Aranmula, a village in the district of Pathanamthitta is well known for its ancient temple dedicated to Lord Krishna also known as Parthasarathy. Here, among its many attractions like the holy river Pamba, the annual regatta of snake boats during the festival of Onam, a traditional know-how continues to amaze the rest of the world. And it is the fine metallurgical art of making metal mirrors or the Aranmula Kannadi.
As per local belief the handmade Aranmula Kannadi is considered as an auspicious object kept in households for bringing prosperity, luck and wealth. As per tradition in Kerala, Aranmula metal mirror forms part of the ashtamangalya set - one of the eight auspicious items that is usually arranged and displayed at functions like marriage. The proper maintenance of the metal mirror, requires the mirror to be kept under room temperature and also away from heat and dust. There is a prescribed method to wipe the mirror to remove finger stains and other marks on it. The wiping movement is restricted to a particular direction and not in all.
Noted for outstanding beauty and shrouded in secrecy, the Aranmula Kannadi is considered a medeival marvel in the annals of metallurgy. It was in use much before the appearance of modern-day glass mirrors. The technical know-how behind the making of this unique metal mirror is confined to only some households of master craftsmen in Aranmula.
The origins of the Aranmula Kannadi are linked to the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. The legend says that some centuries ago, eight families of experts in temple arts and craft were brought to Aranmula from Thirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. They were given the task of undertaking works in the Parthasarathy Temple. While working with bronze to make a crown for the presiding deity of the temple - Lord Parthasarathy, they accidentally stumbled upon a unique reflective property of one alloy comprising copper and tin. The craftsmen later tried different compositions, which eventually led to the standards of making the metal mirror, which are still kept as a guarded secret.
A special alloy is used to manufacture the Aranmula Kannadi. The metal mirror manufactured in Aranmula is a front surface reflection mirror, which eliminates secondary reflections and aberrations typical of back surface mirrors. The exact metals that form the alloy are said to be a combination of copper and tin. Besides making the right combination of the alloy, the craftsmen get involved in intensive polishing sessions, which would go on for several days to obtain the desired reflective surface. Even today, craftsmen use traditional, indigenous methods and materials to produce the reflecting wonder called Aranmula Kannadi. It takes great practice and tremendous amount of focus and patience to produce a perfect mirror piece.
To know the quality of reflection on an Aranmula metal mirror, the following example would be sufficient. When you touch a piece of paper on the surface of an ordinary mirror, a gap remains between the paper and the image produced. But, in the case of the Aranmula metal mirror, there will be no gap between the image and the object. This indicates the fact that only a real, distortion-free image is produced on an Aranmula Kannadi.
Aranmula is today one of the model tourism villages declared by Kerala Tourism. It has now become popular as a major centre for cultural tourism in Kerala and attracts visitors, especially those from outside India.