Aranmula Kannadi: A Reflection of Enchanting Kerala
Assiduously handcrafted, Aranmula Kannadi or Aranmula Mirror reveals a small community’s passion for its exhilarating, unique heritage. The making of this exquisite piece of Aranmula Kannadi has fascinated the world for centuries and is still a well-kept family secret. The mirror is named after Aranmula, a village nestled in the banks of the holy Pamba in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala.
Years ago, a few Vishwakarma artisans came to Aranmula from Sankaran Koil, Tamil Nadu. Arrived at the behest of the King of Pandalam, asking to contribute in the construction of the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple, they engaged in the designing and making of ornaments, bells and cooking vessels by casting copper-based alloys.While working with the bronzes, the artisans noticed the reflective property of one special copper-tin alloy. This feature of the polished metal has been exploited for making bronze mirrors, which came to be known as Aranmula Kannadi. According to the experts, centuries ago, the chief priest of the temple noticed a crack on the crown of the deity. The King commanded the artisans to make a new crown in three days. The artisans were troubled, as they didn’t have the necessary raw material. The head artisan’s wife prayed and had a dream, in which the deity appeared and told her the secret proportion for making an alloy that would gleam like a mirror. The next day, the women of the community donated their gold ornaments. The men sold them to purchase the raw material, and a crown was made. It gleamed bright, and when polished, showed reflective qualities like a mirror. The crown was termed as Kannadi Bhimbom meaning mirror image. The King was delighted. The craft workers then made a Vaal Kannadi (hand-held mirror) using a similar combination, which was popular with Kerala’s aristocracy and royalty. The King then announced that the mirror will be part of the Ashtamangalyam set, a brass plate containing eight auspicious items that are used in religious rites. This mirror received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2005 and is the first item in the state to get such an honour.
In a thatched roof workplace, working under the red sun and sitting near the burning furnaces, it is nothing but their toil and passion that finally brings out the flawless and shining mirrors. Making the mirror starts with preparing the alloy. The next step is moulding, then casting the mould with the alloy in the fiery furnace. The mould is prepared as per the specifications of the mirror, and a technique comparable to the lost wax casting is used to create the mirror. A mould can produce around 100 mirrors. However, making the mould is an arduous task, besides polishing the reflectors could go on for many days to get the desired reflective surface. A craftsman usually makes 10-15 mirrors every month. It also explains the high price associated with the mirror. The price of a tiny two-inch mirror starts at Rs. 3000.
The Aranmula Mirror is a front surface reflection mirror that eliminates secondary reflections and aberrations typical of back surface mirrors. As opposed to the image provided in the usual glass mirrors, the reflection produced in the Aranmula Kannadi does not undergo refraction.
The peak season of Aranmula Kannadi sales is during the Malayali festival of Onam, when thousands crowd this place to attend the Aranmula Valla Sadhya associated with the Aranmula Vallamkali. The Aranmula Vallamkali or Aranmula Boat Race is the oldest and most revered boat race of Kerala. The race is on the day of the Uthrittathi asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam. It is a well-enjoyed fiesta and is known for its grandeur and history. The snake boats used for the race are known as Palliyodams. The honour for the design is given to Lord Krishna himself, the deity at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Lord Krishna is believed to have appeared on these shores of Pamba on a raft made of six bamboos, thus giving the village its name – Aranmula or Six Bamboos. The Government of Kerala with the Ministry of Tourism had declared Aranmula as a heritage village.
On the day of Vallamkali or the boat race, the oarsmen of the snake boats are given a feast called Valla Sadhya in Malayalam, which comprises over 70 dishes, making it the largest vegetarian feast in the country.
It is believed that having an Aranmula Kannadi in the house brings health, prosperity, wealth and luck to the owner. For this reason, it is presented as a gift during marriages and housewarming ceremonies, and other auspicious occasions. People are typically fascinated that a mirror made of the alloy has reflective features like a plane glass mirror and also wondered that the alloy is brittle.
Crafting the mirror is undoubtedly a green process. The material used is eco-friendly and obtained from nature directly. There is nearly zero waste and most of the matter is recycled, as the mould pieces can be ground again, and the alloy pieces re-melted.
Since they are pricey, cheaper fakes are flooding the market. These are made of tin sheets, and for a purchaser, it can be difficult to tell apart if it is a genuine piece or a fake.
Like a plane glass mirror, Aranmula mirror does break. So, for a non-expert, the only way of judging if their mirror is genuine, and not a counterfeit tin version, is to drop it. If the mirror breaks well, it was real.
~K K Akshaya
- Mirroring the making of ‘Aranmula kannadi’ https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/mirroring-the-making-of-aranmula-kannadi/article28111063.ece/photo/9/
- Aranmula Kannadi – Kerala http://www.dsource.in/resource/aranmula-kannadi-kerala/introduction
- ARANMULA KANNADI https://www.scribd.com/document/484491414/ARANMULA-KANNADI-docx