Imagine it is 1630 A.D. and you are a pretty, little bird who is free to wander anywhere. However, you choose to fly in the palace of the Mughal Emperor, the one who is ruling a major part of the Indian subcontinent.
Dear bird, I will bet, from the magnificent entrance gate to a miniature pitcher used for storing flower extract, you will be spellbound to see beautiful artwork. Everything from Haathi-dwar to Ittar-daani will be adorned with an art form known as Meenakari.
Meenakari is an art that was originated in Persia and was brought to India by Mughals. This art form gained ample recognition when Raja Man Singh of Mewar decided to choose it to be used for Darbar ceremonies and in portraits.
If you have ever visited the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, you must have seen how dearly this art was cherished by the royals of that period.
Originally, Meenakari is based on the process of enameling. It is a method of coloring and decorating the surfaces of metals with molten glass and then embellished with precious stones and diamonds. The powdered glass is fused to a substrate by heating at a temperature above 800 degrees Celsius. The powder melts and then can be carved on the metal surface to make the desired outline. This process was invented to be used on metals, however later Meenakari was done on stones, marbles and everything that can withstand the process of enameling.
There were ample materials that were not suitable for enameling but people managed to have Meenakari on them too. While the process of making Meenakari was altered, the intricacies and the authenticity remained the same. An art form that was brought by Mughals for decorating their palaces now found its way on clothes, jewelry, utensils, decorative pieces, furniture, wall paintings, watches, mirrors and even on footwear.
The root word for Meenakari is ‘Minu’, which means heavenly in the Persian language and the word ‘Kari’ stands for an artist. Well, we can definitely say that the art of Meenakari can make things appear heavenly. These designs are mostly inspired by nature. The seamless floral pattern being the most common Meenakari design, the other contents include incidents from the life of Mughal emperors, portraits, Mughal gardens, the royal ceremonies, wild animals, life of people and their relations with flora and fauna.
Meenakari paintings are made on a thick sheet of paper or on canvas. The designs are made using glass colors and liners to make them appear like melted glasswork. The colorful liners are kept intact on the canvas with the help of adhesives. The use of these materials makes the designs look like carvings on the canvas, just like enameling on the metal surface. Thus, giving a unique appearance to the motif.
The beauty and charm of this art form have kept it unscathed in the lives of the royals and of the common people for years. This endearing and evergreen art form has gracefully co-existed with multiple generations of people for more than three centuries. With time, it is modernized, renovated and updated to streamline with the changing times and people’s expectations; however, it is also cherished in its most authentic form.
It has taught us that sheer elegance and simplicity can stand the test of time.