Meenakari or Meena Kari or Mina Kari is an art of painting or embellishing various types of metals (gold, silver, faux, etc.) with vibrant colors in dramatic motifs of birds, flowers and leaves. There are various kinds of Meenakari work depending on whether the enamel is to appear opaque, transparent or translucent.
Origin and History
According to historical evidence, Meenakari work originated in Persia, and was later introduced to India through the Mughal invaders. However, over the course of time, it has been frequently associated with the culturally vibrant state of Rajasthan. This can be credited to Raja Man Singh of Amber, as he was instrumental in establishing skilled artisans who he brought from Lahore. Hence, today Jaipur is the hub of Meenakari work, and craftsmen from Jaipur are renowned for producing Meenakari work. A wide range of intricate and creative designs on countless jewelry accessories, is the outcome. Meenakari gold is primarily done in Jaipur, Benaras and Delhi. Silver enameling or Meenakari is majorly done in Udaipur, Bikaner and Nathdwara whereas glass enameling is done in Pratapgarh.
Minakari is done by artistically fusing individual pieces made out of colored glass powders. Craftsmen employ the use of various mineral oxides in order to achieve distinctive colors. Apart from using glass, the powder of various semi- precious and precious stones is also used in the coloring process.
Influences over the years
There are a variety of Meenakari products that one can find in the market. Ranging from jewelry, anklets and brooches to chairs, small temple stools, photo frames, jewelry boxes and key chains, amongst a wide range of other innovative products. Although the base metals traditionally used are gold, copper and silver, these days white metal is also being used, which has made these products more affordable. Each metal has its own qualities- while any color can be easily applied on gold, silver can only withhold colors such as green, yellow and blue. Gold has been the most used base metal jewelry; however, silver has been most used in accessories and cutlery products, art pieces and jewelry boxes. In fact, with the advent of white metal, a lot of Meenakari embellished boxes are used for dry fruit gift packs during the festive season.
Faces Behind the Work
The artisans that produce Meenakari work are called Meenakars, whose craft is hereditary and passed on from one generation to another. A single piece of a Meena work passes through several hands for perfection. The process involves various artisans with specific functions. The designers or the Nacquash, followed by the ‘Sonar’ or goldsmith create the initial design. Then comes the work of the ‘kalamkar’ or the one who engraves the designs and this is followed by the Meenakar or the enamelist. Then the product is polished by the ‘Ghotnawala’ or the polisher and passed to the ‘Kundansaaz’ or the stone setter. Lastly, it goes to the ‘Patua’ or the stringer. Each artisan is an important part of the chain that leads to the end product. Unfortunately, of late, skilled craftsmen have become rare due to which a single artisan has to perform several tasks.
It is practiced today in various other places apart from its main hub in Jaipur, and each place has added to its own distinctive variation, technique and style. For instance, the Meenakars of Lucknow use the green and blue enameling on silver base. The gulabi meena on the other hand is the hallmark of Meenakari done in Benaras.
Meenakari in crafts such as accessories and other products like boxes are done on copper, brass or silver. You can come across countless items with meena embellishments like bells, fruit baskets, trays, key chains and other products.
Meenakari products are durable and often stand the test of time. They can be used on a daily basis, yet it is important to maintain them in order to increase their longevity. Meena loses its sheen over the years; hence gold and silver products should be cleaned with a dry cloth and stored by wrapping them in cotton. However, a lot of the meenakari craft items make use of copper or brass as the base; hence you can make use of special cleaning agents like Min Cream or Brasso to clean them.