Poroe: The Dragon that Adorns the Top of the Temple Bell

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The Poroe that adorns the top of the temple bell at Seokbulsa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

A bell at a Korean temple is one of the most beautiful things to see while visiting. It’s well-crafted and usually dates back a few hundred years. It can take a bit of time to recognize all the beauty that pours forth from the bell, but in time you’ll be able to see Biseon flying around, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas sitting or standing contemplatively, and a dragon holding the bell to the rafters.  So why is it a dragon, and not something else? And why exactly is it adorning the top of the bell?

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The Dharma bell at Tongdosa Temple. Poroe almost seems gnarled.

The hooks that hold the bell to the rafters on Korean bells are usually shaped like dragons.  As a result, they are called “dragon hooks.” Specifically, the dragon on top of the Korean temple bells is called Poroe (in Korean). This specific mythological dragon, Poroe, is afraid of whales. So whenever a whale runs into him, or even near him, he cries out.

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A close up of Poroe from Jijangam Hermitage, located near Beomeosa Temple, in Busan.

You might be asking yourself, what does Poroe have to do with Korean temple bells?  Well, if you look at the striker that hits the bell, traditionally, these bells were whale-shaped strikers. And there are still some of these strikers that can be found at Korean temples. So when the whale-shaped striker comes close to Poroe, at the top of the bell, he lets out a loud scream, allowing the bell to sound even louder. That’s why, in Korea, the sound that a bell makes is called a “whale sound.” Poroe is a unique feature to Korean bells. In Buddhist temples in both China and Japan, Poroe doesn’t appear.

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An up close look at Poroe at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

So the next time you look at a Korean temple bell, and you see a dragon-like figure, you’ll know that’s the cetaphobia dragon: Poroe.

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One last look at Poroe.  This Poroe is from Naewonam Hermitage, located near Beomeosa Temple, in Busan.

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