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 Home >> Art & Craft >> Bell
Boshingak, Greeting the New Year with The Boshingak Bell in Korea
The History of Boshingak - a symbol of Hopes and Dreams for Koreans....

Sounds Produced from Bells

People have already heard the bell of the ¡®Bo Shin Kak¡¯ ringing in the middle of city every New Year.   But do you know about the profound significance of the bell and the history of that lies behind it?

History of the bell

Small metal musical instruments producing rings were named ¡®Beom Jong¡¯, a bell of a Buddhist temple. Legend has it that the bell originated from ¡®Yong Jong¡¯, a musical instrument used in ancient China after 1500 B.C. until the latter period of ¡®Ju¡¯.   Another theory is that ¡®Beom Jong¡¯ was a bell used in Buddhist temples made by developing musical instruments such as ¡®Jong¡¯, or ¡®Tak¡¯ in ancient China.

According to a recent theory, the bell originated from ¡®Keon Chu¡¯, which was introduced with Buddhism in Korea. The reliability of this theory is questionable. The only part that it seems all theories agree on is that ¡®Beom Jong¡¯, originated from a kind of musical instrument called a 'Jong¡¯.

In this article, we will refer to Yong Jong as Jong.   Korean bells today are a close match to the 'Yong Jong¡¯.   

Name and structure

Yong Nyu
'Yong Nyu¡¯ has the shape of a dragon on the top of the bell.   The bell is attached to the dragon with wire.   ¡®Yong Nyu¡¯ literally means ring with the shape of a dragon. The dragon has a snake¡¯s body, carp scales, deer horns, rabbit eyes, and bulls ears.   This shape mocks the dragon   ¡®Po Roe¡¯, who tradition has it easily cries as they are afraid of whales!   ¡®Beom Jong¡¯ is also called ¡®Kyung Jong¡¯ (alarm bell), ¡®Jang Kyeong¡¯, and ¡®Wha Kyeong¡¯ (magnificent sounding bell).

Wind instrument
The wind instrument is called ¡®Yong Tong¡¯, and is related to the dragon shape. It is a bamboo tube unique to Korea, found only in the bell of a Buddhist temple called ¡®Beom Jong¡¯ located in Korea. The wind instrument originated from a tale in Korean historical book called ¡®Sam Kuk Yu Sa¡¯. According to the tale ¡®Piri¡¯, equivalent to Occidental flute, makes the world peaceful. This concept is in accord with the true signification of sound of ¡®Beom Jong¡¯.

The real wind instrument in ¡®Beom Jong¡¯ shows the shape of the bamboo. Korean wisdom dictates that the bamboo tube plays a role in producing clear sounds while the bell is ringing.

Cheon Pan
Cheon Pan is a part of the head of the bell connected with Yong Nyu.

Upper belt
¡®Sang Dae,¡¯ upper belt, is a belt with a pattern placed around the upper part of the bell. ¡®Ha Dae¡¯ is the belt placed around the lower part of bell. There are several views concerning the upper and lower belt¡¯s patterns, which are drawn around the bell.

Some people argue that the decoration is an imitation of a drum.   Another view is that the border is solidly fixed so that the bell is not broken. An alternative view again is that it is there to make a louder, sonorous rather than thin, sound when the bell is rung.   

Rectangular form called Yugwak
A rectangle attached to the upper part of the bell is called Yu Kwak. Inside this rectangular form lies the ¡®Yu Du,¡¯ surrounded by flowers. Korean bells are different from Chinese or Japanese bells in this aspect.

Celestial nymph images as well as images of Buddha and Buddhist Saint
The image of the celestial nymph appears in the bells made in ¡®Sil Ra¡¯ while images of Buddha and Buddhist Saints are on bells made in the ¡®Ko Ryeo¡¯ and ¡®Jo Seon¡¯ periods. The images of Buddha and Buddhist Saints are sitting on lotus flowers, placed in clouds.   In ¡®Jo Seon¡¯ bells the Buddhist Saint is standing on lotus flowers with joined hands.
The celestial nymph images change into Buddha and Buddhist Saint images according to the overwhelming religion of the time.

Shape and use of bell
¡®Dang Jwa¡¯ means the striking of bell by the wooden bell mallet. The place where the mallet is struck closely relates to the sound of the ring. If the bell mallet strikes the bottom of bell, the bell produces a loud sound, and this risks breaking the bell. The best place on the bell is about one 1/3 from the bottom of bell. The shape of bell varies according to the period.
The shape of the bell made in Sil Ra is thin at the top, and becomes slowly wider on the bottom. Two-thirds from the top of the bell its width begins to narrow.   

The bell made in Goryeo is very short.   The ratio of height to diameter is 1:1. The shape of bell made in Koryeo becomes gradually wider to bottom. By contrast, the shape of bell made in Joseon is equally wide from the top, and becomes wider at the end of the bell.

Characteristics of bell

'Beom Jong¡¯
'Yong Tong,¡¯ a wind instrument, surrounds the ¡®Yong Nyu¡¯ placed on the top of bell. ¡®Yugwak¡¯ is placed in 4 times under the ¡®Jong Kyeon¡¯. The total number of ¡®Yu Du¡¯ in 4 Yu Kwaks is 36. On the body of bell the image of celestial nymph was described and ¡®Dang Jwa¡¯ was placed on the opposite side of it.   Sometimes beautiful passages were described on the body of bell.

'Dong Jong¡¯, 'Sang Weon Sa¡¯ and ¡®new bell of Seong Deok Dae Wang¡¯ are Korean Buddhist temple bells. 'Dong Jong¡¯ in a Samg Weon temple becomes narrower towards the top, with 2/3 from the top being the widest part, it and become slightly narrow on the bottom. It seems a very stable in shape.

The top of the bell was made in Silla. There are belts around the upper and lower parts with patterns. A rectangular form of 'Yu Gwan¡¯ is attached to the upper belt. Two images of the celestial nymph were inscribed, with two ¡®Dang Jwa¡¯ placed on the opposite sides.   On the head of the bell a wind instrument and ¡®Cheon Pan,¡¯ attached to ¡®Yong Nyu¡¯, ring has the shape of a dragon with a dark green color. Around the Yong Nyu the wind instrument is placed.   

In the Chinese and Japanese bells there are no wind instruments on the head of bell.   Dragons are inscribed rather than the image of the celestial nymph. This obviously differs from the Korean bell.

Significance and symbolism of the bell

The first Beom Jong made in Korea is regarded as ¡®Dong Jong¡¯. This was made in 725. The bell was not superceded in size until 46 years later in 771. The 'Beom Jong¡¯ bell symbolizes Buddhism. Originating from a powerful and absolute monarch, the bell was made to diffuse the charity and principles of Buddhism in the world.   It was also used as a means of defending the fatherland, by diffusing the merits of the King in the world.   People prayed and their wishes were conveyed to Buddha through the bell, which itself was symbolically donated to Buddha.   

There are several purposes for making bells for Buddhist temples in ancient Korea.
Ancient Korean Kings wished to defend the fatherland by diffusing the charity of Buddha and Buddhism principles by means of the bell of Buddhist temple (Yeon Bok temple bell).
The King of Seong Deok tried to defend the fatherland by diffusing his merits and great achievement, by means of the bell called ¡®New bell of Seong Deok King.
The Korean bell is very scientific, and today Korean descendants making the bell follow the wisdom of their ancestors.

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