Nestled in the lap of the blazing desert area of Rajasthan is the hub of Meenakari work in India. Owing to it being produced locally, meenakari work both in jewellery and artifacts is a part of almost every household in Rajasthan. The craft, however, did not originate in India. Enamelling, which is essentially what meenakari work is, is said to have been brought to India from Persia by Mughal invaders. The word ‘Meenakari’ itself is derived from the Persian word ‘Mina’ which refers to the azure colours of heaven. Oddly enough, meenakari work was initially used in architecture, to adorn the walls, pillars and roofs of the Mughal palaces. It is said that the begums loved it and asked for it to be a part of their jewellery. Over the years, the designs that go into meenakari work have evolved to become a beautiful amalgamation of Persian and Indian styles.
Meenakari Work Tray with Engraving
The artisans who handcraft these beautiful enamel pieces are known as Minkars. In the 16th century, Raja Man Singh of Amber was impressed with the craft and invited these Minkars from Lahore to Jaipur. The Minkars then moved to Jaipur where they chose to settle and Jaipur eventually became home to this age old craft.
Meenakari Work at the Sheesh Mahal
Meenakari work also travelled to other parts of the country during the Mughal reign. The Minkars were commissioned by the erstwhile Maharajahs to showcase their beautiful craft on the walls of forts like the Amer Fort and Gwalior Fort. The artists in each region added their own special touch and style to the craft and soon, meenakari work in each region had a unique feature. Udaipur and Bikaner evolved as regions known for their silver enamelling work while glass enamelling experts set up base in Pratapgarh. The Minkars of Lucknow continue to make brilliant designs in green and blue enamel on silver while in Varanasi, a dusky pink is the most dominant enamel. Among all the centres though, it is Jaipur and Delhi that need special mention for their extremely skilled craftsmen whose designs are most sought after even today.
Once it started being used in jewellery, meenakari work became a staple at the back of kundan and polki pieces. Even though this made the jewellery reversible, meenakari work was not the star of the jewellery. Today, however, the demand for meenakari work is such that you can find gold necklaces, bangles and earrings with just meenakari work flying off the shelves like hot cakes.
Meenakari Work Bangles
The appeal of the vibrant colours and the exquisite designs in meenakari work has also lead to the creation of a whole new niche of household articles adorned with the enamelled designs. Ranging from serveware, storage containers to decorative pieces and artifacts, meenakari work is being used to enhance the beauty of a variety of lifestyle accessories today.