A combination of two words – mina and kari, Meenakari has been adored over the generations and is one of the rare few forms of art that has been able to weather the wear and tear of time. Mina is a variation of the word minoo, which refers to heaven and kari is the action of doing something – the notion was that Meenakari art was paradise placed onto an object. This was one of those art forms that did not originate in India because it was brought to this land from erstwhile Persia. today, however, you will be able to find pieces being made in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.
What exactly is Meenakari?
Chances are that you have seen Meenakari handicraft items and admired them, without realising that they came to India, all the way from Iran – it is believed that the craftspeople of Iran invented this form in the Sassanid era and it found its way to India through the Mughals and Rajput rulers. According to records, it was Raja Man Singh of Amber, who brought craftsmen from the Mughal courts in Lahore and set them up in Jaipur, which till date, happens to be one of the most popular locations for Meenakari work.
In the simplest of terms, Meenakari is the process of painting or embellishing pieces of metal – initially, the work was done exclusively on gold, but eventually silver and copper were used too. Vibrant colours are used and the designs and themes are generally rooted in nature; so, birds, leaves, flowers are all popular images that you can see. The same process was also used on ceramic tiles and over time, minakari jewellery became extremely popular too. The process of enameling is done by fusing different pieces of mineral substances, which is why the work is considered intricate and complex, requiring an incredible amount of skill, precision, and dedication.
There are mainly two types of Meenakari work – ek rang khula, which means that only a single-coloured enamel is used and the panchrangi meena which as the name suggests is a combination of five colours to form one piece of art or jewellery.
Is there a history behind this form of art?
The origin of this form can be traced back all the way to the 15th century, when it was first invented by the artists of Safavid Iran. It was quite popular in Greece, China, and even Russia. There are those who say that the Mughals brought this art to India and there are those who believe that it was the Rajputs who brought it from the courts of Iran and Afghanistan. It was at that time that Meenakari based Radha Krishna paintings were made and became quite popular. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the art reached its peak in Iran and by the 20th century, the artists were traveling all over the world, sharing their knowledge.
Over time, Indian influences started to show on the work, especially when artists started receiving patronage from kings in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and eventually, under the influences of the Mughal empire, the art spread to Delhi, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh too, however, Jaipur and Rajasthan were always considered and still are, the epicentres for the art in India.
Is the process of Meenakari a complicated one?
Absolutely! It is said that the process of creating Meenakari handicraft is one of the most complex and most complicated; it is one that needs a lot of dedication and skill. The piece of metal on which the work has to be done needs to be fixed on a stick of lac first and then the designs are carefully engraved onto the metal. It is this process of engraving or etching that creates the grooves that will eventually hold the colours – enamel dust of the colours that are required are chosen with care and prepared in advance. When heated, the enamels turn into liquid and these can be then carefully poured into the pre-created grooves. The heat can go anywhere between 750 to 850 degrees Celsius. The same process is repeated, until all the colours have been filled in. The colours that are most heat resistant are applied first and with the addition of every colour, the heat is applied again. In most cases, white is always applied first and red is generally the last colour to be used.
Once the final colours have been poured in, the product is polished with agate and the grooves are filled with more colours to ensure that there is depth and the colours are able to paly off of it. While only a limited colours can stick to silver, all colours can be used with gold, making Meenakari gold jewellery a lot more colourful and vibrant. It is interesting to note that no artist will work alone – they tend to work in teams, because this art is normally done on the reverse side of Kundan jewellery and that means a goldsmith, an engraver, and a designer all need to be working together at the same time.
How all is Meenakari generally used?
From wall decor items to intricate jewellery sets, there is so much that Meenakari is used for – you will be able to find jewellery boxes, photo frames, home décor pieces, key chains, and even furniture with Meenakari. You will also be able to find decorative plates and trays as well as vases and candleholders with this work.
You do need to take care of your Meenakari pieces – you should ideally clean them with a damp soft cloth or with a mild detergent solution and then make sure that you wipe it dry.
Finally, moving onto some of the most commonly asked questions related to Meenakari work:
Who brought Meenakari to India?
There is a slight debate about the same because there are some who feel that the art came to India through the Mongols, but the most common belief is that Raja Man Singh of Amber was highly influenced by the art when he saw it in the Mughal courts at Lahore and brought it back to Jaipur with him.
What type of colours are used in this art form?
The colours that are used to create Meenakari art work are mostly enamel, which is melted and poured into the grooves created in advance. Colours are also extracted from minerals that are naturally occurring.
Where can you find the best Meenakari work?
Even today, you will find the best Meenakari art designs and products in Jaipur and some other parts of Rajasthan. These days, you will be able to find high quality products in Delhi and of course, online.
What are the main types of Meenakari?
There are mainly two types of traditional Meenakari jewellery – Ek Rang Khula, where only a single-coloured enamel is used in the entirety, and Panchrangi Meena, where five colours are used.
What are the most common themes?
From beautiful peacock paintings to floral patterns, there are several nature-based themes in this style of art; there are also influences from Mughal styles and traditional Indian gods.
Who is one of the biggest names in this domain?
Ostad Shokrollah Sani'e Zadeh, an outstanding painter who worked during the 1930s is considered one of the legends in this domain.