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We call the large bell at the temple the Dharma bell, but it would be just as appropriate to refer to it as the Buddhist bell. Long ago, at large temples where many monks lived, it was necessary to have a system of communication to organize the large masses of people. It is conjectured, then, that the temple bell was born of necessity.
While this is plausible, one might also think the mysterious and marvelous sound of the bell, awakening the followers to a feeling of piety and regard for the dead, made it so compelling. One might suppose that the sound of the bell created the optimum Buddhist atmosphere during rituals, and that this accounts for its existence.
There is a big difference between the shape of Korean bells and those of China and Japan. The musical instrument that scholars call the “Joseon bell” was probably derived from ancient Chinese copper vessels of the Bronze Age. The shape and sound of Korean bells surpassed Chinese and Japanese bells as early as 725CE with the casting of the bell at Sangwon-sa Temple, which was the beginning of a long history of Korean bell-making, through the Joseon Dynasty, many of which remain today.
Looking at the first models of Korean bells from the Silla, differences between Chinese and Japanese bells are evident. Korean bells have a dragon loop at the top of the bell (for suspending it), and an acoustic tube at the top. The body of the bell is like an overturned water jar, with a tapered “mouth” so that the sound escapes slowly. The acoustic tube is a feature seen only on Korean bells.
At the top and around the bottom lip of the bell are relief designs such as lotuses, vine arabesques and heavenly musicians playing musical instruments. On the four sides, on the shoulder of the bell, surrounded by lotus patterns, are four clusters of nine acoustic knobs. On two sides of the body of the bell are heavenly musicians playing musical instruments and the striking points. The whole body of the bell is never entirely decorated, there is much empty space remaining.