Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My fancy for bells

When I was young, I had visited Jagan Mohan Palace Museum and had seen an old bell which the person looking after the items had shown it by striking it with a wooden dowel and when he passed the dowel along its edge, the sound seemed to increase into a nice hum! It was very impressive. Only later I came to know that this a Tibetan Om Bell, that produced the sound of "Om". On my next visit there many years later, I found many such articles not in display!

Around 1974, I had seen in someone's house a wind chime with some hollow tubes and a striking piece of metal. It made a pleasant sound whenever a slight breeze blew. I was fascinated when I saw this and my technical mind immediately decided that was a "must do". I found a couple of little cymbals that we had bought in Gokarna during our trip in 1969, just for the heck of it because none of us used them in our worship rooms or did Bhajans using them. It was lying here and there and so this became raw materials for my wind chime. For the striking metal, I found a brass ring which was from a light bulb holder. I tied them suitably and then for the wind to disturb it, I found the circular tin seal from a beverage can most suitable as it was very light. It worked beautifully much to my delight. I had hung this up in the verandah where a nice breeze wafted across. This contraption caught the attention of visitors and friends and I'd proudly say "I did it!" much to their astonishment. Notice the new improved version of it as it is today in this video clip! I used a light balsa wood in place of the tin foil.

Sit back and relax for two and a half minutes and listen. Some clips are poor due to poor lighting. Please bear with them.

I was also greatly fascinated by Mysore's own Dodda Gadiyaara - The Silver Jubilee Clock Tower built to celebrate 25 years of reign of H.H.Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, in 1927. The 92 ft. tall Tower was topped by the 920 kg French Bell. It was a great landmark that also told time in days when few people owned watches and clocks and the hourly and half hourly strikes of the huge bell could be heard miles away in those silent days, including our home a only a couple of miles away. Early in the morning, before the birds woke up, we could hear it even more clearly and loudly as if it was just a couple of furlongs away. In 1995, Mysore's Big Ben went into the 'silent mode' - the chiming was stopped as they noticed some cracks in the tower which the experts believed was due to the vibrations from that heavy bell.

Engelberg's Kloster Monastery (Switzerland) bell actually brought back memories of old Mysore as it resonated in the calm surroundings.

Kloster Monastery, Engelberg, Switzerland

I wrote an essay for Radio Korea (I was a monitor for this station for 16 years) in 1981 and my entry had won a prize. As a gift they sent me a replica of Korea's Largest Bell. Pictured below is the gift.

In the 60s and 70s in the opposite house, a renown dancer Nandini Eswer used to practice dancing with the ankle bells on. The neighbourhood felt no nuisance at all from the rhythmic sounds produced by tens of them, during her sessions! She has grown in stature since!

There was an old bronze cup in the heirloom, kept unused for many decades. On striking it, a lovely vibration resulted. So I thought why not I make a bell? So, drilled a hole and fixed a broken piece of brass as a clapper. Lo, the bell was ready! There was a broken leg of some 100-year old low desk. I used it for the handle of this bell! Trash to treasure! One of my favourite works! It will be in the worship room.

You would have heard how resonant it is in the video clip above!

I made another similar to the above, from another bronze cup. I have used this on the first floor to call attention to those there from the ground floor. A string has to be pulled to make the bell shake. This is the one:

A faulty bicycle bell's gong has now become a sound indicator at the front door. I have fixed it in such a way that it 'tings' whenever the door is opened or closed!

My bicycle bell of course was kept shining lest the dust and rust alter its resonance! But the mechanism inside it would give way! We used the bell frequently whenever even a dog or cat came in the way because people would never budge. When none was around - those were good days when density of population was less - on the road we used to press the bell lever and make music out of it because that sound was never boring!

Our family priest each morning used to do the daily rituals (pooja) in the worship room and when he finished and did the 'aarati', the sound from the hand bell sometimes woke me up on 'my' late mornings. For special occasions, there was a bigger bell that had a great sound that spread to the neighbourhood.

We had an old doorbell that had a gong. At times when we were in other thoughts, when someone pressed it, we used to get startled by the sudden 'tring'. When the coil burnt off we switched to a buzzer which was even better at startling us esp. during an afternoon siesta. The bell with a coil had been off the market shelves. Our college had a similar coil bell to announce the break of each session when teachers used to change, but it was bigger in size. How we loved this bell! It signaled the end of a class, but forgot a new one also would start. But our high school had an old bronze bell with a wooden handle which the peon Jogi used to shake it according to his schedule. The best sound from the same bell came in the evenings -or so it seemed (naturally!).

I get tempted during visits to the market whenever I see a wind chime when the family shops something else. This temptation has resulted in adding three chimes being purchased at different times. I've hung them where the breeze is more and where I pass often so that I can disturb it and make a sound too.

My friend Susan is realizes that "..wind chimes are purlely God's music; after all, He causes the wind to blow."

Another Feng Shui Bell... This is hung in a passage so that my head touches it while passing and makes a sound - it has become a habit!

I mentioned about the Swiss Church Bell. One must see and listen to believe the melodious sounds produced by the Cow Bells tied to Cows in Switzerland. Most have the famous Swiss Cow Bells tied around their necks. When they graze together in their alloted piece of land, it is just music to the ears in that silent country! It's absolute thrill. Just listen to this melody:

This link is even better! More cows, more melody - clear sound!

This is a Souvenir Bell I got from that Switzerland.

Closer view of the Cow design.

There was a bronze gong (flat plate) lying unused in our worship room. These are the ones the Dasaiahs in Mysore use as part of their traditional attire and equipment when they go for alms. I thought of adding another variety to our doorbell by tying it up. When a thread is pulled, a broken brake lever from a scooter acts as the striking rod.

It was a powerful bell! The boss in the office would press it once - ting - and lo, the peon would stand in front of him. This was probably the scene in the 50s and 60s, but it is now powerless, but saved nevertheless!

Buses had bells used by conductors to indicate to the driver to stop or start when passengers alighted or boarded. He used to pull the string that ran across the ceiling of the bus to the back when he was in the rear half of the bus to indicate. I used this technique for my back yard bell, again using another old bronze cup. The string has outside access through a hole in the doorframe.

Our vintage Ansonia clock had an ordinary bell. I had seen another Ansonia with different type of gongs that was very pleasing. Through an old clock-dealer some years laterI found a similar one and fulfilled the dream recently and fitted it to mine! Such is my liking to the pleasant sounds from bells! You would have seen towards the end of that video.

Read this response from Swami Chinmayananda to the common question we all raise:

Is it to wake up the Lord? But the Lord never sleeps. Is it to let the Lord know we have come? He does not need to be told, as He is all knowing. Is it a form of seeking permission to enter His precinct? It is a homecoming and therefore entry needs no permission. The Lord welcomes us at all times. Then why do we ring the bell?

The ringing of the bell produces what is regarded as an auspicious sound. It produces the sound Om, the universal name of the Lord. There should be auspiciousness within and without, to gain the vision of the Lord who is all-auspiciousness.
Even while doing the ritualistic aarati, we ring the bell. It is sometimes accompanied by the auspicious sounds of the conch and other musical instruments. An added significance of ringing the bell, conch and other instruments is that they help drowned any inauspicious or irrelevant noises and comments that might disturb or distract the worshipers in their devotional ardour, concentration and inner peace.
As we start the daily ritualistic worship (pooja) we ring the bell, chanting:
Aagamaarthamtu devaanaam

gamanaarthamtu rakshasaam
Kurve ghantaaravam tatra
devataahvaahna lakshanam

I ring this bell indicating
the invocation of divinity,
So that virtuous and noble forces
enter (my home and heart);
and the demonic and evil forces
from within and without, depart.

So some such vibrations are needed in our surroundings. It also pleases the ears.
But the one sound I always dreaded was the alarm clock bell that went off at the most (un)desired time!
Just for curiosity, here is the


YOSEE said...

Enjoyed reading this ode to bells. There is such a wonderful resonance of joy, solace and peace in the sound of any metal bell, large or small.
Many of the bells you have described and photographed "ring a bell !"because we used to have very similar ones in our house too !
The swiss cow bells have a sort of hollow and shallow sound, I prefer the merry tinkle of the little round bells that our own desi cows wear !

Dinakar KR said...

I always shake the one on Sumanth's door! That round ox-bell!

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Padmini Bhat said...

I had heard stories about bells,ringing the bell is to drive out demons out of the house and temples.So everyday ritual even in Temple and houses.
Source-Gradma tales told by a Story teller.