With its origins i n Persia , Meenakari, the art of decorating metal with enamel, was introduced to India by the Mughal rulers. Its rich and antique look has lured many royal patrons in the past. In fact, a high degree of technicality, complexity and skill is required for this particular art form. Characterised by exquisite motifs, geometric lines and sophisticated art work, Meenakari is known for its striking features. “One of the most ancient forms of art, Meenakari is a beautiful blend of colours, designs and techniques. The creative combination of complex patterns with delicate floral motifs gives Meenakari its distinctive look. It is an integral part of Kundan jewellery and the work is usually done on the reverse side. Designs of flowers, birds and animals are first engraved and then filled with enamel. Each colour is then fired individually so that they remain permanent,” said jewellery designer Asha Kamal Modi who is showcasing her latest collection Begum, inspired by the private collections of Begum Noor Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal and Jahanara, in the city.
Catering to a wide range of both traditional and Western patterns, Asha’s designs often reflect a woman’s inner most desires. Each of her designs is different in style, mood and craftsmanship, made to perfection by some of India’s finest artisans. Begum is a tribute to the three most influential princesses of the Mughal era.
Touted as the first jewellery designer of India, it was Begum Noor Jahan who invented the art of Meenakari.
And, she bestowed upon Begum Mumtaz Mahal, her daughter in-law and wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, some of the most rare gems and jewels -- one of them being the crown she wore at the Royal Court.
Later, her daughter Begum Jahanara, who inherited most of her mother’s jewellery promoted the art of Kundan and Meenakari in India. “The Mughal queens wore heavy jewellery as they represented royalty. My forte
has always been period jewellery. I like to recreate the magic of this particular era with my work. I have also incorporated ‘Ek rang khula mina’, ‘Pachrangi mina’ and ‘Khula nila’ in my designs. I want young people to be aware of our past and incorporate these elements in fashion today. Well, most of my work is rooted in tradition.
However, with Begum, I have modernised the collection according to contemporary tastes,” said Asha. Reflecting strong Mughal, Deccan and European influences, Begum merges eccentricity with elegance. Here, the designer has also experimented extensively with Kundan and other art forms like pave, carved gold work, South Indian temple work and semi-precious stones including amethyst, opal and citrine. Meenakari is often combined with the art of Kundan to create more ambitious designs. With respect to intricacy, Indian designs have set a benchmark for royalty, over the years.
So, where do experimental designs fit in the Indian context? “In our country, royalty has always been a huge factor in jewellery designs but what is the point of creating such pieces if everybody cannot wear them? Pieces which were traditionally created in gold are now being made available to all sections of the society. Today, several designers are creating pieces that are both affordable and creatively challenging. I believe we have finally entered the era of experimental designs,” she signed off.