Meenakari is the art of decorating metal with enameling. It has its origins in Persia and was introduced in India by the Mughals. Raja Man Singh of Amber brought this art to Rajasthan. He invited skillful meenakars from the Mughal palace at Lahore and established them in Jaipur. Jaipur later on went on to become the center of Meenakari in India.
Meenakari design needs a high degree of skill and techniques. Enameling is the art of coloring or decorating a metal surface by attaching or fusing pieces of different mineral substances over it. Enameling is considered the most alluring and technical of all metal decorations. In the past, enameling was done only on gold, but now it is done on other metals as well. Besides metal, enameling is done on glass as well. Colors like red, green and white, dominate this art of enamelling.
The artisans for this craft are known as 'meenakars' who are involved in creating different Meenakari items. These items are not restricted to jewelery only and include other metal items such as Meenakari bowl set, chowki set, Meenakari arm chair, Meenakari almirah, Meenakari roman chair, Meenakari gun box, utility box thrones, dining set, decorative frames, key holder, photo frames, ash trays, pen holder and many other gift items.
Design for the Meenakari is made on the metal surface by the craftsmen called `chitras`. These designs which include delicate designs of flowers, birds, fish etc is engraved by the `gharias` such that depressions are created. Meenakari is sometimes combined with the art of `Kundan` to make the created articles an amalgamation of enamelling and stone carving. After the design is created, it goes to the meenakar for enameling. The base is first covered by white or pink enamel, upon which different colors are applied in order of their hardness. It is then heated to enhance the richness of the colors.
Enamel dust, of required color, is the poured into the grooves and each color is fired individually. The heat of the furnace melts the color and the colored liquid gets spread equally into the groove. This process is repeated with each color. Colors, which are most heat resistant, are applied first, as they are re-fired with each additional color. Once the last color has been fired, the object is cooled and burnished or polished with agate. The depth of the grooves, filled with different colors, determines the play of light.
`Gulabi mina` (pink enamel) is derived from `gulab` (rose) which has been popularly associated with the Varanasi enameling style. When a single transparent colored enamel is used to fill the ground around an opaque figure, various color of ground like `lal zamin` (transparent red ground), `sabz zamin` (transparent green ground), `nil zamin` (transparent blue ground) are chosen to contrast with and set off that of the subject. `Bandh mina khaka` (opaque cartouche or outline) is a technique in which the figure in transparent color is surrounded by an opaque enamel cartouche. The object when ready is polished and cleaned. Generally hand burnishes are used to cover any exposed metal.
Meenakari jewelery and accessories have been praised and appreciated ever since its introduction for the superb designs and combination of colors. The glittering finish on embellished piece enhances the beauty by play of light and shade through transparent colors. The delicate floral designs with imaginative blend of traditional patterns and colors give Meenakari Jewelery an especially, distinctive look.