In the by-lanes of Gai Ghat in Varanasi thrives, the rare and delicate art of gulabi meenakari. The art form came to India in the 17th century with the Persian enamellists, who travelled to India under the Mughal rule. Now bestowed with the Geographical Indicator tag, the art of Gulabi Meenakari of Varanasi, once foreign, but long ago accepted and owned by the artisans of Varanasi, has acquired an added sheen of protection and preservation.
Back On Demand
After a gap of more than half a century, which occurred due to lack of demand, hence resources, which lead to meenakars, or craftspeople, passing into oblivion, the recently revived Varanasi Gulabi Meenakari is picking up pace. This is primarily due to its demand in the jewellery industry, which is led by fashion trends created by them, as well as celebrities on the lookout for ‘something different’ for their public outings.
The Same And Not
The Varanasi Gulabi Meenakari differs from the red enamel meenakari of Jaipur, Rajasthan, which maintained its popular status quo through the centuries. Meenakari, from Rajasthan and Gujarat, has high market visibility. You may recall seeing meenakari work on Kundan jewellery: gemstones set in gold foil and the reverse side enamelled using the meena technique.
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Said to be a conjugation of the feminine Persian word mina, from minoo, meaning heaven, and kari to create or do, meenakari holds true the hues of the heavens it refers to. The Varanasi Gulabi Meenakari is used to make exquisite pieces of jewellery as well as home décor items in the forms of traditionally adored flora and fauna and souvenirs depicting characters from Hinduism and its mythology. Nowadays, you can shop for Gulabi Meenakari products such as jewellery boxes, idols, sculptures, key chains, dining sets, trays, cupboards, kohl pots, etc. Did you know that recently at the G7, India gifted a Gulabi Meenakari pair of cufflinks and a brooch as souvenirs to the US President, Joe Biden, and his wife?
The colouring and enamelling work is done on engraved metal; however, the best results are when precious metals such as gold and silver are used. Primarily popular in three distinct variations, which are ek rang khula meena, which has a single, transparent colour detailed in golden outlines; panch rangi meena, which, as the name suggests, has five colours: red, white, green, and light blue, and dark blue; and, the Varanasi Gulabi Meenakari, in which pink is the dominant colour.
Like all indigenous art and handicraft forms, the tradecraft of Gulabi Meenakari is labour-intensive, backbreaking, eyesight-killing work, all borne by craftspeople to create hallmark pieces of exquisite beauty. The tools of the trade have mostly remained the same since the art was developed, and these include the forceps or pakad, salai or the etching tool, takala, a needle-like tool to apply the colours, kalam to brush in the enamel), a metal palette, mortar and pestle, brass dye, a small scrubbing brush, and the kiln.
Art, Artists, Awards
Right now, at the forefront of the revolution in Gulabi Meenakari are the two national award-winners of the art, Kunj Bihari Singh, an auto driver turned one-fantastic-artist, and Tarun Kumar Singh, who got into the tradecraft via a CSR initiative of a private firm. Traditionally, in a male-dominated industry, the current crop of artists has a large number of women. Many of them are being trained by the two national awardees, and the women are only too happy to learn the art form, practice, and earn from it without leaving their homes. Currently, about 400 craftspeople are working in the Gulabi Meenakari cottage industry in Varanasi.
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