Saturday, 12 December 2009

Buddhist Bells on the Beeb

Tonight (Saturday) at 10pm on BBC Radio 3 there is a programme entitled: "Between the Ears: The Great Bell"

Using stories, poems and sounds, Stephen Gill presents a portrait of bonshou - Japanese Buddhist temple bells - which are considered essential to the country's national identity.

Bonshou are housed in an open wooden tower instead of in a belfry. They do not have clappers and are struck by huge tree trunks, suspended from ropes, swung against them from outside. Each Old Year is rung out with 108 booms from every the bell throughout the land. Every Japanese person has the right to one strike, in order to consume the sins of the old year and purify them for the new.

The Gion bonshou, at 80 tonnes (six times the weight of Big Ben), is the heaviest in the land and it takes 20 monks to swing the beam in order for it to sound. Ikko Iwasawa, who runs the foundry that cast the largest bell in Japan, explains the mystery of creating such huge bells as one is being cast. The Rev Eishou Kawahara, the head priest of Rengein, whose bell can be heard for 40 kilometres, reveals their spiritual meaning and the impact they have on people.

Stephen Gill has lived in Japan for many years and speaks the language fluently. He weaves into the recordings stories of famous bells, haiku poems about them and, most importantly, the sounds of all these bonshou, each of which has its unique voice.

If you miss it or are elsewhere on the planet it is available on the BBC iPlayer.

(Sorry, it's no longer available)

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