Kraftly has been running a campaign (called, Krafts of India) with the sole purpose of giving a new life to arts that have either lost their value, or are well on their path to dying. And truly, these crafts are just magical. The pick of the day is Meenakari, and I am sure you have heard of it, or most definitely owned a Meenakari product. So I went ahead with trying to learn all about Meenakari, and it is nothing less than a colorful miracle.
What Is Meenakari?
Meenakari is basically enameling of metals. It is the art of ornamenting and enameling metal surfaces by painting and decorating them with marvelous designs, and then they are fired in the kiln. In the furnace, the colors harden and fuse with the metal itself. It is actually a hereditary craft today, as it is very rare that the knowledge of Meenakari has been shared with outsiders. It is just passed down from one generation to another.
History of Meenakari
Let’s begin from the beginning. Meenakari has originated from Persia. Mina fixates on the cyanic color of heaven, as ‘Mina’ is the feminine version of Minoo (Persian meaning = Heaven). This art was created by Iranian craftsmen, and eventually spread to other countries (including Indians) by Mongolians. This Shahi art was then familiarized by Mughals for their love towards intricate Mughal jewellery.
It got familiarized in Rajasthan, somewhere around the 16th century by Raja Man Singh (Amber) who called for Meenakars from the court of the Mughals based in Lahore. Thanks to him, these Meenakars got settled in Jaipur, and then the art was here to stay. Now Jaipur is the heart of Meenakari art in India.
The process is a very complex one. Every single piece of Mina passes through quite a few expert hands, before it is actually near completion. The procedure is unattainable by us amateurs, but believe me, it is a long and difficult process, requiring highly skilled craftsmen.
- It starts with Designers (or Nacquash), with the after-help of goldsmiths (Sonar) create the very initial design.
- Then come the engravers (Kalamkars), who with the help of the enamelists (Called Meenakars) engrave the design on the metal surface with enamel colors.
- Next up, the artifact is polished by the polisher (Ghotnawala), eventually to be passed on to the Stone setter (Kundansaaz).
- At the end, the product goes to the stringer (Patua), doing the final bit of work in the tiring process of Meenakari.
First a metal is engraved with intricate detailing, and then the engravings are filled with enamel colors. The metal now is kept in a furnace (at an average temperate of 850 degrees Celsius), and the heat helps in the fusing and hardening of colors over the metal. For the final touch, the piece is rubbed, and then cleaned with a mix of tamarind and lime. This helps in bringing out the luster of each color.
Unfortunately, due to the slow death of this art, Meenakari craftsmen are moving to different forms of art. It’s rare to find all the people important to the chain of making Meenakari, so now a single artisan has no option but to do several tasks.
The Science of Colors
The colors used for enameling are metal oxides, mixed with a dash of powdered glass. The science involved is that the oxide content in itself controls the shade of color that will be obtained. These colors are put depending upon how hard they become, beginning with the hardest of them all. The mixtures in their raw form do not show the actual colors instantly, but only when the product is fired in the furnace. Enamel colors are bought and brought from either Amritsar, Punjab or from Germany or France.
Silver is the most commonly used metal for Meenakari, because the enamel melts and sticks the best to the pure metal, becoming one. If we look at the Iranian way of enameling, the most dominant metals are copper and silver. Silver can mostly withhold basic colors like green, blue or yellow.
Gold on the other hand, has been used traditionally for Meenakari jewellery for the longest period of time. Gold holds the enamel better, and it brings the colors right out of the enamel. Silver came into fashion much later. All sorts of colors can be applied on gold, and they will look as stunning as possible.
Most conventional metals have been gold, copper and silver, but these days there is a new metal in use called the White metal. It is far more affordable. Nowadays, the perfect every occasion gift is a white metal Meenakari embellished boxes, which are used to pack dry fruits for the festive season.
Meenakari in India, Today
Meenakari is still practiced today in quite a few places of India, and each place/state has a style of their own. For instance, in Banaras the rose-pink color (gulaabi meena) is used the most; whereas in Lucknow the Meenakars specialize in blue and green Meenakari over silver. Enameling over gold is done in Delhi, Banaras and Jaipur, whereas silver enameling is done in Bikaner, Udaipur and Nathdwara. On the other hand, glass Meenakari is done in Pratapgarh.
All pieces of Meenakari are as durable as metal (which is a lot). So, nowadays you can see innumerable products with Meenakari enameling, almost everywhere. Products from jewellery of all sorts, to home décor material, and much much more. You will find countless items with Mina embellishments, such as trays, key chains, fruit baskets, jewellery boxes and what not.
So, bring it back to Life?
After knowing and seeing all I can about Meenakari, I truly believe that its existence is imperative for our culture. With the beauty and skill spent on a single piece, we all know how much scope this has as an art. Go on, find yourself some products. Kraftly has a collection of Meenakari artifacts, handpicked just for you.
Try it, test it, and it will last for years. Recommend it to friends and family. Let’s encourage our talented craftsmen into continuing with this art. Let’s encourage unique and creative crafts. Cause this uniqueness in itself is what makes India what it is, don’t you think?!
Source – Pinterest
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