Meenakari, a craft that involves decorating metal with enameling is regarded as one of the most famous art forms of India. However there is a misconstrued notion that this art originated in India. Meenakari was never an Indian creation and has its roots in Persia. It was introduced to India by the legendary Mughals.
Raja Sawai Jaisingh, a connoisseur of arts was responsible for bringing the art to Rajasthan as he invited skillful meenakars from the Mughal’s Lahore palace and had a Meenakari centre established in Jaipur. Later on, Rajasthan developed as the capital of Meenakari trade in India. The Meenakari tradition continued to capture new avenues in the Mughal era spreading as far as Lucknow and Punjab with Delhi too becoming a centre of excellence.
So what really constitutes Meenakari work? As stated earlier, Meenakari is an enameling work done on metal. Craftsmen involved with Meenakari creations are known as Meenakars and this craft is especially famous for its jewellery. Higher end Meena jewellery is made of gold while the lower end products are made from silver.
For any Meenakari creation, the design is first engraved on the metal surface following which depressions are created. The engravers are known as Gharias. The engraving creates grooves or pits for holding the colours in which enamel is applied. Once this engraving is done, the Meenakar applies different colours with brushes on the design. It is an intricate process which involves fusing colored glass powders on metals. Thereafter enamel is applied and the ornament is fired at a high temperature. The furnace heat melts the colour which spreads evenly. While applying the colours, the colour that is most resistant to heat is applied first while the least resistant one is applied in the end.
Once the entire process is finished, the art is polished with corundum and again placed in fire to consolidate. Subsequently for extra glitter, the ornament is studded with rubies, sapphires or even emeralds. It is painstaking work that takes many hours or even days to complete. Meenakari works flourished during the Mughal reign but this craft is currently facing a bleak future and has been limited to only small pockets in the country.
Additionally many Meenakars are now leaving their professions in search of better avenues which is seriously threatening the profession. Low pay combined with tough working conditions are regarded as the pitfalls leading to this crisis. If this art form vanishes, it would be one of the world’s greatest losses which are the reasons why support needs to be garnered to preserve this famous Indian art form.