THE FOLLOWING MARVELLOUS CONTRIBUTION IS GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGED.
Srimate SrivanSatakopa Sri Vedanta Desika yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
All of us are gladdened by the chimes of the bell. When we were school children, the ringing of the bell at the end of the day spelled freedom from the academic prison and from gimlet-eyed teachers. It was what we (at least the less studious ones like me) used to look forward to, after lunch. Even after growing up, the mellifluous chimes of the bell have always fascinated us. I remember that cows in Tiruvallikkeni invariably had small bells hung around their necks, emitting tinkling sounds whenever the creatures moved their heads this way and that. (Only much later did I discover that the practice of tying bells around the neck of cattle was quite ancient, from Sri Tondaradippodi's lines in Tiruppalliezhucchi-"Mettu iLa mEdigaL talai vidum AyargaL vEynkuzhal Osayum vidai maNi kuralum"). And the itinerant sweet-vendor had a bell hung underneath his pushcart and just used to pull the bell-rope to announce his arrival, rather than hawk his wares with raucous cries. The temple doors too used to be adorned with numerous small bells, which jingled and jangled whenever the doors were pushed open or closed. And children, with their penchant for making some form of noise or the other constantly, used to mark attendance at the sannidhi by invariably making these bells ring incessantly. The arrival of the temple elephant was always heralded by the mellifluous chimes of the ridiculously small bell hung around its huge neck, at which sound we children used to rush out of our homes in anticipation of the visual treat that the pachyderm always provided and for the fear-tinged pleasure of benediction by the touch of its trunk to our heads (which, incidentally, was done free of charge, compared to the current day elephants which have been trained to even look at you only upon payment of a rupee coin).
However, by far the best use of the bell is during the daily worship of the Lord ("TiruvArAdhanam"), be it at home or the temple. Whether it be for gently waking up the Lord from His yOga nidrA or feigned slumber, for lovingly offering Him water for washing His hands or feet, during His ceremonial bath, for submitting our humble offering of food, drink, incense or lighted camphor, sounding of the bell is mandatory, according to manuals of worship dotingly drafted by affectionate Acharyas.
The PAncharAtra SamhitAs impress upon us the indispensability of the Bell and the modes of its use, during the Lord's worship. In fact, the JayAkhya SamhitA tells us that one who wishes to derive the full benefit of the TiruvArAdhanam
(viz., Bhagavat preeti) should never forsake sounding the bell during the same-
"PoojA kAlam vinA anyatra hitam nAsyA: prachAlanam
nAnayA tu vinA kAryam poojanE siddhim icchatA".
This sloka also tells us not to sound the bell except during the Lord's worship.
It is interesting to note the nuances in using the bell. For instance, on some occasions like opening the PerumAL sannidhi, offering Him water for wash, during His ceremonial bath and while offering Him incense and the lamp, the tongue of the bell should be made to touch only one wall of the bell. On the other hand, while offering Him lit camphor, food, drink etc., the bell's tongue should move both sides, touching the opposite inner walls of the bell alternately. This is what the VAsudEva SamhitA tells us-
"GhantAyA: tAdanam kuryAt HarE: poojAdi karmasu
udghAtanE kavAtasya prastutE poojanE tathA
AvahanE arghyE snapanE vivAhE dhoopa deepakE
Bali karMaNi hOmE cha Eka pArsvEna tAdayEt
neerAjanE yavanikA samuddhArE nivEdanE
ParsvAbhyAm tAdanam kuryAt upachArAnatarEshu tu".
The chimes of the sanctified bell represent the sweetest of strains from all musical instruments, just as Sri Hari is the embodiment of all gods. All auspicious sounds emanate from the GhantA (Bell), says the JayAkhya SamhitA-
"Sarva vAdya mayee ghantA sarva dEva mayO Hari:
GhantA shabda gatam sarvam tasmAt tAm chAlayEt purA".
However, while offering the Lord incense or a lighted lamp, we have to necessarily use our left hand for sounding the bell. We are assailed by a
doubt here-would it be correct to lift and use the ghantA with our left hand, for, the right would necessarily be engaged in holding the incense or lamp? From all the aforesaid, the Bell appears to be such a sacred component of worship that touching or using it with our inauspicious left hand appears incorrect. This can be done, says the ShrIkara SamhitA ("Dhoopam dadyAt svayam kinchit ghantAm vAmEna nAdayEt") for, if you insist on holding the bell in your right hand, then the lamp, camphor, incense etc. would have to be offered to the Lord with the left hand, which is absolutely unthinkable. However, while lifting the bell, the right hand should be used and thereafter its use on the aforesaid occasions should be with the left.
We thus find that the sounding of the bell is intended
1. to drive away evil spirits inimical to spiritual endeavours,
2. to notify devotees and kindred spirits of the ongoing ArAdhanam and invite their participation in the same and
3. to call upon dEvatAs to honour us with their presence and accept our ministrations.
There is an interesting tale about the Bell, worth narrating. All her efforts at safeguarding her milk and butter (from Krishna and His band of urchins) having failed to bear fruit, an ingenious Gopi hits upon the idea of tying bells to the ropes by which the pots of butter are suspended from the roof, so that any effort at reaching them would automatically set off the bells and sound an alarm. When He finds the bell, Krishna makes it a co-conspirator by requesting it not to ring and give Him away. How can anyone say no to a request from the absolutely enchanting boy, who is none other than the Parabrahmam itself? So the Bell agrees not to ring during Sri Krishna's nefarious activities. Emboldened by such consent, Sri Krishna puts His beautiful hand into the butter pot, scoops up several handfuls, offers them to His acolytes and fondly watches them consume the same. True to its promise, the Bell remains silent. And finally, when Sri Krishna puts some butter into His own mouth and swallows, the Bell rings stridently, waking up the Gopi and all others within hearing distance. Angered by this apparent breach of trust by the Bell, Krishna queries it as to why it chose to ring just then, when He had begun to eat, having remained silent all along after the thievery had commenced. The Bell tells the Lord that it could not remain silent when the Paramapurusha was partaking of food, as it is the Bell's honourable duty to ring whenever any offering is made to the Lord. Mollified by the extremely reasonable explanation, Sri Krishna forgives the bell and makes good His escape.
The glorious GhantA serving the Lord at Tirumala had a strange desire, almost eight hundred years ago-it wanted to be born as a human being. Dissatisfied with emitting just sweet and stentorian sounds without any profound purport, the Bell of TiruvEnkatamudayAn prayed to the Lord for a human birth: not any humdrum janmA, but that of a highly gifted and devoted individual, whose scholarship and bhakti would be the envy of all those who were born before or after him. And the Bell desired a path-breaking sojourn on Earth, spreading enlightenment and showing an easy path to Paradise.
"So be it!" said Srinivasa, granting His ghantA's desire. Just as Sri Rama chose His parents with care ("Pitaram rOchayAmAsa vriddham Dasaratham nripam"), the Lord's Bell too was pretty particular as to whom it was born to. After careful consideration and evaluation, the Bell chose a couple from Kancheepuram, one PuNdarIkAksha YajwA and TOtAramba, a pair renowned for their flawless devotion and impeccable conduct. To them was born the Bell, in the form of a male child of varied accomplishments, an amalgam impossible to find elsewhere.
Sri PrativAdibhayamkaram aNNA records this fact in his Saptati RatnamAlikA thus-
"AvirbhUti: yasya vamsAt anarghAt VaisvAmitrAt VishNu ghantA amsakasya
SrImAn sOyam sarva tantra svatantra: vaktA vyAkhyA sArvabhoumO vibhAti"
Within the young age of twenty, he had mastered all that was there to master and had earned the bountiful blessings of his Acharyas, Sri VainatEya and of Sri HayagrIva Himself, all of which made him a scintillating scholar, pleasing poet, lofty logician, perfect philosopher and, above all, a bhaktimAn beyond compare. Exhibiting in abundant measure the characteristics of his previous form as the Lord's ghantA (bell), Sri VEnkatanAtha regaled scholars and the proletariat alike with his erudition, revealing the sweet and endearing chimes of the Bell. To opponents, he was verily a terror ("vibudha vairi varoothinee"), striking fear in their hearts with his irrefutable propositions and flawless formulations, reflecting the stern tones of the GhantA in driving away forces inimical to the Lord ("Daitya ripu ghantA"). Just as the tones of the GhantA provide the perfect accompaniment to the Lord's worship, so do the devotional works of Swami Desikan, the recitation of which would endow us with the ideal emotional state conducive to adulating Emperuman. And just as the stentorian tones of the bell serve to frighten away demoniac and evil forces, Tooppul Pillai's works too sound the death knell for the so-called philosophies of agnostics, atheists and others of their ilk who do not accept the authority of the Shruti, as also others of skewed perceptions ("Kudrishti") who pay lip service to the Shruti but impose their own uninformed theories on it, in the name of interpretation.
Just as the bell's chimes are heard over long distances, Sri Venkatanatha's glory too spread far and wide, bringing him laurels and accolades, which, however, he shunned like serpents.
Our homes have been provided with calling bells, which visitors sound to gain admittance. Similarly, the gates of Sri Vaikuntam too are adorned with a beautiful bell, which we have to ring, for entry into Paradise. It is this bell that announces to the Lord our arrival at the gates of Paramapadam and it is at the sound of this bell that He rushes to welcome us with open arms, sending hordes of nitya sUrIs as an advance reception party. Once we propitiate this Divine Bell, which is none other than our revered Venkatanatha, our admittance into the Divine Residence is assured, for the Bell, in its special tones, sends a sweet-sounding message to Emperuman, announcing to Him the unblemished soul awaiting admittance into His abode and the need for His expeditious action in the matter. Sri Vedanta Desika has authored so many works in so many languages, all with Bhakti and Prapatti as the constantly recurring theme, that our acceptance of him and his illustrious successors as our preceptors would ensure for us emancipation. Once we adopt the simple but effective strategy of Prapatti, Sri Venkatanatha, the Lord's Bell, emits sweet chimes that guide us unerringly from the mundane morass to the Promised Land, announcing simultaneously to the Lord our arrival for inclusion into His fold.
"Dharma trANAya ya: abhoot sa jayatu BhagavAn VishNu GhantAvatAra:"
Srimate Sri LakshmINrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama: