Antique Bronze Bells from Burma
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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 being crafted today. They were cast in bronze using time honoured techniques 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.
In Burmese folklore the Nat is an ancient spirit guardian possessing supernatural powers. The household Nat can take many forms, the most powerful being the Mahagiri Nat, Nga Tin-de or in English Mr. Handsome. He is 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. The nature of the work was hot and dusty and foundries were 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 replaced with leather bellows under the influence of the British.
The magnificent Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Burma holds a famous temple bell, the Maha Ganda, weighing 23 tons. In 1825 the British tried to remove it as a booty but dropped it in the Rangoon River. It was later recovered and restored to its proper home in the pagoda.
There were three main types of bells cast in Burma- temple bells, pastoral bells and what have come to be known as elephant bells. The smaller temple bells with clappers are often found suspended on the eves of pavillions 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 metals were thrown in at the climax of casting, appearing as white streaks on the surfaceof the bell.
Our pastoral bells worn by buffalo, cattle and other animals 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 using a cord. The clapper is held in place using wire entering through two small holes made in the upper surface of the bell. They are often decorated with very handsome scrolling or geometric designs. When travelling, the animals would follow the sound of the bell worn by the lead animal and 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.
The spherical elephant bells known in Burma as chu are also decorated but using different designs suited to their shape. Though popularly referred to as elephant bells, we are told by our Burmese friends that in truth these bells, chiefly the smaller ones, were also worn by other animals including ponies.
Bells often have interesting inscriptions including the maker's name, information about historical towns and their economic situation, customs of the people and the orthography of the period in which they were cast. For example they may bear the names of kings, queens or members of the aristocracy as well as high ranking officials.
The value of a bell depends on age, quality of bronze and its patina, decoration and condition. The bells we offer are between 50-200 years old. Each bell has its own individual characteristics, ring tone and story to tell. We collect bells not just from Burma but also Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and guarantee their authenticity as genuine antiques. Every bells comes with its own custom built stand so that the bell can be displayed. We are happy to answer any inquiries you may have and would love to learn more if you could further enlighten us about the bronze bells of Southeast Asia. Our eBay store has a small collection of antique bronze bells - to see our full collection please Google sabai designs gallery.
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