Culture Culture

12/02/2018 - 10:35

Hue bells

Since the casting of the 30-ton-heavy, Southeast Asia record-breaking bronze bell at Bai Dinh Pagoda by Nguyen Van Sinh and his men in Phuong Duc in 2007, hundreds of bells and statues, both large and small, inside and outside of the country, have been completed, which gains the prestige for the casting village in Hue.


Bell is sound; statue is face

No sooner had they returned after finishing the 3.5-ton-heavy Great Bell at Phuong Nam spiritual tourist area in Dong Thap, Nguyen Van Thuan B, together with 20 of his men, prepared for another journey to Tan Buu Pagoda in Ben Tre to cast the statue of Buddha (4.2 meters tall, 4 tons heavy and worth nearly VND 1.5 billion).

"As soon as we took the order, my apprentices and I prepared 25 tons of machinery, tools and materials such as copper, brass, coal, firewood, molds, pipes, etc. It took us about 2 months to finish the statue. The team had to set up camps, stock food and medicine, and plan in detail before embarking on the project," said Mr. Thuan.

We are destined to do this kind of work. Mr. Thuan said about the career which he has attached to for more than 45 years now. His greatest joy is that all his five children are now following in his footstep. More than 20 years of working with his father, Nguyen Duy Dao has been used to traveling here and there. Casting bells, they often have to stay at pagodas. They stayed there for so long that when coming home, they felt missing vegetarian food. Once casting the great bell for Ben Tre Cemetery, they had to camp outdoors for a month and cook for 20 people. At night, they lived in candle light among thousands of graves.

"Bell is sound, statue is face," said Mr. Thuan. A bell giving good sound requires high casting techniques and right proportion of materials. The process of molding and engraving patterns, the size and the height of the bell must be carefully calculated. Too thick or too thin bells will affect the sound. 

With this secret, bells and statues made by Hue artisans are always of high quality, which helps gain their reputation. New products keep appearing; following their work becomes a routine.

According to Venerable Tam Quang at Canh Tien Pagoda in Quang Ngai, artisans in Hue are masters in casting statues of Buddha and bronze bells. After seeing the statues and the bells made by Hue artisans in Ho Chi Minh City, he directly contacted them and placed orders.

Casting the statue of Buddha for Tan Buu Pagoda (Ben Tre) by Nguyen Van Thuan B

“After nearly two years staying at the pagoda, Nguyen Van Thuan and his apprentices completed altogether one bell, five large statues and seven smaller ones. All of them are perfect, pleasing Buddhists visiting the pagoda," said Venerable Tam Quang.

Writing their names for life

Nguyen Van De is the artisan who cast the statue of Buddha at Huyen Khong Son Thuong Pagoda in Hue, the statue of Three Saints at An Lac Monastery in Lam Dong, the 5-ton-heavy bell at Dong Thap Cemetery. Before gaining such a reputation, he visited many well-known craft villages to get experience and learn skills for his career. 

Beginning to work as a casting worker at the age of 14 till now, despite his old age, Mr. De still diligently instructs his children how to mix materials and make statues with a view to choosing his successors. According to him, this job requires love and even one's life. Each time having to cast big bells and big statues, he has to work overnight. One would regret the whole life if the bell does not give good sound or the statue is not as expected. 

More than 65 years of working with molds and fire bring Nguyen Van De's products throughout the country and abroad to Korea, America, Canada. His lifetime's joy is that his two sons are now following in his footstep with passion and energy of the young to preserve and develop the casting career.

Venerable Thich Thien Dao, Buu Duc Pagoda (Bien Hoa) praised: "The difference between the bronze bells made by Hue artisans and those produced in other places is the sound, the brighter color and the moderate thickness. I have placed many orders and pleased with them. Artisans in Hue always work with all their heart to create the product for life.”

A bell is taking form

After more than 60 years of work, Nguyen Van Sinh is mentioned in the list of well-known artisans of Vietnam. He said once he has chosen this career, he would work until death. Though he can no longer work on the spot, he always keeps an eye on his workers and teaches them secrets and techniques to have good-sound bells and beautiful statues. 

Mr. Sinh said casting is hard work which requires passion, love and patience. Artisans need to concentrate very hard, especially in the moulding stage. It must be accurate to the second. If not, the product would be spoiled.

With about 60 casting works and 100 workers, the casting village in Hue is now still keeping its identity.

Story: Thanh Huong

Photos: Dang Tuyen, Khanh Thu