An Exquisite Knife called ‘Malappuram Kathi’

Mar 01, 2016 | Vol 8, Issue 1
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Surviving Traditions of River Nila-8

The  Karuvan community also known as Perum Kollans are the traditional blacksmiths of Kerala. They were an essential part of the society till the recent past as they were the ones who used to make agriculture and farming implements, tools, locks, knives, swords etc for the populace. But the traditional black smiths of Malappuram were the only ones who could create Kaddara (or Kaddari), a dagger renowned for its intricate designs, language and its superior quality.

Malappuram district is one of the fourteen districts of Kerala and was formed after independence. During British rule this area was part of Malabar, under Madras presidency. During earlier periods, Kaddara was generally used by the farmers and farm laborers in these areas which are presently part of Malappuram Dt. Some people used it as a well toned personal weapon and as a symbol of prestige and supremacy. Because it has originated from Malappuram it stood out with a regional identity, and was always known as Malappuram Kathi, the knife of Malappuram.

There were many families from this community who were involved in making Kaddara.  But in due course of time, with industrialization and the changes in lifestyle, the use of Kaddara was considerably reduced and resulted in the closure of many traditional smithies.

Karuvan Krishnankutty’s smithy

There are some smithies in and around Tirur, Tirunnavaya, Valancherry who are still into this craft. Seventy year old Krishnankutty, who resides at Pachattiri a few Kilometres away from the town of Tirur, is one of them.  Even now he works from his small traditional smithy, attached to his home and makes locks, holy weapons for temples and ornaments for rituals, knifes etc. Krishnankutty says that Kaddara is a superior quality knife, but at present, the use of this knife has been considerably reduced. Moreover, it may take 4-5 days of work to complete one Kaddara and so it will be very costly compared to the other knifes available in the market.

The forging of the Kaddara

The usual Kaddara is made from Iron blade with deer horn handle. Silver cornices   are fixed at the point where the blade and the handle join and also for the handle. They create lot of intricate designs on the silver parts. Now a day, instead of deer horn, the wood of tamarind, buffalo's horns etc. are used. The iron piece for the blade along with the portion of handle is usually taken from the automobile spare part - leaf.

Silver or German silver are usually used for the other metal parts.  According to Krishnankutty - German silver is the best metal for decorative works for that they use the coins from the colonial period. The designs on the handle of the knife are usually depicting flowers, leaves or the symbols on the playing cards such as Clubs, hearts etc.

All these works are done in a traditional smithy called Ala. The main equipment in the smithy is a small furnace supported by a hand air blower. For drilling holes on the metal Krishnankutty still uses the traditional method- the bow drill. The other tools he uses are hammer, iron chisels, various types of files etc. They also make some designs on the blade, by etching the blade with an iron chisel and filling it by welding brass or copper into it.

The final process on the blade is the tempering which is a heat treatment technique to achieve greater toughness and resilience. Tempering is a slow process, evenly overheating the metal, as judged by the color, and then cooled quickly in a process called quenching, which is done either in open air or by immersing in water or in vegetable oil. Precise control of time and temperature during the tempering process is crucial to achieve the desired balance of physical properties. This can be done only by an experienced and talented blacksmith.

 Krishnankutty says that making of Kaddara is a traditional work and nobody in this profession are ready to do this because of its complexity, non availability of proper materials and the lack of market demand etc. Both his sons are not into this activity and he knows that this traditional craftsmanship he gained from his forefathers will become part of history. However he still loves and enjoys his work.

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I am visiting Kochi next month. Could you send me a contact from whom I can purchase an antique Kaddari knife, as described in your excellent article? Thanks

You may correspond to OR call 9446280603

Can you give contact details of that blacksmith I would like to collect some craft things from him i also have collection from various places of india I'm interested in that

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I like the Malapuram kadari/Kathi

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