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Enameling or Meenakari or Meena Kari or Mina Kari is an art of coloring and ornamenting a metal surface by attaching or fusing pieces of different mineral substances of brilliant colors, over it in dramatic motifs of birds, flowers, leaves, fish, peacocks, parrots, elephants and geometric shapes. Enameling is considered the most alluring and technical of all metal decorations. In the past enameling was only done on gold, but presently it is done other metals like silver, copper etc. There are various kinds of Meenakari work depending on whether the enamel is to appear opaque, transparent or translucent.
Meenakari is not just confined to traditional Jewellery but diversifies into more modern products, including bowls, ashtrays, key chains, vases , spoons, figures of deities, small temple stools, photo frames, jewellery boxes and wall pieces .
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 jewellery; however, silver has been most used in accessories and cutlery products, art pieces and jewellery 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.
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 of Meenakari 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.
Meenakari 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.
Meenakari work originated in Persia, and was later introduced to India through the Mughal invaders. Raja Man Singh of Amber brought Meenakari to Rajasthan at the turn of the 16th century. Man Singh brought skilful minakars from the Mughal palace at Lahore and established them in Jaipur, which became the centre of Meenakari.
Mina is the feminine form of Minoo in Persian, meaning heaven. Mina refers to the Azure color of heaven. The Iranian craftsmen of Sasanied era invented this art. Meenakari gold is primarily done in Jaipur, Banaras and Delhi. Silver enameling or Meenakari is majorly done in Udaipur, Bikaner and Nathdwara whereas glass enameling is done in Pratapgarh.