Minakari, also known as Meenakari, is an intricate art form originating in Safavid Iran, involving the painting and coloring of metal surfaces and ceramic tiles through enameling. It is both a form of artistic expression and a commercial production, primarily practiced in Iran, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The term “Mīnākārī” is derived from two words: “mīnā,” a feminine variation of “mīnū,” meaning paradise or heaven, and “kārī,” which translates to doing or placing something onto something else. Together, “Mīnākārī” signifies the act of adorning an object with elements of paradise.
As previously mentioned, I had shared my desire to introduce a special craft from Varanasi, and today, I’m here to do just that.
The craft in question is known as Gulabi Meenakari, where the dominant color is pink, as implied by the name. While compiling my list of must-see attractions, Gulabi Meenakari was at the very top. However, I soon discovered that only a handful of artisans continue to practice this craft today. It proved quite challenging to locate examples of Gulabi Meenakari in Varanasi’s markets. It was only when I was on the brink of giving up that I encountered a gentleman who informed me about a family skilled in this craft, conveniently his neighbors. Without hesitation, I reached out to Mr. Krishna Kumar Singh to arrange a meeting and witness the exquisite beauty of this art form.
Today, I won’t delve into the details of Gulabi Meenakari but instead introduce the work of one renowned family in Varanasi. For those readers eager to learn more about this craft, I encourage you to explore the informative link provided below.
Let’s now delve into the conversation between Mr. Krishna Kumar Singh and myself:
Antima: How did your family’s involvement in this craft tradition begin? Can you trace its origins in your family?
Krishna: For four generations, our family has been dedicated to the practice of this craft. It all began with our great-grandfather, followed by our grandfather, and then our mother. Now, my brothers (Lokesh Singh, Kunjbihari Singh, Tarun Kumar Singh, and myself, Krishna Kumar Singh) have taken up the responsibility of preserving this art, not only as a means of livelihood but also as a cherished tradition. We have high hopes that the next generation within our family will also contribute to the continuation of this art form.
Over the past two centuries, we’ve witnessed a gradual transformation in our approach, moving from traditional methods of working and design towards more modern techniques. We are committed to fully cooperating with anyone interested in our craft and are dedicated to its preservation and evolution.
Antima: Can you share some stories or anecdotes about the earliest generations of your family who practiced this craft?
Krishna: In our family’s artistic lineage, our great-grandfather and grandfather were both skilled practitioners of this craft. However, our father, who possessed knowledge of this art, pursued further education and secured a job in the Postal Department. Consequently, he had limited time to devote to the craft. During this period, our mother, the late Mrs. Leela Devi, provided unwavering support and compensated for our father’s inability to dedicate full-time attention to the art. It was her dedication that ensured the continuity of this craft into our third generation. This remarkable journey continued, and our fourth generation had the opportunity to learn and inherit this artistry. We are forever grateful to our parents and ancestors who facilitated the passage of this art down to us. Even in our generation, our youngest brother demonstrated a passion for both education and the art. After completing his education, he pursued a career as a software engineer. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic when remote work became the norm and pink enamel gained prominence, it provided a significant boost to the promotion and dissemination of Gulabi Meenakari through social media. Our family’s craft reached customers worldwide through digital channels, especially during a challenging financial period in Varanasi.
This approach subsequently inspired other Geographical Indication (GI) crafts in Banaras to adopt similar strategies for promoting their respective arts.
Antima: Were there any specific tools or techniques that have been passed down through your family’s generations?
Krishna: Every art form has a fundamental process that serves as the foundation for teaching new students and creating artworks. However, each art form also possesses its unique continuity, evolving over time through the experiences of seasoned artists.
In the case of Banaras’ pink enamel art, there exist specific rules and practices that are diligently followed to preserve the authenticity of this craft. Even today, these rules are upheld to maintain the integrity of the art. Some of these practices include using dried pomegranate seeds as a paste for “meena” (a special type of stone heavily utilized in this art), applying pink paint on white meena, and using pure sandalwood or rose oil. These traditions have been faithfully passed down through generations, reflecting the art’s ancient origins.
Antima: How has your family’s craft tradition evolved over time? Are there any significant changes or innovations that stand out?
Krishna: When we delve into the ancient methods of working in this craft, we discover that many of the tools and raw materials were crafted by the artisans themselves. Over time, these handmade tools were refined and supplemented with various innovations. This evolution allowed for the creation of jewelry and artifacts with greater ease compared to the earlier methods.
In the past, artisans had to procure all the necessary materials themselves. However, in recent times, the government has introduced several schemes that provide toolkits to both experienced and novice artisans. This support has significantly simplified the learning process and the execution of their craft.
Regarding the furnaces used in this art, they were traditionally handmade. In certain projects, the government has even supplied electric furnaces to artisans. Nevertheless, when it comes to the furnaces used for crafting jewelry in our work, we continue to craft them ourselves, rather than relying on electric alternatives.
Antima: Have there been any challenges or obstacles that your family has faced in preserving and continuing this craft tradition? If so. what has changed?
Krishna: In the initial stages of this art, it was exclusively crafted in gold, making it a highly valuable but relatively inaccessible craft due to its cost. With the rise of Gold price, the production of these artifacts declined, directly impacting the craft and leading to a decrease in the number of artists practicing it. During our fourth generation’s involvement in this craft, we contemplated leaving it due to financial challenges, a decision many artisans were forced to make at the time.
However, as time passed, we realized that the underlying metal could be substituted with silver, which not only broadened the customer base but also reduced production costs. With the support of Padma Shri Dr. Rajnikant Dwivedi from the Human Welfare Association in 2015, this art experienced a revival. We united with some artisans from old families who had left the craft, established a training center.
During this period, our brother, Tarun Kumar Singh, began experimenting with creating gold and silver jewelry, achieving success and transitioning entirely to this method. This shift significantly increased the customer base for pink enamel silver jewelry.
In March 2018, during French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to India, a live demonstration of four crafts, including Banaras Gulabi Meenakari, was organized for him at the Trade Facility Centre in Bada Lalpur, Varanasi. During the demonstration, the French President was particularly impressed by our silver earrings crafted in pink enamel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally gifted these earrings to President Macron, drawing significant attention to pink enamel jewelry made in silver and elevating the craft to international recognition and acclaim.
Antima: Are there any particular family members who were especially influential or skilled in this craft? What made them stand out?
Krishna: Certainly, while our great-grandfather, Late Shri Nandan Singh Ji, and our grandfather, Late Shri Nanak Saran Singh Ji, were highly skilled practitioners of this art, our present generation, comprising my brothers (Lokesh Singh, Kunjbihari Singh, Tarun Kumar Singh, and myself, Krishna Kumar Singh), has also become proficient in various aspects of this craft. We are all wholeheartedly committed to advancing and preserving this art form.
Antima: How did your parents or grandparents teach you about this craft? Were there any unique teaching methods or rituals involved?
Krishna: In our early years, we were filled with excitement watching our parents engage in this art. The use of drawings and colors in the craft piqued our curiosity, motivating us to learn this art ourselves. When it comes to the process of teaching and learning, we all underwent a traditional, sequential approach. The fundamental method remains the most effective way to learn any art.
Antima: Have you ever considered teaching the craft to the next generation in your family? What are your thoughts on passing down this tradition?
Krishna: Our next generation is still quite young, but they are already showing a keen interest in learning this art right from the start. They actively assist us in various small tasks such as threading beads and other gemstones onto wires, and they are also learning the intricate process of creating Meena, which involves transforming a special type of stone from its solid form into a fine powder.
I was impressed by the exceptional talent of this family and couldn’t resist the urge to buy this timeless craft for myself.
You should contact them if you are eager to know more and buy these eternal craft pieces. They are 2 Times National and 11 Times State Award Winner. Artisan, Manufacturers and Authentic GI User in Banaras Gulabi Meenakari Craft (G.I. No. 397).
Krishna and Tarun were recently in Noida for the UP International Trade Show.