A glowing piece of history bearing the signature of fine craftsmanship, the Aranmula kannadi (Aranmula mirror) is quietly braving the ravages of time. A vintage reflection of Kerala’s handicraft tradition that flourished around the temple, today it is a requisite wherever classic Kerala is on show. And on show it is for the third successive year at Kairali, the government’s enterprise for arts and crafts of Kerala, in the city.
The hand mirror is showcased in 11 varying sizes at the complex: the smallest is an inch and a half wide and the largest six inches wide. The artisans, belonging to a few families around the Parthasarathy temple in the village of Aranmula in South Kerala, have crafted the mirrors in conventional shapes — in frames shaped like a conch, the sun and a lotus and in the typical long-tailed form.
The mirror in the Aranmula kannadi is no glass, as M. Mohandas, manager at Kairali, explains. “It is a combination of copper and tin that has been polished. The technique of mixing these metals is a secret known only to the families,” he says.
One can also check the authenticity of an Aranmula mirror. “When you fold a paper and place it against the mirror, there will be absolutely no gap between the paper and its reflection in a genuine Aranmula mirror,” explains Mohandas. Kairali’s initiative in exhibiting the mirrors exclusively at its showrooms across the State has given a fillip to the once “sinking” craft and its makers, says Mohandas. In a year, Aranmula mirrors are showcased for 15 days in different districts. A limited view of the artefact not only protects its novelty, but also helps the artisans, who cannot mass produce this hand-made product. In the course of the 15-day show in Kozhikode, roughly 400 pieces will be on display.
“In the first year of the exhibition, the Kozhikode centre registered the maximum sale at Rs 7.7 lakhs, while in the second year we had a sale of mirrors worth Rs 4.5 lakhs,” Mohandas says. Noting the dip in sales, he points out, “When it comes to pieces like the Aranmula mirror, families tend to own just one.” So, at Kairali, plans are afoot to take the exhibition to smaller centres in the years to come to woo new buyers.
The mirrors on show are priced between Rs 1,100 and Rs 10,000, while there are Aranmula mirrors that are worth about Rs 60,000. The mirrors, once known to niche customers — the Ayyappa devotees who visited the Parthasarathy temple on their way to Sabarimala — are now traversing seas to win admirers. The other day a few pieces were bought from the Kozhikode showroom for the Indian Ambassador to the United States to be taken as gifts on her latest assignment, says Mohandas. The exhibition is on till December 17 at Kairali on Palayam Road.
This is an article published in The Hindu daily.