Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crafts of Rajasthan - Kundan and Meenakari

In 1735, the Surana family of jewellers came from Delhi to Jaipur, at the invitation of Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II. They remain one of Jaipur's most renowned jewellers, offering both traditional and modern styles of jewellery. Today they are the 7th generation of jewellers!
A typical combination of meenakari (enamelling) and jadai/ kundan (embedding) work.
What you see above is a restored, traditional piece, called 'Aad' (neck choker). It would require inputs of 5 skilled specialists:
- the designer (chitera)
- the goldsmith (sunar)
- the engraver and enameller (meenakar)
- the gemsetter (jadiya)
- the stringer (patua)

Often, opposite sides of a piece of jewellery will be decorated with Meenakari work and Kundan work respectively. The ornament then can be worn either way.

The art of "kundan" or "jadai", i.e. the art of embedding, was introduced into India by the Mughals. Gold foil is used as the base, and precious stones (diamonds, rubies, emeralds etc) are embedded into it. The glittering effect is fabulous, because the foil enables more light to reflect off and through the stone. Try wearing kundan and standing near candle-light or any kind of lights. It looks brilliant.

Meenakari (enamelling) is the art of decorating a metal surface by fusing colourful mineral substances to it. The technique also came to India from Persia during Mughal times. The salai (pattern) is engraved/carved onto the gold object with a steel stylus, creating walls or grooves that will hold colour. The meenakar then fills colourful enamel powder into the grooves - cobalt oxide for blue, copper oxide for green, etc. They apply each colour seprately and melt the powder in the heat of a furnace, so that it becomes liquid and spreads evenly in the groove.The heat-resistant white is applied first, and red is applied last. Finally, the object is cleaned in a tamarind solution and polished.

In the 16th century, Raja Man Singh of Amber invited master enamellers from the Mughal palace at Lahore to Jaipur. Today Jaipur is the center of Meenakari production. Flower, foliage and animals are the most popular motifs, and traditional Mughal colours like red, green and white are dominant in Jaipur's meenakari work. Meenakari work though is not limited to jewellery. You will find it being used in everything from palace decoration to regular shoe-pieces. These beautiful meenakari elephants are a great option to take home.

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