Traditional Aranmula metal mirror, Kerala - a slowly dying craft

. Kerala's traditional  Aranmula mirror/kannadi

 Kerala's  Aranmula mirror/kannadi,

Aranmula, a heritage village in Kerala about 100 km from Thiruvananthapuram city on the banks of River Pamba is famous for is the traditional craft of mirror making without glasses  native to this place and it has been around 500 years. Located here is a famous Vishnu temple dedicated to Sri Parthasarathy (God Krishna). This small place comes alive every year when the famous snake boat races are held  with great pomp.  This unique  mirror is  believed to be auspicious and a symbol of good luck. Widely used  during religious and social functions, New Year celebration, marriages, etc., the metal mirror  is part of the ‘astamangalya’ and has  eight auspicious objects. Such traditional mirrors face stiff competition from glass mirrors that are available at competitive prices. 

Aranmula metal mirror. peacock shaped.

That lots of visitors to Aranmula have no idea whatsoever about the old art of mirror-making shows lack of publicity on the part of the state government. Yet another unfortunate fact is this traditional craft is on the decline as the younger members of the families involved in the mirror-making prefer other jobs that get them better wages

Aranmula, Kerala's traditional mirror.

The good news is way  back in 2005 the Aranmula Kannadi or the Aranmula mirror  received the  Geographical Indication (GI) tag. Reason: This unique mirror is made of metal and making mirror out of metals is suggestive of the workers mastery over distinctive  metallurgical techniques. To avoid further decline,  the Viswabrahmana Aranmula Metal Mirror Nirman Society, not only got the GI tag long ago but also worked hard  to get the traditional craft going  They also persuaded the skilled craftsmen to stay on the job for ever regardless of hurdles due to competition. The traditional Aranmula mirror workers face competition from yet another front - migrant workers who are willing to do the same job at lower wages. 

Aranmula mirror,

Some societies make  Aranmula mirrors by bringing workers from Andhra. This impacted the people of  Viswakarma caste  who make these mirrors for centuries. In Aranmula  now only less than 10 families are in this trade because of the arrival of  migrant laborers. a couple of years ago, the  traditional craftsmen from Tamil Nadu protested against the state govt  at Thiruvnanthapuram to get the attention of the labor department. The migrant workers, it is said, make substandard mirrors, not following the traditional methods.

Aranmula Sri Parthasarathy temple,

Aranmula temple, outer wall with velakku madam (oil lamp  rack).

Aranmula, Kerala,
As to the origin of the Aranmula Kannadi. it is believed, that centuries ago it was introduced by craftsmen from Tamil Nadu  who came here to work in the Aramula Vishnu temple. On completion of their work as a token of their gratitude to the ruler, they presented him a crown that had a shinning mirror as part of decorative features.  While working in the temple  with all kinds of metals, they came upon a special metal shinning alloy and diligently used it for making shinning mirror.   Quite impressed, the ruler of the land advised them to stay in Aranmula  and gave them his full support in all aspects.  Since then, many families have been living there, making unique shinning mirrors of various sizes and designs. The exact mix of metals and their proportion is still a riddle; however the alloy basically has tin and copper metals.
Traditional Aranmula

The starting process is the preparation of moulds,  depending on the size and shape. Mirrors are normally made using clay from the local paddy fields  using  bell-metal. The old forgotten  wax method of casting is used. The bell-metal mirror is then given a coating of metallic powder mixed with special oil. The artisans then  painstakingly give polish to the mirror by rubbing the  metal with a special cloth over several days.

  Preparation of  moulds, polishing and finishing job takes much of the time  a few weeks to achieve good finish. Finally, the mirror is set on the decorative/ornamental frame.  At the maximum from one mould 70 to 80 mirrors can me made. “It will take two to three days to make small mirrors and almost three to four months to make larger ones. The costs range from Rs 3,500 to Rs 2 lakhs. 

However, artisans complain about 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 persuade the craftsmen so that this traditional art does not fade away.

Kerala Tourism has declared Aranmula as a heritage village which 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 programmers here. The Kannadi shops are located around the main temple.

 Aranmula is about  120km from Kerala’s capital city Thiruvananthapuram, The nearest railway station is Chengannur, 11km away.