"Kei" Gong, Peacock design


"Kei" Gong, Peacock design

metalwork / Heian

Heian period, 12th century



The kei gong is an instrument used in Buddhism. It is struck during Buddhist rituals for signaling and punctuating purposes. Gongs of this type are commonly used in Buddhist temples even today. Striking the center of the gong with a special stick produces a high, piercing tone.

Kei gongs originated as ancient Chinese musical instruments made of stone. Ancient Chinese kei gongs were made of stone with pleasing acoustic properties, carved in the shape of asymmetrical chevrons, and hung in order of gradually increasing size so that they could be played to produce a musical scale. It is not well known how gongs of this type later came to be incorporated into Buddhist practice. The kei gongs used in Japanese Buddhism are most commonly made of metal, not stone, and have a perfectly symmetrical chevron shape.

This gong is cast from bronze made of copper mixed with a small amount of tin. In its center is an image of a lotus flower seen from above, to either side of which is the image of a peacock. Peacocks were often depicted in Japanese art and decorative art objects as auspicious birds. In Buddhism in particular, peacocks were believed to eat venomous snakes and to possess mystical powers.

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