Friday, April 06, 2007

Armenian Bell Update

So far all my small efforts to obtain a photograph of the Tibetan inscription on that Bell in Etchmiadzin have failed to bear fruit. I'll keep you updated whenever some new information comes up, just as I am doing right now.

In 1876,
James B. Bryce, a Viscount and influential politician in England, took a trip to Armenia with the goal being to climb Mt. Ararat. He found a piece of wood at 13,000 feet, which excited some speculation that it just might be a bit from Noah's ark. I'm not sure he could verify that it was truly gopher wood or not, and in any case if we start looking for the ark, it will take us too far away from our present quest. His travel account is not available to me at the moment, but here are the details: James Bryce, "Transcaucasia and Ararat, Being Notes of a Vacation Tour in the Autumn of 1876," Macmillan (London 1896), with earlier and later editions.

While using the search facility at Oxford journals archive, with 'Tibet' in the search-box, I stumbled upon a reference to Bryce's book which answers one important question about that Tibetan bell in Armenia. It tells us what Tibetan words were inscribed on it. Let me quote it in full (or try this
link, which may not work if you don't have an institutional subscription). It's in the periodical entitled "Notes and Queries," 5th series, no. 10 (September 7, 1878), p. 188:

"Ôm Ôm Hrum." — Prof. Bryce, in his Transcaucasia, p. 309, tells us that in the great Armenian convent at Etchmiadzin there is a bell bearing in Tibetan the Buddhist formula, "ôm ôm hrum." What is the meaning of the inscription, and who brought the bell from Tibet to Armenia? — A.L. Mayhew, Oxford."

Anthony Lawson Mayhew (b. 1842) was indeed an Oxford Don best known for his Concise Dictionary of Middle English. He knew just what questions to ask. Unfortunately, as far as the search engine is concerned, nobody seems to have responded to his question in subsequent issues of the journal.

Beyond just saying that "Om" is the Om you know, while "Hrum" is a syllable that does occur sometimes in mantras both Hindu and Buddhist, I don't know what would explain the motive for putting this particular mantra on this particular bell. But of course a misreading is entirely possible, so please, if you are planning a summer trip to Armenia (and of course if you are already there), try to photo the Tibetan bell with its complete inscription and email the digital image to me right away. Meanwhile, have a look at the comments. And add your own!

1 comment:

  1. According to Fridtjof Nansen's Armenia and the Near East the bell is inscribed with "om a hum", which is more probable than "om om hrum". Like you I am looking forward to seeing a photo of the bell.


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