I was six months old when I visited this little town in God’s Own Country the first time. “You tasted your first mouthful of solid food at that temple,” is what my mother would tell me each time we spoke of the town and my childhood.
Today, 24 years later, I decided to revisit my past and explore the charm again. I am not too sure about the others, but as far as I am concerned, travelling soothes my mind, which loves the outdoors. Thus, I chose to travel towards the south of Kerala to explore the tiny, yet popular, township called Aranmula situated in Pathanamthitta district.
Aranmula is a town that is built along the river Pamba. The land is said to be very fertile permitting one to grow large quantities of paddy and various other food crops. Aranmula, thus, acquired its name from two words namely - ‘aru’ which means river, and ‘villai’ which means produce.
My journey from Kottayam, the literary capital of the state, to Aranmula was more than a drive that lasted for 2 hours.
It was an expedition that brought me close to nature, the world around me and to the simplicities of life. I had set out at 6.45am. The air was fresh and I was lost in the world of a startling sunrise and greenery covered by thick layers of mist.
I was advised to change buses at Chengannur in order to head to the temple village. About half an hour later, I had indeed entered heaven. I was greeted by the green paddy fields on either sides of the road. Not to mention the variety of flora grown along the path as well. Curious to know more about the many unique aspects of the place, I decided to head out and visit some of the area’s most prominent landmarks.
Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple
I first halted at the famous Hindu temple, the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Apart from the fact that I had my first encounter with solid food at this temple more than 2 decades ago, I experienced a strange connection to the ancient structure. Situated on the banks of the river Pamba, this temple is claimed to have been constructed even before the 1st Millenium CE.
There are a number of legends associated with the ancient structure. The most popular one is the tale of the Pandavas set during the days of the Mahabharat. After crowning Parikshit as the king of the land, the five Pandava princes had left on a pilgrimage. Each of them had installed the idol of Lord Vishnu at various places during this pilgrimage.
Arjuna, the third Pandava prince, had installed the idol at Aranmula. Some claim that Arjuna had originally installed this idol at Nilakkal Narayanapuram and later brought it to Aranmula through a boat made of six bamboo sticks, giving the village the name – Aranmula, where ‘aru’ means six and ‘mula’ means bamboo.
It could be noted that doors of the shrine constructed within the temple’s sanctum sanctorum are never shut completely. It is said that the partially shut doors are symbolic of the Lord Krishna granting permission to Partha (Arjuna) to visit him at all hours. The temple also has a few shrines dedicated to other Hindu Gods including Shiva, Ayyapa, as well as a Devi (Goddess).
The temple consists of four main entrances or gopurams. The northern entrance leads to the Pamba river. The eastern and northern entrances are rather steep. One is expected to climb a flight of 18 steps while entering the temple from the east, while one must climb a flight of 57 steps while entering from the northern section of the temple.
A variety of rituals are performed at the temple during various occasions. These include an interesting display of an ancient art form called Arjuna Nritham and the Aranmula Vallamkali (Aranmula boat race).
Aranmula Kannadi: Reflecting rich heritage
The ‘temple village’ is also the home of the popular Aranmula Kannadi – a mirror made of a unique alloy of tin and copper. These objects have been created by families, living close to the temple, for over centuries. I visited a mirror maker named Murugan who gave me insights into the history and process of making the Aranmula Kannadi.
Murugan, like other mirror makers of Aranmula, claimed that his ancestors hail from Sankarakovil in Tamil Nadu. They were gifted craftsmen and had also made special crown for the King out of a metal alloy. One day, the King noticed his reflection in the crown and had requested them to make more mirrors with the same method. Thus, the Aranmula Kannadi had come to existence.
Unlike most mirrors ,the Aranmula Kannadi has no glass surface. The procedure behind its making is indeed tedious. Broken pieces of old mirrors are sandwiched between mud slabs. This is heated and an iron rod is placed between the gaps so as to create hole. A molten mixture of the alloy is poured into the object through the hole. The object is then covered with a mixture of baked soil and natural soil so as to seal the opening. Once the process is complete, the entire thing is placed on the hearth. As the materials placed inside melts under the extreme heat, the mud mould is broken and the metal piece is taken out. The surface is then polished to make it look like a mirror.
“You can always check if the mirror is a genuine Aranmula mirror or not,” said Murugan. “Place an object against the reflecting surface. If you notice a gap between the reflected image and the original image, then it is a mirror made of glass. Or else it is a mirror made out of metal. While the mirrors do not fetch him as much money as he could claim, Murugan says that it is an honour to carry on the family tradition. “I am happy with what I earn.”
This mirror is also used in a few temples across Kerala to represent Goddess. “While making them, we must ensure that what we create is perfect in every sense. Else, it is bound become a bad omen,” added Murugan.
At around 3.30pm, I chose to head back to base. As I bid farewell to this little yet beautiful town, I realised that one must not judge a book by its cover. Aranmula may be a village, but it is the home of some of our oldest and most respected cultural elements. It's rich flora and fauna are perhaps valid reasons for one to oppose any sort of impractical development.
In the rush of developing a place, we often miss out on the most priceless moments of all. Not to mention those elements that define us and that are bound to be an integral part of us even in the days to come.
True. We must cherish and protect all that is quintessentially ours. But most of all, we must make efforts to keep the charm alive for the generations that are yet to come. If I were to consider a quick getaway at some other point of time in the future, I would probably consider driving through the greenery again.