Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Bell

Rhythm of the ring
The bell’s role in auspicious events globally, has made it an integral part of cultures.
Performing at SH Assisi in Italy was exciting, and we were the first Carnatic musicians to do so. This opportunity became our doorway to new sights and sounds.
In Rome, we stayed near a church and the ringing of its bell at regular intervals intrigued us. Gionato, a friend, said that church bells were rung for various reasons. They indicated time, signalled the start of service and were rung during the processions of Candlemas and Palm Sunday. They were rung in a certain rhythm, half an hour before Sunday Mass to alert people and also at the end of it.
In India, no temple can do without bells. Its sound is linked with auspicious moments. Called ‘ghanta’ in Sanskrit or ‘mani’ in Tamil, it comes in varied sizes and are known as kothu mani, kovil mani, pujai mani, sara mani and kai mani. Its rich nadham (sound) is important as it should be audible to alert the devotees about pujas. Like the church bell, the different rhythms of ringing in temples also announce the diverse rituals taking place. For example, bells are rung fast during the deeparadanai.
The bells are rung by pulling the ropes in temples such as Chidambaram Natarajar and Sri Mahaperiyava Manimandapam at Orikkai.
In a Vaishnavite temple, the bells inside the sannidhi are rung only after the special worship and undergo a purification process during pavitrotsavam.
There is a method to the ringing. It is swung in one direction. While the kai mani is hit with a rod to get the sound, during the neivedhyam, the pujai mani is rung with the thandu (stem). In Siva temples, the top of the thandu is adorned with the figure of Lord Nandikeswarar and in Vishnu temples, it is sangu or chakram.
Persons bringing the neivedyam to the prakaram usually play the bells, which are smaller in size.
It is said that in the Tirumala temple no bells are used in the garbha griha since they are considered an avatar of Sri Vedanta Desikar.
References to the ‘mani’ are seen in the Tirumurais, which indicate their importance in rituals.
In Shinto (ethnic religion of Japan) and Buddhism also bells are used in religious ceremonies. Bells in Buddhist temples of Japan are called bonsho. They are struck from the outside, using either a handheld mallet or a beam suspended on ropes and are used to call the monks to prayer and to mark the cycle of time. The bonsho was also used in a modern composition, ‘Olympic Campanology,’ for the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.
In a ceremony known as Joya no Kane, people queue up to ring the temple bells 108 times, which is done as part of the Japanese New Year celebrations. In Shinto shrines, large Suzu bells adorn the entrances, as it is said that ringing them brings positive energy and light, which is similar to the Hindu tradition.
Bells have been traced to the Yangshao culture of Neolithic China dating from 3rd millennium BC, and they are also found in different religious and musical cultures of the world.
Bells used in a Catholic Church for the Latin Rite as a mark of thanksgiving, are also referred to as altar or sanctus bell, mass bell, saint’s bell, sacryn bell, and sance-bell. Altar or sanctus bells are small handheld sets of bells.
Church bells are rung three times a day, 6 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m., by trained bell ringers. But in many places today they are being replaced by an automated equipment. There are techniques to ringing the bells. These skills were passed down the generations. But today, this art is almost lost.
As a musical instrument, hand held bells are used in bell choirs for church services. Their diverse ringing forms numerous rhythms. Bells belong to the category of idiophones, which are a part of the percussion instruments.
The temple bells, made from a combination of different metals, are believed to produce sounds that aid physical and mental wellness. Their echoes are believed to touch the seven healing centres of the body and generate a sense of positivity. That is why bells have been used in temples for centuries.
(The writers are eminent Carnatic violinists)

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