Meenakari: Revisiting The Iconic Art

Join us as we revisit the iconic Indian craftsmanship of Meenakari, tracing its origins from Persian artefacts to a trousseau staple for the Indian bride.

Nestled in the heart of the vast deserts of Rajasthan, one can find the epicentre of the vibrant craft of Meenakari. As you traverse the craft-dotted landscape that enriches this country, you’ll witness a grand spectacle of vivid colours and magnificent designs. Although one can observe that the craft of Meenakari is almost a staple in every household in Rajasthan, the age-old art of enamelling did not originate here. Sir John Chardin, a 17th-century French jeweller and traveller, makes a reference to an enamel work of Iran, which comprised a pattern of birds and animals on a floral background in light blue, green, yellow, and red. “Meenakari was primarily used for architecture, which was then introduced to India by the Mughal invaders. Fascinated by the beauty of and the skill spent on this art, Raja Man Singh of Amber played a great role in shaping Jaipur as the hub of Meenakari by bringing skilled artisans from Lahore,” explains Chitwan D. Malhotra, lead designer and founder of Dillano Luxurious Jewels.

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The process of making Meenakari artefacts remains the same till date, going through the same line up of craftsmen. “The traditional process begins with the designer (chitera), who prepares the design. Common motifs include natural elements such as birds, animals and owers. It then moves on to the goldsmith who is responsible for designing the layout (sadjayi) and making the framework (ghadayi) of the article and structure of the piece,” says Sunita Shekhawat, who explains the intricate processes involved in the art form. The third step is when the enamellist (meenakar) puts the powdered mixture of glass and metal onto the engraved part which then oxidises. It is then put in a furnace to melt so it spreads completely in the engraved part. In the last step, the polisher polishes the excess colour (meena) to make it even. “A true connoisseur will also want to know the age of the jewellery piece along with how many colours are used to determine its value,” points out Tanya Rastogi, director at Lala Jugal Kishore Jewellers. Traditionally, the vibrant art form of Meenakari was done on the back of jewellery pieces. Jewellery designer Pooja Nigam explains, “The idea was to create a piece of jewellery that was beautiful inside out, but over a period of time it gave birth to the idea of reversible jewellery, adding to the versatility of the craft. My collection has a lot of pieces with Meenakari in the front and pieces that are reversible. It’s a beautiful form where you can showcase the intricacies of a design.”

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Whenever a craft or an art form travels through different countries, it inherits discerning qualities of that particular culture. As modern-day jewellery designers have adapted the craft to make it their own, they strive to keep the craft alive in its original form. Tanya Rastogi’s aim is “to keep Indian karigari alive and celebrated.” While her Jewels of Awadh collection hosts some authentic Mughal pieces that are more than 150 years old and once belonged to royal courtesans, she has also launched a line of pastel Meenakari pieces to give it a more modern touch. For Sunita Shekhawat, noted for her amalgamation of unusual colour palettes and interpretations of fresco motifs, colours and contrasts of life in Rajasthan have had the most profound impact on her jewellery pieces.

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For a bride who wishes to invest in Meenakari pieces, Chitwn D. Malhotra suggests going for reversible pieces to ensure that the jewellery has everlasting value. “There has been a huge change in tastes of modern brides. They prefer lightweight and contemporary designs,” she adds. To ensure wearability beyond the wedding day, brides could opt for detachable pieces. For example, shoulder dusters transform into studs, earrings into pendants or maang tikas. Jewellery with Meenakari work is regarded as an heirloom piece that can stand the test of time. Tanya Rastogi advises brides to keep their precious Meenakari pieces away from heat, moisture, and chemicals, while Chitwn D. Malhotra suggests placing your jewellery on a nylon stocking before cleaning it with lukewarm water. The increased demand for Meenakari jewellery in the past few years showcases a growing charm for the ancient form of craftsmanship. As designers modify artistic elements to acclimatise them to modern audiences, it also ensures that the heritage of the craft stays alive for generations to come. 

 

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