The tale of Aranmula Kannadi, a rare, traditional metal mirror in India
Any reputed handicraft showroom in Kerala, India, will definitely have this in their display list – a metal mirror called Aranmula Kannadi. Granted Geographical Indication (GI) in 2003 for its unique manufacturing process, this is the world’s first and only long-lasting metal mirror originating from a village called Aranmula. However, chances are that the ones in display might be fake.
The Aranmula Kannadi is one of the most sought-after handicraft items from Kerala by tourists and foreign buyers. The famed metal-alloy mirror is protected by the GI tag issued in 2003 to the Vishwa Brahmana Aranmula Metal Mirror Nirman Society based in Aranmula Village.
Unlike household mirrors that reflect from the silver nitrate coating beneath a layer of glass, the Aranmula mirror reflects from the surface, an art perfected by generations of craftsmen.
Handed over across eight generations of artisans, the technique of making the mirror with an accurate mix of alloy is a closely-guarded secret kept within a number of families in Aranmula Village. Hence the name Aranmula Kannadi (Aranmula mirror).
According to legend, the origin of the mirror is linked with the renowned Parthasarthy Temple in Aranmula Village. Centuries ago, they say, master craftsmen from eight temples across south India were brought to Aranmula and stumbled upon this unique technique while making a crown for the deity. The temple chief was delighted with this mirror and included it among the eight auspicious objects used to worship the deity in the temple. Their families continued the tradition. The Vishwa Brahmana Aranmula Metal Mirror Nirman Society, formed together by these craftsmen, ship hundreds of carefully crafted units abroad every year. The prices vary – from USD20 to USD 1,000.
It is the rule of trade that any successful product will spawn imitations. There are replicas for the metal mirror, too. However, they never last the test of time, says Shelvaraj A.K, the president of the society.
“The imitators are using the combination of tin and copper, but they don’t know the accurate combination of the alloy. They polish the mirror with grinding and buffering machines. After one or two years of use, the surface of the mirror becomes black and it will fade,” he explains.
He is worried because of imitators, the fame of this craft will be tarnished. “The spurious ones are destroying the brand value of the mirror,” he says. There are several initiatives from government and private sources to protect and promote the authentic craft. However, the dwindling number of artisans capable of making the perfect alloy and polishing it is creating another problem.
“Only a few artisans remain who know the art of making the mirrors and it is important to preserve the tradition,” says Aravindakshan N.D., store manager at Kairali handicraft emporium, a government initiative in Kerala. “It is a pity that even in Kerala not many people know about the speciality of the mirror.”
About the author – Chandu Gopalakrishnan