Bells are important symbols in Hindu worship. Each temple, or mandir, generally hangs at least one metal bell at its entrance for devotees to announce their presence to the Hindu deities. Priests or devotees ring more bells within the temple during worship in order to invoke the gods. Hindu scholar Sushma R. Kulshreshta writes that the bells generally don’t carry a specific tone and are not considered musical instruments. However, the sound of the bells is said to be pure and can be heard by the Hindu gods who inhabit the religion’s inner worlds .
The Bell's Significance
Temple bells come in a variety of shapes, sizes and metals, though brass is common. The bells’ chimes are believed to replicate the sound of Aum, the all-seeing and all-knowing presence across the universe that is synonymous with the name of God. Writing in "The Times of India," reporter Aruna Srinivasan says that in Hinduism, a bell’s curved body symbolizes infinity and the bell’s tongue represents wisdom. A bell’s handle is often fashioned to resemble Chakra, Nandi or Garuda, which are associated with different Hindu gods. It may also represent the Hindu god Hanuman.
Entering the Temple
Some Hindus consider it proper to enter the temple by first stepping in with their right foot, indicating that they are entering with the right frame of mind. Upon entering, the devotee usually sees a suspended bell that they ring for various reasons: Its tone announces their presence and summons the temple’s gods; the ringing clears the devotee’s mind in order to focus on their worship; and according to the editors of "Hinduism Today" magazine, it reminds devotees that, “like sound, the world may be perceived but not possessed." Devotees may also ring the bell upon exiting in order to express thanks to the deities.
The primary activity in a Hindu temple is the worship service known as puja. The bell used during puja is known as a ghanta and is said to engage all of the devotee’s senses. Similar to the bell at a temple entrance, bells are rung during puja in order to summon a Hindu deity. Hindu priests often do this while conducting other worship activities, such as passing a lit lantern, making an offering and intoning chants. Hindus believe that the arriving deities, which are represented by an icon at the temple shrine, will bless the devotees and help them with their worldly suffering. Bells are rung loudly when the deity is believed to send its power through the icon.
Hindu worship often involves repetitive chanting. The following bell-related mantra is repeated in temples and homes in order to create the right ambience for worship: “Aagamaarthamtu devaanaam gamanaarthamtu rakshasaam / Kurve ghantaaravam tatra devataahvaahna lakshanam.” This roughly translates as: “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.” Bells, along with the above chant, are also used during aarati, another form of Hindu worship.
- Mahendra Jani and Vandana Jani: "What You Will See Inside a Hindu Temple"
- Smithsonian Institution: Puja: Worship in Hindu Temples
- "Music in the Buddhacarita of Asvaghosa"; Sushma R. Kulshreshta
- Hinduism Today Magazine: "Visiting a Hindu Temple"
- The Times of India: "Peal of Bells"
- The Editors of Hinduism Today Magazine: "What is Hinduism?"
- Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images