ANTIQUE RITUAL BELLS
I have always been fascinated by old bells and have collected them for over half a century. In the 1960 they were rustic souvenirs of holidays in Spain…old cowbells and leather goat collars strung with tiny tin bells that rattled more than rang. My first bronze bells were found in Bali, Java and Sumba in the mid 1980s and later in India, but it was in Nepal that my interest really took off after coming across beautiful old temple and shrine bells, sacred ritual hand-bells, elephant bells and shaman bell-chains, while browsing for singing bowls in Kathmandu’s antique shops. My interest in Temple Bells has been rekindled now that I am making frequent trips to Nepal in connection with my wife’s memorial charity One Golden Angel. As a result I am offering for sale some of my own rare sacred bells while I downsize and refine my collection. Mostly these are antique Indian and Nepali Ghanta (drilbu in Tibetan).
GHANTA is the Sanskrit term for a ritual bell used in Hindu religious practices. They include large bells hung at the gates to temples which devotees ring on entering, small bells that are strung in groups above or adjacent to Hindu and Buddhist shrines, and ornate hand-bells rung by priests during Puja or Yajna in ceremonies such as the waving of light or burning of incense in front of a deity, and while offering food or flowers. Puja rituals are also held by Buddhists, Jains and Hindus to mark life passage events such as a birth or wedding, or at the beginning of a new venture. They can be held in the home, in temples or at festivals.
RINGING: The ringing of a sacred bell is considered auspicious and is said to disengage the mind from ongoing thoughts and distractions and make it more receptive. The clapper attached to the inside of the bell makes a high-pitched sound when rung, and there are bells specially made to produce the long strains of the sound OM although, to be honest, I cannot discern this myself as each bell has its own distinct and unique voice. The sound of the bell also informs a deity of the devotee’s arrival. In Hinduism, the mantra chanted while ringing the bell translates to “I ring this bell indicating the invocation of divinity, so that virtuous and noble forces enter and the demonic and evil forces, from within and without, depart.” The number of times the bell should be sounded depends on the number of letters in the mantra; accordingly the bell should be sounded 8, 16, 24, or 32 times. From the Kundalini Yoga perspective, the sound of a bell energizes Chakras and balances the distribution of energy in the body.
CONSTRUCTION & FORM: Nowadays Temple Bells (Ghanta) are generally made of brass in India, but the antique ones in my collection come mainly from Nepal and have been individually cast in bronze by the lost wax process, and then finished by hand. Each one is therefore unique. The bell’s form has symbolic meaning in Hinduism. Its curved body represents Ananta (infinity), the clapper or tongue represents Saraswati, goddess of wisdom and knowledge, and the handle represents Prana Shakti (life force) and is symbolically linked to Hanuman, Garuda, Nandi (bull) or Sudarshana Chakra (disc). The top of the temple bell handle is usually adorned with a figure. Those intended for use in the worship of Lord Shiva will have a figure of Lord Nandi, while those used in the worship of Lord Vishnu or his avatars as Rama, Narasimha or Krishna, will have a figure of Garuda or Panchajanya shanka (conch) or Sudarshana Chakra (disc).
PROVENANCE: Sacred ritual bells find their way into antique shops when large old properties crumble or are redeveloped and their house temples dismantled. Many public temples and shrines were totally destroyed in Nepal’s 2015 earthquake and their artifacts sold off to antique dealers. Occasionally street shrines are subject to renewal on a special anniversary and their old bells replaced with new. Ritual hand bells and other ceremonial paraphernalia belonging to deceased priests are also sometimes sold to dealers. Antique temple and ritual bells rarely come onto the market, and when they do their provenance is usually unrecorded. They are highly sought-after and command premium prices at source from religious and spiritual practitioners, sound therapists and collectors alike.
THE BELLS: The antique ritual bells offered for sale here were sourced in India and Nepal and date from the 18th or 19th century. They represent the finest examples of their kind to be found anywhere in the world. When you buy, handle, and ring one of these antique temple bells you can be confident that it is a genuine and revered holy instrument that has played an important part in countless sacred rituals and ceremonies for at least 100 years. Each bell is a fascinating and beautiful object in its own right, with the look and feel of antiquity…but perhaps more importantly, when it is rung one can sense the spiritual energy, power and purpose with which it is imbued, and the present ineffably connects to the past.