John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Seven months into Rustic Motifs and I can tell you, there is no other more accurate observation as this on life.
Every time Avantika and I step out for work, plan our travels, we have a set agenda in place, but then life takes over! We start interacting with our artisans, have our brainstorming sessions and by the time we finish our project with them, we would have changed, grown and humbled as individuals.
It never ceases to surprise us…
One such trip was to the picturesque village of Aranmula in Kerala. Situated on the banks of the holy river Pampa, Aranmula is known for the famous Parthasarathi temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and its unique art form of making mirrors out of a metal which is an alloy of Copper and Tin popularly known as Aranmula Kannadi (Malyalam for mirror).
It is here that I met Girish and Girija, a very sweet and unassuming couple who are into making Aranmula metal mirrors. Their undying dedication towards their art form and their humility touched me deep somewhere. I could sense their pride when showing me their work and their despair when talking about the future of their art form. It always is an emotional roller coaster that leaves you moved, no matter how guarded you are.
Coming back to the famous mirrors…..Aranmula is the only place in the World, where unlike the silvered glass mirrors we usually see, the mirrors are handmade using an alloy of Copper and Tin. The process of making these metal mirrors is a secret that has stayed with a few families of Aranmula.
Aranmula mirror’s popularity is attributed to the place it enjoys in the Ashta Mangalyam platter or the platter of 8 auspicious objects which is an important part of the wedding and festival rituals of Hindus in Kerala. It is believed, that the presence of a Vaal Kannadi or hand mirror on the Ashta Mangalyam platter brings abundant wealth for the owner and his family.
Legend has it that some bronze casters who moved to the village in the 18th century were asked by the local ruler to create a resplendent crown for the local deity using bell metal. But the artisans failed to create an alloy that would, after polishing, befit the grandeur.
The deity is then believed to have appeared in the dream of a local village woman and shared the exact composition that would make the metal as reflective as a mirror.
And since then the secret composition has managed to stay with the families of the original bronze casters who were privy to the secret.
To check out a genuine Aranmula mirror, you should keep your fingertip on the surface of the metal mirror, if you don’t see a gap between your fingertip and the reflective image that means you have an original in hand. In a regular mirror used all around us, the gap is quite evident. This is also the reason why it is considered pure and auspicious by many.
I was told by the makers that Aranmula ‘Kannadi’ is forever, it will never ever get spoiled. You bury it in the ground and dig it out after years and it will still be as good as new! It requires no maintenance and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
But turning metal into mirror takes a lots of work. Since each piece is handmade, it takes a lot of time to put together an Aranmula mirror. Depending on the size, it can take anywhere between a week or 6 months.
That brings me back to my meeting with the Girish and Girija which left me with a lot of food for thought. They welcomed me into their home with open arms. Showed me how the alloy is made and then poured into a cast before the metal thus made is ready for polishing till it shines like a mirror. Theirs is the sixth generation practicing this art.
Looking around their humble abode, it is not difficult to make out that they have to struggle to make their ends meet. Then why invest yourself in an art form which fails to pay you enough, I ask?
And their answer, “When you love something and believe in it, you can never put a value to it. Making these mirrors is in our genes, how can you give up something you were born to do. We know we cannot afford most things in life, but then then there is a sense of satisfaction, knowing that everyday we work towards creating something, that is unique and rare.”
But their children do not share the same passion for the art form, there is peer pressure to do better in life and like most kids their age they dream of making it big elsewhere. They might just be right in their approach, no point being sentimental about an art form which cannot survive the pressure of competing with machine made fakes for lack of buyers who look for genuine stuff and not cheap imitation.
Says Girija, “Our children know the art form, they have grown up around this, but they have different dreams and ambitions. We do not want to force them to take this up and give up their chance at a better life. There is a risk……in our family, ours might be the last generation practicing this professionally but then, unless there is a major shift in perception, the fate of this art form hangs in a balance.”
This is not the first time I have heard an artisan say that, their story is similar to other artisans we have met in the past months in other parts of the country. It must be terrible to live in fear, knowing well, something you are so passionate about, would die eventually….
If that happens, it is as much their loss as ours, each one of us out there who enjoys a piece of genuine artistic expression…….
Post By Merlin Francis