July 11, 2007 – 11:06 am

 The Origin Of Bells
Can there be anybody who does not know what a [[bell]] is? Even the cow knows. The rat too knows it. Their leader was asked to bell the cat.  There cannot be a marriage or death without the tolling of the bells. Bells find pride of place in literature in books like “From Whom the Bell Tolls.” In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” the hero of the novel is a deformed bell ringer in the cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.

The bell is a very simple device for making sound. In the musical world it belongs to the percussion and idiophone group. It looks like a hollow drum with an open end that reverberates with echoing notes when struck. The clapper is the instrument used to strike it. It is kept either attached to the bell or separated from it. Tiny bells that chime with the wind do not need clappers.
Bells come in all sizes – from tiny ones that can be hooked on to dresses to massive ones hung in churches and temples. The latter can weigh tons. All over the world there is very common use of hand-held bells. Catholics call it the Sanctus – or sacring bells.
In the West, bells are kept in churches or town halls. Ropes are pulled to the clappers, which in turn hit the bells. A chain of bells is called Ring of Bells. In the East bells are kept in temples or palaces. The temple bells are within reach of devotees. Each can have a try at it as they send their messages to heaven. Indian classical dancers tie a string of small bells around their ankles to tune with the drum or tabla. 
In Japanese language some of the bells are termed suzu meaning a homophone that emits cool and refreshing sound. These bells are spherical and the sound comes out from the inside. Kane bell is hemispherical and is hit from the outside.Bells are very important in Buddhist ceremonies. In Tibet can be found tingsha bells.
Bianzhong and Zhong are ancient Chinese bells made from bronze and mainly used as musical instruments. They date back to about 3500 years ago. Two tones can be produced by these zhongs. The bells are superbly crafted with inscriptions on the outside. Reading these scholars get an idea of the times and its culture. The inscriptions have been given a special name – Bronzeware script. Another type of bell used in Chinese musical tradition is pinyin qing. These are of stone and not metal.
In Latin campana means bell. This combined with the Greek word for knowledge forms campanology, which is a study of bells. It deals with the practical side of bells – their casting, tuning and sounding. The whole culture of bells and its ringing together with associated customs circles around campanology. Sometimes a whole group of tuned bells are collected together and regarded as one musical piece. Examples are Flemish carillon and Russian zvon. In Russia the bells are hung from a fixed place lacking the ability to swing. Clappers with ropes sound these. Each belltower has a specially designed arrangement of ropes. 160 tons is the weight of Russia’s heaviest bell which was kept in the Dormition Cathedral until it cracked and fell in 1701 because of a fire in the Kremlin. 
The Alpine bells are known as Almglocken. These are brass bells that look like bulbs and its notes attract tourists in the northern Alps. From the tunes one can distinguish different species of animals. 
In Greece the herdsmen attach many bells to the main animals, each producing an individual note. This scale is then reproduced on the pipe of the shepherd. In European classical music using the same type of bells has captured the pastoral mood. 
In Latin America clapperless cowbells are hit with a stick. Hitting diverse bell parts and changing the posture of the hand that holds the bell control the tone. The composition is called go-go music.  In West Africa two of three bells without clappers are joined in such a manner they can either be played separately or together. In Brazil these are known as agoago bells In Cuba cowbells are temed cencerro.
Apart from the religious factor, bells are also a vital part of the musical world and associated with words like carillons, chimes and bell choirs. A ‘ring of bells’ comprises of a set consisting of 4 to 12 bells.  Bells are known to peal. The tone changes and bells peal for hours playing sometimes more than 5,000 patterns without repeating or stopping. 
Bell making is a very specialized art. If the bell is rung as cast then it is a maiden-bell. But if the musical note is fashioned to give a precise note after casting then it is a tuned-bell. At some of the important place bells are not struck haphazardly. For instance the Big Ben in London follows the pattern of Westministr Quarters – a pattern with 16 notes.
Brass is the usual metal that is used to make bells with a 20% mixture of tin. This alloy is known as bell metal and has often been used for making the finest Turkish as well as Chinese cymbals. Iron is often mixed with brass. 
The name of bells and clocks are often associated together. In fact the word clock is derived from the Latin cloca that means a bell. Bell or clock towers can be heard from afar. These were in great practical use to tell the time when very few people had clocks or watches.
Difficult to believe but it is true that bells can be such a nuisance that the government has to clamp down a ban on it. Bells ranks as one of the worst noisemakers. Football fans smuggle in cowbells in thousands during tournaments. In skiing cowbells are rung with gusto at the beginning of the race.
So even in the case of gentle bells the old adage hold true – there are always two sides to the coin.

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