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Yongle Bell Clubs

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Period: Yongle reign (1403-1424), Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Dimensions: Height: 22.5 cm

This set of bell clubs was made during the Yongle reign in the Ming palace and cast with the characters for "Donated in the Yongle reign of Great Ming." The bell is the handle of a club. It is cast with a Buddha's head, reverted lotus petals, the six-word incantation, sautoir, Vajra and other designs. Each of the five gilded brass bell clubs has five sharp points at both ends, which stand for the Buddhist five kinds of wisdom. The bell is a usual religious instrument in Tibetan Buddhism. Also called Tibetan bell and Vajra bell, it is often rung during gods to call the attention of and please the prayers. As it is sturdily made, it is also called Vajra or pentagonal bell because it has five sides. It is a religious instrument representing wisdom and virtue in Tibetan Buddhism. The club, also a Buddhist religious instrument, was originally a weapon in ancient India. The Esoteric Buddhists believe that it represents determination and wisdom and is an instrument for cutting off all worries and subduing demons. Made of gold, silver, copper, iron or hard wood, it is from eight to 16 finger-width in length. The 16-finger-width one is the best. There are one, three or five sharp points at either end. It is generally believed that the Vajra club symbolizes Bodhi (understanding, wisdom and enlightened mind). It is useless to pray to the Buddha without holding a Vajra club. In the fourth year of the Yongle reign (1406), the Tibetan high monk, Halisu, traveled long distances to Nanjing for an audience with Emperor Yongle. He was accorded a courteous reception. The bell club was among the gifts bestowed on him.

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