KHMER BELL HANDLE
Place of Origin: CAMBODIA
Date: 11th / 12th Century A.D.
Overall not including base: 150mm (6 inches)
This remarkable bronze object is thought to have likely once functioned as the handle of a ritual bell.
The base of the handle comprises a series of several vertical mouldings incised with various motifs – a row of palmettes, for example, decorates the lowest and uppermost sections, this portion of the handle likely so crafted to make it fit readily into one’s hand.
This series of mouldings then is surmounted on one face with a sloping triangular panel that depicts a seated Ganesha, whilst the other shows Shiva sat with his legs crossed. A stylised and imposing trident-head sits between these two panels – the two outer sections curving up and inwards and depicting on their inner surfaces the fear-inducing aspects of makara, formidable sea creatures within Hindu mythology. The central prong depicts dvarapala – temple gate guardians commonly found within Khmer temples and other architecture – over each face.
The trident-form of this piece is reminiscent of those same weapons that were often depicted in statues of dvarapala, or indeed of Shiva, within Khmer temples, with a long shaft and spade-like butt. It seems likely that these different iconographic traditions – the dvarapala, Shiva, the trident, and other aspects of Khmer religious practice – are here intended to be interconnected and interreferential in various ways, the shape of the handle mirroring the functions of its depicted deities and so bring further harmony and good fortune to the ceremonies in which it would be used. Shiva himself is often depicted with a trident, and “In Hinduism the bell is symbolic of existence and, as an attribute of Shiva, represents creation.”
For a similar example to our own, see No. 155 in Emma Bunker and Douglas Latchford, Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art, Chicago: Art Media Resources. Another is preserved at the National Museum (Phnom Penh), photographed and catalogued (Cat. No. 158) in Khun Samen, Preah Neang Tevi, Collections of the National Museum Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh: Department of Museums, 2005. Another comparandum is preserved in the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Accession Number 91.22.2), showing many of the same features as our own example.
 Emma Bunker and Douglas Latchford, Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art, Chicago: Art Media Resources, 2003, p. 428.