The 2008 period flick Jodha Akbar, was a success on multiple fronts. While the movie itself was a blockbuster success at the box-office, lead actress Aishwarya Rai gained rave reviews for her sensitive portrayal of the ethereal Rajput princess Jodhabai. Aishwarya’s costumes and heavy Meenakari jewellery made especially for the movie by Tanishq, earned kudos from moviegoers and historians alike for their intricate beauty and authenticity.
The movie, according to many, also had an unexpected consequence – a sudden resurgence in demand for Meenakari jewellery – the ancient art of colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing over it brilliant colours, decorated in intricate designs.
Rajasthan, with its rich history of making intricate enamel jewellery is today the main hub for Meenakari work in India. It’s a delicate art form that calls for lots of skills and perseverance. The creation of a brilliant Meenakari ornament is preceded by a long laborious process of chiseling the surface into the desired shape and then embedding a variety of enamel paints into it.
The end result is breathtakingly intricate, its beauty only enhanced by the use of vibrant colours that are typical to this style of jewellery making.
Origins & History:
Historical evidence indicates that the art of Meenakari was first introduced to India by Mughal ruler Shah Jahan in the 16th century. However, it was Raja Man Singh (of Amber) who ensured the art flourished when he brought down skilled workers from Lahore to the Mughal palace.
Jaipur continues to remain the mainstay of this art in the state with the best examples of Meenakari jewellery said to originate from here. While Delhi, Jaipur and Benares are renowned for their gold Meenakari creations, Nathdwara, Bikaner and Udaipur are equally famous for their Meenakari creations in silver.
Traditional Meenakari jewelry features detailed etchings of flowers, birds, and other animals. This craft involves layering various mineral substances over a metallic material that could be decorated with precious gems, shaped shilpakar clay, and engravings. The grooves left around the stones or engravings are filled with enamel dust of various colors.
Although the traditional base metal used in Meenakari is gold – since it’s compatible with many of the minerals used to lend colour – emerging techniques have made it possible to use copper, silver and white metal albeit with some limitations.
While gold continues to remain the popular choice, silver is finding increasing use among Meenakari craftsmen in the making of accessories, cutlery products, jewellery boxes and art pieces.
Meenakari products are durable and can be used on a daily basis, yet it is important to maintain them to ensure that they last for a long time. They also tend to lose their sheen over time hence it’s important that gold and silver products are cleaned regularly (with a dry cloth).
The Men Behind The Craft:
Called Meenakars, the artisans behind this art practice and learn Meenakari from one generation to the next. The delicate work involved in the making of every piece ensures that it passes through several such artists, each of whom is specialized in a particular aspect.
For example, the process begins with the designer or sonar who makes the initial design, followed by the kalamkar who engraves the final design after which the piece reaches the enamellist (meenakar) before it’s polished and reaches the Kudansaaz (stone setter).
The final cog in this wheel is the stringer or the patua who readies the ornament. Like many other traditional crafts, Meenakari is also facing a shortage of skilled manpower today with a majority of the new generation craftsmen opting for better-paying jobs and professions.
In the modern world, new and sophisticated styles have emerged to cater to the urban populace, although the old traditional styles of jewellery like Meenakari are considered classics and still enjoy a strong demand.
Today Meenakari is practiced extensively even outside its main hub of Jaipur. Interestingly, each place has added its own distinctive style, technique and variation to the final product.
For example, the meenakars from Lucknow are known for their skill in the use of blue and green enameling on silver, while their counterparts in Benaras are famed for the use of motifs Lotus blooms and buds and pink brush strokes set on white enamel.
In the contemporary Indian market, one can find a beautiful blend of the rich old cultural heritage and the modern design sensibilities that now veer towards lighter, more intricately designed baubles.
Fashioned in gold, silver, and the now popular platinum, precious coloured stones set in Meenakari is also easily available online and is fast becoming a popular choice among women buyers today.