Asian Antique Bronze Bells
Antique Bronze Bells from Burma
Antique bronze bells from Southeast Asia have understandably become a sought after collector’s item. The bells of old are generally far more beautiful than bells crafted today. They were cast in bronze and bear a range of attractive designs and often interesting inscriptions.
Most of our bells are from 19th and early 20th century Burma where the tradition of blacksmithing has always been an honoured occupation associated with courage, strength and integrity. The Nat is an ancient spirit guardian possessing supernatural powers in Burmese tradition. The household Nat can take many forms, the most powerful being the Mahagiri Nat, Nga Tin-de (Mr Handsome), a blacksmith of extraordinary strength who was killed by a jealous king. “He wielded two hammers; with his right hand he held an iron hammer weighing fifty viss, and with his left hand he held another hammer weighing twenty-five viss. When Nga Tin-de worked his smithy and when he used his hammers against the anvil, the whole city quaked and trembled.” (Maung Htin Aung, Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism).
The Burmese excelled at bronze casting using the lost wax method or cire perdue. The nature of the work was hot, dusty and malodorous so foundries and smithies were located on the outskirts of town in open sided bamboo shelters. They made their own crucibles of clay with a lip for pouring, and handled them with cradles of bamboo or wood during the casting process. A shallow hole in the ground served as a hearth and the charcoal fuel was kept at the desired temperature by bellows made from hollowed bamboo with feather covered pistons - an ingenious device which was used until it was replaced with leather bellows under the influence of the British.
The magnificent Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon holds a famous temple bell, the Maha Ganda, weighing 23 tons. In 1825 the British attempted to remove it as booty but dropped it in the Rangoon River. It was later recovered and reinstated to its proper home in the pagoda.
Antique Temple Bells
Temple bells donated to the Sangha are held in high esteem. They are sounded three times at the conclusion of personal devotions as an invitation to all sentient beings to share the merit accumulated by their spiritual practices. Onlookers may respond with the congratulatory refrain- thadu, thadu, thadu- well done, well done, well done. The casting of large bells is a major event which takes place with an air of great ceremony and rejoicing. Sweetness of tone is very important for the temple bell. Unlike bronze Buddha images, the bronze was normally composed of 83% copper and 17% tin. In some cases, lead or even silver was added. The smaller temple bells with clappers are often found suspended on the eves of pavilions around temples and are said to attract the attention of the deva of the Tavatimsa Heaven. The gentle tinkling ring serves as a reminder of the Buddha’s endless compassion and deep wisdom. Small temple bells are also used to signal various activities to monks and nuns including the time to rise, meditate, chant, eat and rest.
Occasionally precious metal may be thrown in at the climax of casting, appearing as white streaks on the surface of the bell.
Buffalo Bells & Cow Bells
Our pastoral bells worn by cattle or buffalo are called hka-lauk in Burmese. They are normally trapezoidal or semi-circular in shape with closed rings at the top so that the bell can be suspended around the animal’s neck with a cord. The clapper is held in place with wire entering through two small holes made in the top of the bell. They are often decorated with very handsome scrolling or geometric designs on the surface. When travelling, the animals would follow the sound of the bell worn by the lead animal. The sound would also warn travellers of their presence on narrow mountain passes. The bells are also said to scare off predatory animals as well as help farmers locate their animals after being set free to graze.
Bronze Elephant Bells
The spherical elephant bells known in Burma as chu are similarly decorated and would help the mahout locate his elephant after being set free to forage in the jungle. Though popularly referred to as elephant bells, we are told by our Burmese friends that these bells were also worn by other animals including ponies and oxen.
Bronze bells often have interesting inscriptions including the seal or name of the maker, information about historical towns and their economic situation, customs of the people and the orthography of the period in which the bell was cast. Bells may bear the names of kings, queens or members of the aristocracy as well as high ranking military officers.
The value of a bell depends on age, quality of bronze and patina, decoration and condition. The bells we offer are between 40-200 years old. Each bell has its own individual physical characteristics, ring tone, and story to tell. We collect bells from Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and guarantee their authenticity as genuine antiques. Every bell comes with its own quality custom built stand. View Bronze Bells
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