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Buddhist Temple Gong

Updated on April 30, 2018
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Aurang Zeb Khan, Curator, an Archaeologist/Museologist by profession. Have a deep knowledge of museum administration and conservation

Buddhist Gong Burmese

Buddhist Temple Gong (Burmese)
Buddhist Temple Gong (Burmese)

Buddhist Temple Gong

BUDDHIST GONG (Burmese)

AT PAK ARMY MUSEUM

Aurang Zeb Khan*[1]

GENERAL

Buddhism, in its origin was a cluster of moral codes rather than a religion. Buddha did not point upwards or outwards to God or gods but inwards to the complex potentials of human mental and spiritual life; the main stress of his philosophy was on Nirvana (salvation). The first expression of idolization in Buddhism was seen immediately after the death of Buddha when he was cremated in the Aryan fashion, the ashes were collected and divided into eight parts and enshrined in stupas, which must have been in practice before such stupa came to characterize the Mahaparinarvana (great departure) of the Buddha, and the worship of which became the first ritual among the Buddhists.

In its primitive form Buddhism was a revolt against the highly complex system of sacrifices and rituals that dominated in India in the 6th century BC. The simplicity of Buddhism attracted the masses who joined it in large numbers. Early followers (Hinayana school) believed Buddha to be an ideal man who accomplished Nirvana (Salvation). But like all other religions of the world it also became objectify and the worship of relics of the Buddha was in practice under the umbrella of Hinayana school of Buddhism even in the time of King Asoka. “Asoka’s patronage during his long reign contributed markedly to the growth of Buddhist religion. He sent missionaries of the faith to Ceylon, Burma, Kashmir, Nepal and apparently even west to Macedonia, Syria and Egypt.”[2]

“The Hinayana school of Buddhism is represented in its purest form in Ceylon, where it was established as early as the third Century B.C., and it is also the prevailing religion of Burma and Thailand.”[3]

“The popularly accepted tradition is that Buddhism came to Burma through two Talaing Merchants, Taposa and Palika, who were converted by the Buddha and to whom he gave eight hairs of his head which he instructed them to deposit in the Theinguttara Hill beside the relics of the three Buddhas who preceded him.”[4]

In the reign of Kanishka, Buddhism split into two and another sect with the name of Mahayana Buddhism came into being. In this school the Buddha becomes the object of worship and the god less religion now finds a focus in the form of Buddha.

BELLS AND BUDDHISM

“Bells are best known as ritual instruments, being used in almost all religions, from the Shinto temples of Japan across Asia and Europe to Celtic saints of western isles.”[5]

The ringing of bells has comforted man in times of despair, warned him of forthcoming danger and accompanied him in battle, in celebrations, and in worship. The origin of bells in shrouded in the mist of antiquity. We can imagine, though, that early man first discovered that striking objects around him, like stone, wood, shell, horn or bone produced a pleasing resonance.

As time went on, it was found that cured animal skin, stretched over a hollow log, emitted an echoing boom when beaten, and a dried gourd containing loose seeds was a natural percussion instrument.

Precisely where bells first appeared is unknown; both Eastern and Western Asia have been claimed as the area of origin. Whatever the case, the entire civilized world of antiquity was familiar with numerous forms of metallic ringing objects, and the pattern of their use was universal to a large extent.

Bells and gongs, often in combination with drums and other musical instruments, have long been used to accompany the dance, and jingling-type bells often adorned the dancers themselves. The use of bells on domestic animals is also of ancient origin.

Bells were fastened on animals and conveyances, or used to decorate garments; they were suspended from the neck as amulets and worn in series as a necklace or an anklet. “Many consider that the custom of attaching little bells to the feet of a child, when it begins to walk, has had a superstitious origin. The purpose was to frighten the malevolent spirits by means of these bells and thus scare them off.”[6]

A metal casting techniques improved, the size of bells increased, and even in ancient times the Chinese-cast bells weighing many tons, which were suspended in front of the temples and palaces.

Interior temple bells are usually hung from a rectangular framework of wood, which stands on a table or floor and can be moved about at will. The main temple bell, which normally ranges in height from two to five feet, is also suspended from a framework, but this is positioned in the temple court and accommodated in a stone or wooden pavilion or tower. Usually, the temple bell is rung in rapid repetition for several minutes at the beginning and end of services.

“The Buddhist movement in Gautama’s lifetime had few of the characteristics of a religion. In the course of a century or two, however, it developed it own rites, mystic symbols, and other supernatural elements,”[7] The use of various chanting and instruments in the worship of Buddha and Stupa were introduced and one of these instruments was bell; used to, summon the monks for worship, to warden off the evil sprits and to purify the atmosphere of the Sangha.

Buddhist priests ring these bells during services, in combination with cymbals, gongs, drums, and other instruments. The resting bell is another traditional type, dating from the Middle Ages. This is nothing more than a metal bowl from one to two feet in diameter, placed open side up on a cushion in front of the principal shrine in the Buddhist temple, and struck at the edge with a wooden stick.

In the orient, temple bells have traditionally been ornamented with symbolic decoration. In China the upper wall of the bell invariably displays rows of spikes or rounded bosses in groups of nine in four square fields, encircling the bell. They are said to represent fertility hovering over the plain field below in which is the seed. They suggest the sun’s rays shining through the tree of knowledge onto Buddha’s shaved head; they represent the sacred snails covering Buddha’s head to protect it from the sun. Whatever their symbolic meaning, they have been filed to alter the bell’s pitch which was probably their original function.

The lower area of the bell is some times plain but more often decorated with intricate, interlacing geometric designs, usually based on animal motifs; other bells are inscribed with prayers, the maker’s name or even the names of those who have contributed to the bell’s purchase.

As the various metallic forms were developed, they were spread around the civilized world through the increasing channels of commerce. Consequently, we cannot always be certain which type first appeared. But it is evident that brass, bronze, gold, silver, iron and other metal even clay and selected woods, were the materials fashioned into shapes and sizes.

TEMPLE GONGS OF BURMA

Ceremonial bells are found throughout Asian cultures but gongs certainly originated in ancient China. Over the ages they have evolved into several forms including gongs cast deep in Central Burma [8] (Myanmar) from a secret formula of bronze, then hand tempered by masters who know the power of sound. To ring the gong, personal intention and environmental acoustics are important.

Burmese Gongs vary in diameter from about 20 to 40 inches, and they are made of bronze containing a maximum of 22 parts of tin to 78 of copper; but in many cases the proportion of tin is considerably less.

Large logs of wood suspended horizontally beside the bell usually strike Burmese Gongs. Large Buddhist bells are usually heard in isolation, and their sound is complex and varied. However small bells are arranged in large sets around the temples, devotees strike each bell for the forgiveness of a sin as they ascend the temple and the complexity of the resulting sounds is amazing.

BURMESE GONG AT ARMY MUSEUM

This bell which once adorned a Buddhist temple in Burma was captured in 1931-32 AD by the Baloch Regiment of the British Indian Army. During the course of their advance they had occupied a vast area of Burma, conquering their villages, cities and their temples. The soldiers of the Baloch Regiment got this bell from a Buddhist temple of Myanmar and it remained with the regiment as a victory trophy until it was donated to the Pak Army Museum in 1965.

The Buddhist legendry figures are of great importance; all mostly sculpted locally with a general tendency towards traditional features. However the impact of the foreign influences on its artwork is evident. In this connection the under discussion metallic bell is of utmost importance; its outer surface is very attractively sculpted with moulded embellishment representing unique elements. In this regard it may be added here that all the visible features are observed and are summarized as under: -

Buddha (Headless)

This headless figure of Buddha is elegantly moulded. He is shown seated on an averted lotus throne in crossed-leg posture; however, his left arm is placed on his left bent knee with his hand spread out, all fingers pointing out towards the throne or below the knee. It may be further added here that his right hand is probably denoting an ewer like object. He is clad in a monastic robe consisting of two parts; the upper garment is only rolled over the left shoulder falling behind and covering the waist, whereas the right shoulder remains uncovered. It is indeed interesting to elaborate here that the lower garment is loose, showing the folds of the drapery, and it has also covers the feet of the figure. The figures of three worshippers are shown in a kneeling posture in “Anjli Mudra” facing the Buddha’s figure.

Water Bearer

This central frame is crowned by a headless standing male figure of a water bearer carrying water in a traditional style. The horizontal bar is placed over the right shoulder while from its both sides the water containers are fixed with a rope which is banded with above stated bar. This figure is dressed in tight lower garment, whereas the upper garment is slightly baggy, covering both the shoulders. Besides the water container other figures are also wrought above the central figure. Two Foo Lions[9] are executed in different patterns. The lion to the left is shown in a walking style while the right one is in seated form.

Female Figure

On the opposite side of the Foo Lion is a female figure sitting on the branch of a tree, while behind her hangs a bunch of grapes. The figure is wearing a tight lower garment, knotted in front, while the upper garment is transparent, head and both hands are conked out.

Mother And Child

On a little low margin this figure is flanked by two identical female figures each carrying a child. The one on the right is holding her baby in her left arm resting on her right thigh, while the second mother is holding a baby in her right hand resting on her left thigh.

Other Decoration

The neck of the bell is decorated in three stages, the top section of the bell has leaves in the form of a circle around the neck; the middle section has pointed spikes below which are four grooves. The main body of the bell has six incised grooves with a central fuller, and then follows the inscription. Again below the inscription there are six grooves.

Translation Of The Inscription

The main body of the gong contains an inscription in Burmese language, which was got translated and is as under: -

“Made to donate to the Buddhist Stupa on 8th Waxing day of Tabotwe Month of 1287th year of Burmese Lunar calendar by family of THA PAYA of KONE village. U (Mr.) SAN U and his wife Mrs. TA STAE and daughter Mrs. MO and her husband Mr. PO SEIN for Nirvana.”[10]

Tabotwe, the eleventh month of the Myanmar calendar, roughly corresponds with February.”[11] The year 2005 correspondence to 1366 year of Burmese Lunar calendar was in the 1921 AD and the Gong is 79 years old.

CONCLUSION

In this paper the Buddhist Temple Gong was discussed with its apparent features. It is a 4 feet high and approximately 01 tons heavy gong. The record and evidences available shows that the bell was made and donated to Buddhist temple at Burma for nirvana in 1921 by a Buddhist family. The bell remained in the temple till the time when the temple was captured by a Baloch Battalion of the British Indian Army, which took the bell as a trophy of their victory, and finally it reached the Pakistan Army Museum Rawalpindi and is on display with other ethnological exhibits.

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[1] * Curator Pak Army Museum, GHQ Rawalpindi

[2] Burns Edward Mc Nall, 1991, World Civilization, GOY’AL SaaB, Delhi, India, P-137

[3] Ibid. P-134

[4] Appleton. G. 1943, Burma Pamphlets No.3, Buddhism in Burma, Longmans, Green & Co, London, Pp-31-32

[5] Girling, D.A. 1978, Everman’s Encyclopedia-2, London, P-89

[6]Dore Hery, S.J., 1987, Chinese Customs, Grahm Brash(Pte) Ltd, Singapore, P-19

[7] Burns Edward Mc Nall, Op.Cit, P-133

[8] “Country lying along the eastern coasts of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in South East Asia. Covering an area of 261,228 sq miles”- Gwinn. Robert., 1990, Britannica-2, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, Chicago, USA, P-657

[9] Foo lions in Chinese/Burmese lore are protectors of the Buddha and they were placed on the doors of houses and stupas. Japanesegifts.com/aincense.asp. At But Kara-I two statues of lions are still intact.

[10] Translated by Maj Lu Mon of Myhanmar Army

[11] www.seasite.niu.edu/Burmese/culture/harvest-festuval.htm.

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