Indian jewellery holds an utmost importance in Indian history, as it is an essential part of women’s lifestyle. The desire to adorn themselves in jewellery dates back to the Indian history, which paved way for the origin of jewellery. Jewellery has been a great attraction in India, which was not only considered for the purpose of adoration but also for the security reasons at the time of emergency. This is because the jewellery is highly expensive and it can be sold when the dire need of money. This is how; the jewellery also serves the purpose of insurance that can be dependable upon. Indian jewellery is very unique in its ornamentation with the delicacy of work that has developed throughout the historical times. There are jewelleries for almost all the parts of the body, including neck, ear, arms, ankles, waist, fingers and etc. The collection of jewellery varies from religious to purely artistic types, which also varies from region to region. These jewelleries were not only crafted for human beings but also for the Gods, ceremonial elephants and horses as well.
India was often called as “Golden Bird”, as it is the house of various kinds of jewellery, ranging from kundan meenakari to stone-bead works and for the availability of precious metals as well. Gold jewellery is most famous among the women in India. Gold is considered to be very auspicious and the symbol of status. Thinking about gold jewellery the first pattern comes to one’s mind is kundan meena jewellery. The art of making kundan meena jewellery dates back to Mughal era. The most mesmerizing kundan meena jewelleries were done during this period.
‘Kundan keshri’ is the oldest name, which is called as ‘Kundan’ in general terms now a days. The word ‘kundan’ means ‘highly refined gold’ which is fiery yellow gold color in its purest form. The extremely refined purest form of melted gold to set stones is used for kundan jewellery making. Kundan jewellery is believed to be the most ancient art of jewellery making of India. It flourished during the times of Mughals. This was the most important jewellery used by the Rajasthan women and the women of Mughal emperors. The traditional kundan jewellery is covered with stones on one side and the meenakari work on the other side. It is the Mughals who were very much inspired in the art of setting gems, diamonds and precious stones to gold and silver jewellery. This is one of the oldest royally fashioned studding jewellery designs found in Mughal history. During the Mughal’s period, the art of kundan jewellery making was spread to Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan. In the later days the craftsmen from various parts of the country migrated to Rajasthan and started the art of kundan jewellery making which made Rajasthan a hub of kundankari jewellery. But today this marvelous art of Kundan jewellery of Rajasthan is known worldwide. The art of setting the precious stones in kundan is the actual aesthetical technique, which lies in the overall look of kundan jewellery. Kundan jewellery includes the hollowed golden framework in which a balanced arrangement of minimally cut gems, diamonds or glass is set. This reveals the beauty of setting these gems in the shining golden base mounts.
Even today, kundan jewellery remains as an important part of Indian traditional wedding. Most recently, in the year 2008 epic film of India, Jodha Akbar, the lead character was portrayed in extensively worn Kundan jewellery, by highlighting the royal Rajasthani jewellery. In the year 2006, American diamond and the kundan jewellery contributed the largest share of both volume and value market (73 percent) in Indian jewellery market.
Precious stones, gold and enamel are the most important things of the traditional kundan jewellery. To complete the kundan jewellery creation, the experienced craftsmen lavishly enamel the reverse side of the jewellery using the meenakari technique.
The enameling work done on any metal surface is called as meenakari art. When the word ‘meenakari’ is split into two according to their meaning, it becomes ‘meena’ and ‘kari’. The word ‘meena’ stands for ‘enamel’ and the word ‘kari’ stands for ‘art’. Thus the word ‘meenakari’ means ‘art of enamelling’. The art of Meenakari has its roots to Persia. In Persian language ‘meena’ word stands for ‘heaven’, ‘the azure color of heaven’. The craftsmen of Iran in Sassanid era invented this art. The art of decorating the metal surface by fusing the minerals and treated substances to it is called as enamelling. This is one of the ancient arts found in history. This was spread to India and other countries by Mongols. The French tourist, Jean Chardin, who visited Iran during this era noted the works of enamel in Isfahan, which involved the pattern of birds and animals on a floral background in light blue, red, yellow and green. Some historians also link this enamelling history to Arsacides period. However the use of enamel is unclear till the seventh ruler of Mongol ‘Ghazan Khan’ (1271A.D – 1304A.D), who acquired the knowledge of chemistry in a very short period of time and preferred to use his knowledge in the art of enamel making, practically.
This art initially flourished at Jaipur in India, as the king of Amber (Jaipur) Raja Man Singh invited the five skilled enamel artists from Lahore to Jaipur in 16th century. Thus this art became famous among the Mughals and the Princes of Rajasthan. And now Jaipur is the center of traditional meenakari production. Later this kundan meenakari jewellery was also practiced in Bikaner, Delhi and Benares, while glass enamelling was practiced at Pratapgarh. Here in Pratapgarh the pink hue on white enamel of lotus motif was characterized mostly. This style was also brought to India in the 17th century by the Persian craftsmen who visited the Avadh court at Lucknow. Enamel was first applied commercially to sheet iron and steel in Austria and Germany in about 1850. Enamelling was one of the favourite techniques of the Art Nouveau jewellers.
Enamelling is an old technology, which is widely adopted. The colored stones and glass are crushed into fine powder and prepared for enamelling. But now a days some chemicals including ferrous salts, cobalt oxide, copper salts, and other salts are used for the preparation of enamel. These chemicals are mixed according to the metal used for the meenakari jewellery making.
Initially meenakari work was often unnoticed as this work was done on the backside of the fabulous stone studded kundan jewellery. But later this also gave the special joy for the wearer who noticed this special design of meenakari at the back of kundan jewellery. The most often seen motifs in meenakari jewellery are flowers and foliage, peacocks, parrots and elephants.