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The Magic Mirrors of Aranmula

The Magic Mirrors of Aranmula

The traditional craft of polished metal mirror of Aranmula in Kerala, which has earned the Geographical Indication tag, make excellent gifts or souvenirs

Polished metal mirror of Aranmula
Polished metal mirror of Aranmula Image credit: Shutterstock.com

A little over 100km from Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, is a small temple town called Aranmula. Located on the bank of the Pampa river, the town is frequented by Vaishnav pilgrims who come to visit the Parthasarathi (as Krishna was called when he acted as the charioteer of the Pandava brother Arjuna) Temple. The town is also known for its annual boat race. But what most people are not aware of is that the town is also home to a dying craft – the Aranmula Kannadi or the Aranmula mirror – that has been honored with a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2005. Made of metal, the mirror is an example of India's mastery over metallurgical techniques. 

There are various stories associated with the origin of the Aranmula Kannadi. According to one popular tale, eight craftsmen and their families from Tamil Nadu were brought to work in the Parthasarathi temple. During the course of their work (some say as they were leaving for their homes in Tamil Nadu), the craftsmen presented a crown to the king that contained the mirror as part of the decoration. 
Apparently, while working at the Parthasarathi Temple with different metals, the craftsmen had come upon a special alloy that had sharp reflective properties and doubled up as a mirror. Pleased with their metallurgical skills, the king invited them to stay back in Aranmula. Some of them did and continued to make the special mirror. Although it is known that the alloy is a mixture of copper and tin, the preparation is still a secret.

The mirror is considered auspicious and a symbol of good luck. It is part of the 'astamangalya' or the eight auspicious objects displayed during religious and social functions, including New Year celebration, marriages, etc.

Depending on the shape of the mirror to be made, a mold is prepared. Here too craftsmen use a technique similar to the lost wax process. The metal is then polished. According to the craftsmen, making the mold and polishing is both a long and laborious task. Usually, they can make 70 to 80 mirrors from one mould. The polishing may take weeks to obtain the perfect finish. The mirror, set in an ornamental frame, is finally ready to be sold.

A craftsman at work
A craftsman at work Image credit: Nina Lishchuk / Shutterstock.com

However, artisans rue the lack of buyers of Kannadi and feel threatened by the competitive pricing offered by similar sized glass mirrors. Therefore, many of the younger people are shunning the family profession and moving to higher paying jobs. The Viswabrahmana Aranmula Metal Mirror Nirman Society, which was responsible for the mirror getting the GI tag, is trying to glaanise the craftsmen so that this traditional art does not fade away.

Information: Kerala Tourism has declared Aranmula as a heritage village. The village is known for its temples, including the Parthasarathy Temple. During the Vallasadya ritual, the presiding deity of Parthasarathy is offered over 70 kinds of specially prepared dishes. On the day of the snake boat race, the oarsmen are also ritually treated to a grand feast. You may also enjoy Kerala's traditional music and dance programs here. The Kannadi shops are located around the main temple.

Aranmula is nearly 120km from Kerala's capital city Thiruvananthapuram, which is also the nearest airport. The nearest railway station is Chengannur, 11 km away.  

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