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Ghanta is the Sanskrit term for a ritual bell used in either Hindu or Buddhist religious practices. Hindu temples generally have one metal bell hanging at the entrance and devotees ring the bell while entering the temple. Priests and devotees ring bells during the puja. There are bells specially made to produce the long strains of the sound OM. In Buddhism, the ritual bell is almost always paired with another ritual implement called a dorje.
The bell is generally made out of brass. A clapper is attached to the inside and the bell makes a high pitched sound when rung. The top of the bell handle is usually adorned with a brass figure - bells intended for use in the worship of Lord Shiva will have a figure of Lord Nandi, while those used in the worship of Lord Vishnu or his avatars as Rama, Narasimha or Krishna will have a figure of Garuda or Panchajanya shanka or Sudarshana Chakra.
In Hinduism, bells are generally hung at the temple dome in front of the Garbhagriha. Generally, devotees ring the bell while entering into the sanctum. It is said that by ringing bell, devotee informs the deity of his/her arrival. Bell sound is considered auspicious which welcomes gods and removes evil. The sound of bell is said to disengage mind from ongoing thoughts thus making the mind more receptive. Bell ringing during prayer is said to help in controlling the ever wandering mind and focusing on the deity.
The Bell (Ghanta) is the most commonly used of all musical instruments in tantric Buddhist ritual. The sound made by the Bells is regarded as very auspicious and is believed to drive out evil spirits from where the ritual is being performed. When the Bell is being used with the Dorje its use is varied depending on the ritual or the mantras being chanted. During meditation ringing the bell represents the sound of Buddha teaching the dharma and symbolizes the attainment of wisdom and the understanding of emptiness. During the chanting of the mantras the Bell and Dorje are used together in a variety of different ritualistic ways to represent the union of the male and female principles.
In Hinduism, the mantra chanted while ringing the bell is
Aagamaarthamtu devaanaam gamanaarthamtu rakshasaam, Kurve ghantaaravam tatra devataahvaahna lakshanam
I ring this bell indicating the invocation of divinity, so that virtuous and noble forces enter; and the demonic and evil forces, from within and without, depart.
From Kundalini Yoga perspective, the sound of bell energizes Chakras and balances the distribution of energy in body. Also, the number of times the bell should be sounded depends on the number of letters in the mantra; accordingly the bell should be sounded 8,16,24, or 32 times. In Āgama it is mentioned that bell should be made of pancha lauha - five metals, namely, copper, silver, gold, brass and iron. These 5 metals represent the pancha bhoota.
Bell has symbolic meaning in Hinduism. The curved body of the bell represents Ananta. The clapper or tongue of the bell represents Goddess Saraswati, who is goddess of wisdom and knowledge. The handle of the bell represents Prana Shakti - vital power and is symbolically linked to Hanuman, Garuda, Nandi (bull) or Sudarshana Chakra.
The hollow of the bell represents the void from which all phenomena arise, including the sound of the bell, and the clapper represents form. Together they symbolize wisdom (emptiness) and compassion (form or appearance). The sound, like all phenomena, arises, radiates forth and then dissolves back into emptiness.
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