In Aranmula, Kerala, a heritage village on the banks of the Pamba river, a group of skilled, metal-casting artisans spend their days in hot and dusty workshops, crafting metal mirrors, a tradition that goes back 500 years.
For centuries, the craftsmen, who belong to the Vishwakarma community, have been working in the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. It is one of the oldest temples in South India, dedicated to Lord Krishna, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. Originally, these artisans were known for creating exquisite bronze idols of deities. But around 500 years ago, they handcrafted a special mirror known as the Aranmula kannadi, which surpassed the idols as their most famous product. The mirror is made from a copper-tin alloy with trace elements. To this day, the composition remains a closely guarded secret, passed from one generation to the next.
It is believed that keeping an Aranmula kannadi in the house brings prosperity and luck to the owner. For this reason, it is given as a gift during weddings and housewarming ceremonies. People are typically intrigued that a mirror made of alloy has reflective properties like a plane glass mirror, and also surprised that the alloy is brittle.
As historical information related to the origins of the mirror are sketchy and unreliable, the legends have become the story told about these unique artifacts.
According to the main legend, centuries ago, the high priest of the temple noticed a crack on the crown of the deity. The King ordered the craftsmen to make a new crown in three days. The craftsmen were worried, as they didn’t have the requisite raw material. The head craftsman’s wife prayed and had a dream, in which the deity appeared and gave her the secret proportion for creating an alloy that would shine like a mirror. The next day, the women of the community surrendered their gold ornaments. The men sold them to buy the raw material and a crown was made. It shone bright, and when polished, showed reflective properties like a mirror. The crown was called the kannadi bhimbom…
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