Indian worship starts with ringing bells. A temple bell is an object made up of an amalgamation of various metals including zinc, bronze, copper, etc. in different percentages to produce the kind of sound frequency which has many benefits.
Earlier, the bells were hand made and there was a specific method where the lip of the bell was chipped till it was made to produce a certain frequency of sound when hit. Nowadays, there are electronically powered machines that make various types of bells based on set hertz. But this doesn’t mean better bells are created. The material used in bell formation affects the quality of the sound it produces.
Significance of Temple Bells
It has religious, spiritual, and scientific significance. What we need to understand is that spirituality was a kind of practical science. This led to the evolution of human beings into higher consciousness. The symbolism of ringing bells is if rung straight up to five minutes, can kill air pathogens up to 3 kilometres of radius. What we perceive as religious or spiritual practices is very different from the real reason for playing it. On a high key, they play a crucial part in human lives. They contributed to overall well being, including health benefits.
One of the most observed technologies is sound technology. And temples were the powerhouses. They were constructed in such a way that whoever goes there gets cleaned and energised. The hanging bells in temple or conch shells that were used actually had a huge air cleaning effect. Also, they made our left brain and right brain resonate. The sound produced by bells helps to improve concentration and keep calm.
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Hindu worship spaces – both at homes and temples, had an application of ancient sound technology. In a temple, there were three chambers – one was a space where the deity was consecrated called ‘Garbha-Griha’; and the other space was where people came and prayed right in front of Garbha-Griha, called ‘Ardha Mantapa’. By the way, Ardha Mantapa means ‘Half Chamber’.
After Ardha Mantapa was ‘Maha Mantapa’, which was the main hall where devotees assembled. The meaning of Garbha Griha is very interesting. Garbha means womb, and Griha means house. Hence, Garbha-Griha is translated as ‘Womb Chamber’. Every deity was considered as a cosmic womb which is fulfilled by the divine presence. This means the deities were consecrated in such a way that they became most receptive to the divine blessings.
The spiritual meaning of Temple bells indicates that brass bells in Mandir were one of the ways to enhance the spiritual experience of the devotees during the worship. The sounds from these acoustically well-designed conch-shells, bells and gongs are considered sacred when they are used during worship. These sacred sounds help devotees in their concentration during worship in the designated space. The sounds of conch-shell bell and gong are used multiple times during the worship for ongoing cleaning and energising the space.
Power of Temple Bells' Sound
A well-designed bell’s ringing sound would last for a considerable duration. It has been found that the sound of bells and conch shells resembles the sound ‘OM’. However, it’s not just the temple bells but also the sound of conch shells, gongs, and recitation of mantras where the synergy of the various sounds adds to the spiritual experience of the people in the temples.
Acoustics play an important role in worship spaces, especially in Hindu tradition. Vedic literature has given high importance to the art and science of acoustics. The five basic elements in Vedic literature being – space, air, fire, water, and earth are perceived with our corresponding senses such as hearing, smelling, seeing, tasting, and touching. This is a stretch from subtle elements to grosser ones – from space to earth.
Also, by this analogy of respective elements and our senses, it is clear that the spatial experience is corresponding to sound perception. This is where the role of temple bells, conch shells, and gongs come in. They create an ambience of sound where it becomes a conducive environment for a devotee to experience divinity.
When temple bells are rung in the Ardha Mantapa, the sound pressure level increases as it moves out in Maha Mantapa. It symbolises warding off the evil spirits. It is an invitation to sacredness. A temple bell has to be well designed to produce a long strain of the auspicious sound ‘OM’ of deep reverberation. In Hindu tradition, a bell is rung before the actual prayer begins.
Also, while offering incense sticks, bathing the deity and offering edibles are performed. These bells are said to be made of ‘Panchloha’, meaning five metal alloys. Panchaloha consists of gold, silver, copper, iron, and lead. However, these days due to lack of knowledge or mass production, the bells are made up of bronze, zinc, and other easily and reasonably priced alloys. It does not have the same effect as an original Panchloha bell has.
Usually, the basic frequency of a handbell is 1292 hertz. But the temples have large hanging bells. The sound pressure of handbells and hanging bells of home mandir due to their varying sizes are different, but their sound spectra coincide. The sound pressure in the handbells is of higher frequency because the pendulum strikes at two places in a very short time period compared to the large hanging temple bells.
The larger the bells, the deeper it resonates in the body. It has been observed that if in a day, with a gap of two and a half hours, the bells are rung, it can wipe out all the air pathogens which cause diseases. These warding off the pathogens is symbolically said as warding off the evils.
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Legends of Temple Bell
There is an interesting story in Hinduism. A priest said that Lord Vishnu is usually asleep. And as we come to the temple, we need to wake him up by ringing the bells. So, a kid asked the priest why we need to come to the temple when the Lord is everywhere. Also, why do we need to wake him up when he is the ‘Awakened’ one. To those questions, a very beautiful answer was given by the priest. He said that the way wind is everywhere, but we use a ‘Phad’ (large hand fan) to experience it, the same way God is everywhere, but we gather to a designated and sacred place to experience him.
Effects of Temple Bells
It is the polarised centre where his experience is more intense because of the ambience created, and other needfulness is done. He also said that we ring the bells not to wake him up but to wake the lord in ourselves so that we confirm that here we come with full consciousness and willingness to surrender and focus on a meditative process. We, in a way, acclaim our presence of mind for the pursuit of higher consciousness acoustically and receive blessings from the divine.
There were many experiments done by the scientists. One of the experiments involved placing salt over a black sheet. This sheet was placed at a hollow structure, and the entire instrument was made in such a way that using one small staff, various sounds of bells could be produced when struck on it. With every particular kind of bell frequency, the salt spread on the surface and created a pattern that looked quite artistic. Surprisingly, every pattern was unique. The sides and the angles in each pattern were equal and coinciding. By this, we can understand how altering frequency can matter.
This was very thoroughly understood by ancient people. We have Vedas, which illustrates the whole sound technology.
Relationship of Chakras and Temple Bells
A human has in total 114 Chakras, of which two are placed outside our body. The rest of the Chakras, which are 112 in number, are present in our body and have different frequencies. Every altering sound can matter to us. Our thoughts can alter us in many different ways. The sound produced by hanging bells in puja room creates a pattern of calmness in us. The echos strike respective Chakras, broadly categorised as 7 core Chakras. The sound of bells pauses our thoughts and brings unity between all the brain lobes.
Temple bells are more than we see and hear. It alters our sense perception and constituents. It is a very intricate ancient science and worth not just knowing but experiencing it.