent in the Mughal palaces. Raja Man Singh of Amber invited mastered Meenakars from the Mughal palace at Lahore to Jaipur in the 16th century. He brought Meerakari art to Rajasthan. Now, Jaipur is the center for traditional Meenakari art production.
Meenakari in India has flourished at different places. Intricate Meenakari executed on a base of gold and Kundan has been practiced at Bikaner and Jaipur since a long time. Nathdwara, Bikaner and Udaipur are renowned for silver Meenakari. Delhi and Banares are also pivotal Meenakari centers, and Pratapgarh is renowned for its glass enameling. Meenakari from Varanasi is characterized by a pink hue on white enamel known as Gulabi Meena, and employs a lotus motif. Persian craftsmen who visited the court of Avadh in the 17th century brought the style with themselves.
Meenakari artisans often work with a team of few craftsmen. As it is generally done on the reverse side of Kundan jewelley, the artisans work with goldsmiths, ghaaria the engraver, chitteria the designer and jadiya who finally apply the gems on the gold.
Earlier, it was only done on gold surface but as centuries passed, both silver and the gold surfaces are used as a base for Meenakari. The final handiwork is the exquisite work of several craftsmen and their techniques. There are just a handful of colours including, gold, blue, green, and yellow can stick with silver base. While all other available colours can be applied on the gold surface, making it the most suitable and opted medium of enameller. Gems, diamonds, stones, gold and silver foils are also used.
Various Varieties of Meenakari
Artisans have bestowed us with various forms of Meenakari such as:
Ek Rang Khula Meena – This method involves only the utilization of a single colour transparent enamel. The engraved area is crammed with single enamel and gold coloured delineation is left exposed around figural details.
Panch Rang Meena – This technique uses five different enamels viz. Safed (white), Fakhtai (light blue), Fakhta (a dove), Khula Nila (transparent dark blue) and Khula Sabz (transparent green).
Gulabi Meena – Gulabi Mina is a mixed style of enameling. It uses a pink enamel which was derived from Gulab (rose). This method of Meenakari is widely prevalent in the Varanasi area. The pink enamel is painted on a white background. The pink enamel is mostly used to paint flowers in the design. The rest of the area is painted using ‘champleve’ style.
Bandh Meena Khaka – This technique involves the use of opaque delineation. Transparent colour is surrounded by enamel cartouche.
Stone carving and enameling – Meenakari art is combined with Kundans to make the articles an amalgamation of stone carving and enameling.
Motifs on Meenakari
The motifs generally seen on the jewellery are of phool-patti (flowers and foliage), and animals such as peacocks, parrots and elephants.
Vast Range of Meenakari Products
Meenakari products have an enormous range from ornaments to pen holders. The metals used for the products include gold, silver and copper. Nowadays, mostly silver and copper is being used. Meenakari Huqqas are adored by Meenakari artists. Huqqas with various colours and designs were famous mostly during the Mughal era. Meenakari products also include bowl sets, Meenakari roman chair, chowki set, hand casted Meenakari chowki set with white alloy metal, utility box thrones, dining sets, key holders, photo frames, ashtrays, pen holders, etc. Meenakari jewellery is cherished by brides the most.