A6211 Ritual bell (drilbu), five-prong, five-metal, maker unknown, Tibet, 1800s. Click to enlarge.

Ritual bell or <i>drilbu</i>, ‘five metal’ alloy

Made in Tibet, 1800s.

The significance of this Tibetan ritual bell lies principally in its symbolism and ritual function rather than its provenance, as the individual history of ownership and use is not known. The bell was made as a pair with a matching dorje for ritual use in Tibetan Buddhist prayers and ceremonies. Buddhism, one of the world’s great and enduring religious traditions, is one of the fastest growing religions in Australia.

Tibetan Buddhism is rich in symbols, many of which have multi-layered meaning...


Object No.


Object Statement

Ritual bell (drilbu), five-prong, five-metal, maker unknown, Tibet, 1800s

Physical Description

A Tibetan ritual bell, known as a 'drilbu' and made from five different metals. The body of the bell is ornately decorated and it has a tall handle with a ring in the middle surmounted by a face. The top of the handle is in the form of a five-prong half-dorje or vajra, which forms a crown above the face. Inside the bell a metal loop holds a long rusted metal clapper.


On the inside of the bell is a vertical line of raised metal text, possibly written in Sanskrit.



170 mm


75 mm



A Tibetan ritual bell like this one is traditonally and properly made as a pair with its matching dorje (Tibetan) or vajra (Sanskrit).

The individual parts of the Tibetan bell can be briefly identified as follows: the handle is generally composed of a half-dorje with five or nine prongs, a lotus (or crown), a face and a 'vase of plenty'. The prongs of the half-dorje are supposed to be supported by a lunar disk and a lotus; the face is a clearly present element in most examples and is identified as the face of transcendent insight. The vase, which does not appear on every bell, refers more to the wealth of attainment rather than secular riches. The lower part of the bell is divided into two sections: the dome at the top and the slope; the surface of the dome is always decorated with an eight-petalled lotus design and within each petal is a Sanskrit seed-syllable. Below this, around the rim of the bell, is a circular band of vertical dorjes.

In Tibet, the bell replaces the lotus as the female emblem of wisdom and is manipulated together with the dorje in rituals. The bell represents wisdom (the realisation of emptiness) or the female principle, while the dorje or vajra represents compassion or the male principle. Together they symbolise the essence of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, the union of wisdom and compassion. The symbolism of the bell identifies it as the Transcendent Insight Sutra. In the centre of the handle is a ring, representing emptiness or voidness, which is the main point of Transcendent Insight whose face looks out at the observer, from above the ring in the bell's handle, representing the Full Knowledge of Awareness. The bell's sound indicates emptiness.

The bell is not listed among the metaphors included in the early Sutras describing the Buddha's first acts of teaching. It appears rather to have been a meritorious offering which then became a permanent fixture of the Buddhist reliquaries called stupas. Bells equipped with cloths hanging below their clappers, causing them to ring when the wind blew, were hung in strings attached to stupas.





The individual history of this bell is not known, other than the name of the donor Mrs J Stanton. Mrs Stanton presented the bell's matching dorje A6212 to the Museum at the same time.



Credit Line

Gift of Mrs J Stanton, 1972

Acquisition Date

29 December 1972

Cite this Object


Ritual bell or drilbu, 'five metal' alloy 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 13 December 2018, <https://ma.as/185518>


{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/185518 |title=Ritual bell or drilbu, 'five metal' alloy |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=13 December 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Reflections of Asia: Collectors and Collections at the Powerhouse Museum.


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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