Why do Hindu temples have a bell? 20 essential facts!!

Hindu temple bells. ndiadivine.org
In those days when urban and semi urban traffic was to the minimum we could hear the  melodious and rhythmic ringing and   chiming of temple and  church bell at a distance place slowly being carried by the prevailing breeze.  The sound of bells from the sanctified places was so soothing to our mind and soul it would  make us feel euphoric. No doubt, a feeling devotion and bhakti would overwhelm us. It also reminded of the time of the day and the prayer or puja kalam (puja time) at the temple. Nowadays though the temple bells do ring during puja times, we, sometimes, hear the feeble sound that may die out soon. Because the urban/semi urban  din is so bad and noisy, the beautiful sound of the bells gets drowned in the noise.  

As far as Hindu temples are concerned, a bell is an integral part of the prayer time and many temples do have a bell mantabam ( hall). The historic temples in Tamil Nadu have a big bell in one corner of a hall hanging from a massive beam

Bells play a vital role in Hindu temples. Every temple is adorned with lots of bells set on the huge entrance  wooden doors or gates. Small bells are tied  on tree  braches on the temple premises.
A bell is commonly  a directly struck idiophone percussion instrument. Invariably, most of the bells have the shape of a hollow cup with its sides forming a good resonator. When struck  it is being aided by the resonator, causing vibration  in a single strong strike tone. The hollow part has an internal ''clapper'' or ''uvula''  with which strike is made. Extrnal strike is possible with a hammer, in case of small bells.

Bells  intended to be heard over a wide area can range from a single bell hung in a turret or bell-gable or chiming bells as one finds in churches and town halls.  Bells are usually cast from bell metal (a type of bronze) for its resonant properties; depending on the function, they  can also be made from other hard materials;. Some small bells such as ornamental bells or cow bells are made from cast or pressed metal,  but large bells such as church, clock and tower bells are normally cast from bell metal. The traditional metal for these bells is a bronze of about 23% tin. Steel  was not used after 1870s as it had questionable durability  and cost of production.

The study of bells is called Campanology and the process of casting bells is called bell founding.
Huge temple bell,Kochi Tirumala Devaswom www.hindu-blog.com 
Above image: The huge bronze bell in this image is at Kochi Tirumala Devaswom, one of the important Hindu temples in Matancherry, Kochi, Kerala. It is believed to be  the second largest in Asia. Srimath Muttom Thirumala Devaswom at Cherthala in Kerala, is managed by the Gowda Saraswatha Brahmin community. They in 2012 installed this huge bell  and  it weighs 1100 kg. Size is 4.8 ft in diameter and 5 ft high......................

There are many reasons behind sounding of  temple bells:

01. Temples in Tamil Nadu have  a fairly huge bell and it is rung to inform the public that the pooja to the main deity in the sanctum (Garbagraha/Srikovil) is about to start. 

02. Ringing of bells is symbolic of invoking the divinity in the place of worship, and virtuous and noble thoughts will get into our heart and house.  Driven out are the evil and demonic forces that carry the stamp of negativity in us. So, we get clarity and get rid of  hopelessness.  

03. Derived from the  Sanskrit word Ghanta (meaning sound), the Temple bell is fundamentally  made out of bronze, magnesium and other metals. That the temple bells are unique and different from other bells is true. The composition of temple bells is not an ordinary one. It is an alloy of various metals mixed in a particular proportion. Metals  cadmium, lead, copper, zinc, nickel, chromium and manganese also go into the alloy.

04. According to the temple Agama Sastra, the bell should be made of 5 metals - copper, silver, gold, iron and brass and they refer to  as Panchabootha - five  essential elements of the earth. 
Depending on the words in the mantra being chanted the bell should be sounded 8, 16, 24, and 32 times,

05. As mentioned before, the right mixing of every element used in bell-makingis essential and it  is where the right technical expertise lies.

06. Rgardless of size, the bell has a hollow interior and from the centre hangs a piece of metal (clapper)  which strikes the metallic side of the hollow part and creates the sound. The space between the hollow vessel and the metallic rod is important in bell making and the quality of sound depends on the metallic composition and the configuration of the bell, including the diameter of the bell and the size of striking rod at the center.  

Puja bell with nandi (bull) srisamayapurathaltempleneeds.com
Hand bell with nandi (bull) currieupholstery.com
07. According to Sanskrit Literature,  there are many types of bells such as Kansyaghanta, tala, ghatika, jayaghantika, kshudraghanta and karma, each one is for a specific purpose.  

08. The bell  with a handle in the shape of Vajra is called  Vajraghanta. In the  Buddhist monastery/temple, the hand bell has a Stupa shaped handle  and it is widely used for for prayers.

09. In Vaishnava temples, the hand bell carries the image of Sangu and Chakra or Garuda or Hanuman at the top end of the handle. On the other hand, in Shaivite temples, the same hand bell carries the image of a small Nandi (rishabam) atop the handle. 
Vaishnava hand bell for puja. exoticindiaart.com
10. Perhaps, it is pertinent know why temple bells are rung at the appropriate time. This is to announce the time (kalam)  of the Puja , hence the bell is rung right before the beginning of the Puja to get the attention of the devotees on the temple premises and surrounding streets.

11. The sound of the temple bell in the early morning   wakes you up and prepares you for the ensuing puja protocol. 

12. The other purpose of sounding bell is to welcome the God and ask for his gracious presence throughout the Pooja at the temple. 

13. The bell is  being continuously struck when puja is on - during anointing,  decoration of the idol with fresh flowers, sandal paste, jewels, etc and when aarti is done before the deity.  This bell is being struck to bring in  the devotees to the prayer hall and to prevent distractions. 
14. Further, the continuous sound from the bell creates a divine ambiance in the already-sanctified place and now our mind is automatically preoccupied with devotion. It is fully focused on the God in the sanctum during the puja ritual as other external sounds get drowned by the continuous sound from the temple bell. Consequently our concentration on the God and prayer won't be disturbed during the puja time. 

15. Yet another reason is such temple bell sound creates positive energy on the temple premises as well as among the visiting devotees. Some bells can produce the long strains of the sound OM (Pranava mantra).

16. The bells are  made to produce such a distinct sound that it promotes proper functioning of both sides of the brain - right and left hemispheres in unison.  

17. The belief is that once the sound from the bell is produced the minute sharp sonic vibrations (harmonics) last for  some seconds in echo mode. The sound, it is said, is good enough to reach the  seven healing centres or chakras in your body, producing positive vibe.  

18. Yet another interesting fact is the moment bell is rung and you hear the sound, the brain becomes bereft of other unwanted thoughts. In other words, the brain is emptied of all irrelevant thoughts. Consequently, the devotee prays to God with intense concentration. Now, he is in a trance-like situation, draining out the unwanted thoughts. It subtly increases his concentration power.

19. With respect to hand bells, the body of the bell represents time or anantha; the tongue (clapper) of the bell represents Goddess of wisdom Saraswati, and the handle represents the prana sakthi. It symbolically represents Nandi, Chakra, Garuda or Hanuman

20. So simply, when the temple bell rings, we  detach ouselves from the materialistic world to enter the world of divinity and spiritual awareness that is everlasting. Chanting mantras has an added advantage.