A bell chimes in a distance, filling the air after every interval. For those who are familiar with the sound, it conjures a sense of spirituality. It rings prayers and blessings.

The source of the sound can be traced back to a temple or a monastery nearby. Up close, one can find huge prayer wheels twirling in full speed, stroking the bell with its ledge as it goes around.

Prayer wheels, or mani dungkhors as locals call it, serve as another important tool that enables a person to connect and derive spirituality in the Buddhist sphere. Just as circumambulation and pilgrimage do to a person, prayer wheels allow access, give form and shape, and serve as an interface that puts together ones thoughts while seeking inner peace.

The device comes in all shapes and sizes; some that can be hand-held, others perched alongside the walls of temples and monasteries, and the giant ones mostly pitched outdoor.

With a simple physics applied, it rotates clockwise. While you would have a person giving it a push to set impetus, there are others that use natural forces of wind and stream to swirl the wheel.

On the outside, mantras are inscribed on the barrel. However, what the prayer wheels hold within is even more sacred. The installation of the mantras that form the core of the prayer wheel is in itself an elaborate ceremony.

Experts have to be consulted, especially for the giant prayer wheels. One has to ensure the letters of the mantras to be installed are in good prints, without distortion. The printed copies are further embellished with scents, those of incense, that are added with gentle strokes of brush.

The act of installation is labour intensive. A good pairs of hands are engaged to hold up the bunch of mantras while others are tasked to wrap around the clothes, usually the five-coloured auspicious textile, to hold the mantras together.

Along with some priced belongings, like gold and jewelry depending on what the sponsors can afford, the more than 100,000 mantras are packed to the brim. It is sealed with the sheet of galvanized iron on which traditional paintings and mantra inscriptions work magic. Consecrations are held to further add value.

Besides the chant that invokes spirituality in the person, who would generally be seeking refuge and praying for beings beyond self, turning of prayer wheels activates those mantras. The bells help disperse the prayers and blessings.

But as is the way of Buddhists, interpretations are open. One can try and relate the act, the accompanying movement and sound, to however best they inspire you. But yes, it would help to know what goes into making a prayer wheel and why. That way, one can derive more peace and healing from the turning of prayer wheels.

Picture: Prayer wheel in the heart of Trashigang town