Sangwon-sa Temple bell (May 2000)
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It looks quite a bit different from a Western church bell, doesn't it? Ours usually have clappers inside the bells. They're rung by swinging. Electric carillon bells aren't swung, but they still have the clappers inside.

Not Buddhist temple bells. They're rung with huge hammers.

This bell and its hammer are at Sangwon-sa Temple in Odaesan National Park. It's the oldest bell in Korea. It was cast in copper in 725. That's not a misprint: this bell was made in the eighth century, almost 1,300 years ago. In those times, Korean bell-making was a highly developed craft. Koreans claim that their bells were considered the best in the world, valued above both Chinese and Japanese bells.

This one is decorated with a lotus pattern, which seems appropriate since the lotus is a major Buddhist symbol. It also has images of heavenly musicians, which strikes me as oddly western.

Buddhist tradition says that this bell sounds like the growling of a beast. I don't hear that, but then I know only a few beasts, and most are smaller than this bell. Because it's now a Korean National Treasure (#36) it's almost never rung any more, and you're unlikely to ever hear it in person. But we found a recording, so you can play the clip above and decide what kind of beast you think it sounds like.

The bell has its own building for protection. I slipped the camera in past the bars in the windows to take the photo. Check out the coins on the floor. Some things are universal and international, I guess.

If you don't see an audio player on the page above, just click on the download link and use whatever player you have on your computer.

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