HISTORY OF CRAFT
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STORY OF THE MINAKAR
The enamelists designate their styles of work by the style of the engraved pattern that backs a transparent colour, the ground colour used and whether it is transparent or opaque, the No. of colours used & whether the background of the figure is exposed in gold. The various styles are:
- Safed Chalwan- This style is characterised by a thin border of white enamel, of the thickness of a hair, running next to the whole design as a border. It’s thickness remains uniform all over and can be achieved by a craftsmanship of very high order. The seign subject – flowers, birds, or leaves engraved within the outline, then filled with a contrast of colour (Khilaf rang) and fluid. A thin gold outline remains between the surrounding white cartouche and the figural subject.
a) This is when singlered transparent coloured enamel is used to fill the ground around an opaque figure. The red colour mostly contarsts with sets off the subject.
b) This can also be done with green – Sabz Zamin.
c) Nil Zamin – Same technique when done with blue transparent enamel.
- Bund tila ka mina – This style of work has coloured enameled areas isolated on a plain gold ground. It originated from Qajar Persia in 18th century. The figure in transparent and opqaue enamels appears within a cartouche or other shape, and the ground beyond it is left plain polished gold. It is done with an instrument called Khat Ki Salai.
- Taiyari – This is the easiest and most common type of meenkari. In this after the design subjects have been filled with enamel, there whatever space is left filled with opaque white enamel. Essentially, there are no restrictions on the boundary as it could be thick in certain areas and thin in others.
Other Styles Rarely Done
- Chatai ka Kam- Transparent enamel completely covers a three dimensional but frontal design executed in rep oussage and chasing.
- Teh Zamin- One transparent colour completely covers the entire engraved metal design, usuallly at the flat back, rarely at the front.
- Maroudi – Designs which have veils and circular interlocked lines, worked out in gold.
History of the Craft
Meenakari, essentially as a craft, has it’s origin outside India. It is believed to be from Central Asia. The period when it came down to India can be traced back to Mughal times. As committed aesthetes, Mughal emperors conscioulsy gave lots of their time & wealth for flourishment of arts. Under Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan, every item crafted had to meet a specific standard. More than in any other period of Indian history, under Shah Jahan, there was an affiliation in design between architecture and various decorative objects.
Among the many decorative arts, a distinct style of jewellery produced in the karkhanas combined mughal finesse with a legendary love of the sumptuous. This was minakari – a combination of gems, enamel and precious metal. It became a symbol of the mughal vision of “Paradise on Earth.” Holding on to its Islamic roots, this paradise was a celestial garden with all types of tress, flowers, colours of every iamgainable shade. Motifs were mainly flowers, plants, wines and animal forms all of which are seen also in mughal architecture. It was Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s vision that transformed enamelling to a sophisticated art form which embellished jewellery objects, to imperial thrones. Since the technique of enamelling was not indigenous to sub continent the exact date of of its entry to India is debatable. The first known reference to enamelling is in the 16th century annals of Akbar’s reign in Abul Fazal’s “Ain-i-Akbari.”
“The Minakar enameller works on cups, daggers, rings and other articles with gold and silver. He polishes his delicate enamles separately on various colours, sets them in their suitable place & puts them to fire. This is done several times.” Also the minakar’s compensation for every “tola” of gold he worked on was a mere 16 dams, a fraction of what other specialist craftsmen was paid. The “Shah Nama” also makes references to enamelled objects. “The royal librarian’s record of a golden screen confirms the excellence & demand for enamellling in Shah Jahan’s time. It is believed that it was initially mughal emperor Humayun’s cheiftan’s son, Prithvi Singh who was sent to Iran to learn this craft in Delhi, Punjab, Amber etc.,Bhanshidhar’s son – Mehtabrai is famous for making a “Dhaal” with meenakari, for the Maharaj of Punjab. It is biggest work in Meenakari ever done. This great piece was then finished off by Mehtabrai’s five sons namely:-
- Ranji Das
Thus, it was the Mughals who are basically responsible for bringing in Meenakari to India and giving it a sophistication & subtelity that lifted it to an exquisite art form.