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What is a Singing Bowl?

What is a Singing Bowl?

What is a Tibetan singing bowl

A singing bowl is a type of bell that rests on the ground with the opening upward (resting bell). The sound of a hanging bell is the result of striking a swinging tongue. With singing bowls, the sound comes from striking the bowl with a stick or a mallet

You can make singing bowls sound by lightly striking them with a soft, padded mallet. You can also play singing bowls by gently rubbing a wooden or suede padded mallet around their rim to make a continuous "singing sound."

Himalayan singing bowls have been known to Westerners since the late '60s. They made their way to the US and Europe mostly with spiritual seekers that visited the residence of the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala and were exploring India.

Some experts assume that singing bowls were brought to the Westerners with Tibetan refugees escaping Chinese communist occupation. There are a few reasons to doubt this assumption. 

First of all, if you ever go to Tibet, you will notice that traveling with your 20lb (10kg) backpack at the altitude of 14700ft (4500 meters) isn't quite the same as hiking in the national park! Just imagine Tibetan monks carrying a load of singing bowls in their bags to AMERICA! Why would they do it?

There is a more primary question to be asked:  What are the origins of "Tibetan" singing bowls?

Almost every yoga studio and wellness center has one of these instruments today, and in spite of the fact that every Tibetan gift shop sells singing bowls, very little is known about their origin. There has been much speculation about the nature of this mysterious bell-like instrument on the one hand, and mounting scientific evidence showing the many health benefits it delivers on the other.

The history of Himalayan (Tibetan) singing bowls

The history of singing bowls is a fascinating one. They are at the crossroads between many cultures. They are an heirloom of a long-standing tradition of Bronze Age craftsmanship, which has been carried on for thousands of years.

There are so many different speculations about the original purpose of singing bowls. And you may ask what is a Tibetan singing bowl used for? The majority of experts claim that they were used as utilitarian vessels for eating, drinking, and storing food. Also, bowls were, and still are, being used for collecting donations. However, the sound properties of singing bowls have been acknowledged for centuries. The variety of shapes of antique singing bowls indicates that acoustic properties were of primary importance.

In the book “Himalayan Sound Revelations”, Frank Perry elaborates on the history and many other aspects of singing bowls with unparalleled dedication and love. If you find Himalayan singing bowls to be a part of your path, you simply must read this book. 

There is a lot of misinformation out there about singing bowls, both in books and online. It is not easy for consumers to uncover the truth because there are many myths and lies about singing bowls. Most common myths revolve around the metal composition, history, traditional uses, and belief systems about the healing power of singing bowls. A mystique surrounds these instruments, and many false stories about them are told to increase their prices. Because of the variety in quality and a large number of fake singing bowls available, it is important to be cautious and educated.

According to one of the experts in the field of singing bowls Joseph Feinstein, the oldest Himalayan singing bowls known today are about 800 years old. Their predecessors, which weren't used for sound, can be traced back to 1,200 years ago. It is not possible to pinpoint when bronze bowls were first used for sound. However, the time range is between 800 and 1,000 years. The Himalayan singing bowls can still be made using old techniques that have been lost to the rest.

Today's antique singing bowls retain much of their heritage. Singing bowls are associated with Buddhism because they were more common in areas where Buddhism thrived. They are vessels that could have been used for drinking, eating, transporting, and storing food. Singing bowls were also used to collect donations and, of course, make sounds.

Singing bowls are still part and parcel of many countries' ancient traditions. They can be found in Nepal, India, and China as well as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Singing bowls are used these days primarily as symbolic musical instruments. They are used in monasteries and temples for meditation and collecting donations. Singing bowls can be used as a tool for meditation and daily prayer in homes.

The Himalayan region was always a complex cultural and political landscape. It has hundreds of languages and dozens of writing alphabets. Many distinct tribes have lived in the region.

Himalayan singing bowls are sometimes called Tibetan singing bowls but their true history involves many cultures that have merged over large areas and for a long time. They are not an isolated phenomenon, but the result of centuries-long trade and innovation between several civilizations. Without the interrelated cultures that have contributed through trade and cultural exchange, singing bowls wouldn't exist.

Singing bowls are a symbol of cooperation across a large area of the globe. They are unique objects that connect East and West. These bowls are an example of an ancient metal craft that was brought to the Himalayan region late in its history.

Singing Bowl Origins

A myth about singing bowls states that they were created by a monk or shaman somewhere in the Himalayan mountains. He began making singing bowls one at a time, living in a beautiful valley surrounded by treasures. Although it is romantic, this image is far from reality. Perhaps we prefer to picture such a mythic invention as a scene in a painting. Buddhist practice is all about visualizing a perfect world. The reality of metalwork, however, is less magical. It is highly unlikely that a monk, spiritual teacher or other religious leader invented or made singing bowls. They could have been accidentally discovered.

The first singing bowl was a simple bronze vessel that made a nice sound. It could have been a monks bowl or a common household bowl. To reproduce the sound, someone started tapping the bowl. It is unknown who made the first sound with bronze bowls.

One possibility is that a monk discovered his bowl had a pleasant sound and began the tradition of playing it every day. It could easily spread to other people and places if a whole monastery adopted the practice. Maybe a craftsman discovered the secret while making bowls.

The bowl maker, monk, or child in the kitchen could have discovered it. It doesn't matter who inspired it or how accidental the discovery was, craftspeople were responsible for making the bowls. Monks don't spend their time hammering metal. Handcrafts are made by highly skilled artisans, which includes singing bowls.

Singing bowls were not created in mountains, as there are limited resources and innovation is often late. They are likely to have been created in a group effort, much like they are today. This is because they were created by handcraft families that pass their craft on to the next generation. These artisans live near major centers of commerce and trade like Kathmandu where traditional handcrafts can still be made in the old way.

The ancient arts of Nepal are still being practiced today. In and around Kathmandu, small family workshops are very common. Two to three generations of artisans can be seen working together, with the grandfather passing on his knowledge to his grandsons and sons. The world has lost many traditional methods of metalwork, such as lost wax casting, copper repousse, and annealing.

* Annealing is a technique that involves repeatedly heating and cooling metal to form a bowl.

Over time, singing bowls developed into the sophisticated sound instruments that we now know. They were not created by chance or vision. They are part of a long tradition in metalworking. They have evolved from their humble beginnings as beautiful metal bowls to be one of the most beautiful sounding instruments ever created.

It is remarkable how skilled craftsmen have remained true to their craft. There are many examples of singing bowls that have been around for several hundred years. They show remarkable consistency in form, material, and manufacturing techniques. While some of the most advanced manufacturing techniques may have been lost, the general methods remain the same. This process has not changed over the centuries. Singing bowls were made using Bronze Age technology, which dates back to 5,000 years ago.

Where were singing bowls invented

One option is that: the earliest Himalayan singing bowls were created from decorative bowls from ancient Persia, the historical region of Khorasan. These cultures helped spread technology along the Silk Roads that connected the Near East to the Far East. The ancient Khorasan region included parts of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Khorasan culture could have reached as far north as Mongolia and India. This region produced beautiful bowls, both utilitarian and decorative.

There were many types of bowls made in ancient times, including those that predated singing bowls. Copper and tin are combined to make bronze. Only two countries in the world have both copper and zinc. Bronze was invented simultaneously by ancient Persia and ancient culture from Thailand. Both regions were able to develop the techniques necessary to make bronze, and each claim to have been the first. The technology for bronze making spread from Persia to the Mediterranean and Thailand to Asia. Although there is much debate about where bronze was invented first, it is believed that the oldest known evidence of bronze's existence can be found in Thailand.

Bronze objects from Thailand have been discovered and could be as old as 6000 years.

Annealing is a technique that makes singing bowls as well as their older counterparts. Annealing was developed in Thailand over 5000 years ago. It was later perfected by Chinese experts. The annealing technique in Persia was practiced more than 2500 years ago.

This technology was introduced to the Himalayas around 800 to 1000 years ago. It arrived just a few decades after bronze bowls were popularized in Persia, Khorasan and Persia. Both the migration routes and timelines are consistent with bowls from both areas. The oldest bowls can be found in ancient Persia, while the Himalayan examples are younger. The sound of the older Persian bronze bowls is not very pleasant and it is unclear if they were ever used as "singing bowls".

The sound producing bowls, also known as singing bowls can be found only in the Himalayan region. The bell-making tradition was adapted by Himalayan artisans from Persian manufacturers. The singing bowl was a new kind of musical instrument that the Himalayan artisans created.

Many of the older methods, particularly the ones used to form the rim, are now considered obsolete. Around the 16th century, the artistry, precision, and intricately shaped constructions of older singing bowls were abandoned in favor of a faster method. The newer method was developed in Southeast Asia's other center for bronze innovation. The singing bowls of later years are almost identical to the bronze bowls from Thailand or Cambodia.

The manufacturing process used to make Himalayan bowls was based on Southeast Asian techniques, which began around 400-500 years ago. These methods were used to make the majority of antique singing bowls. Handmade singing bowls today are also made using these same techniques. The older Persian methods took longer and produced fewer bowls.

Both historically and today, Buddhist communities of different cultures have met to exchange ideas and practices. These international Buddhist conferences may include thousands of participants, many from different countries. The bowls could have been brought to Nepal by Thai Buddhist monks. The bowls could have been brought to Nepal by monks who make frequent pilgrimages to Nepal and Tibet. These bowls could also have been brought to Thailand by the bustling trade during that period. Trade between Thailand and other parts of Asia and Europe was high by the 17th century.

It is possible that the second wave in singing bowl technology was introduced as part of an international trade link. It is also very likely that artisans traveled to learn the technique or traders brought it along while trading minerals and other wares. These interrelated cultures have many ancient connections, including centuries-old diplomatic, trade and religious alliances.

The third wave of antique singing bowls came at the same time. They include low-sided bronze singing bowls that date back to the 16th and 19th centuries. It is hard to track the history of this type of singing bowl because it shares many characteristics with bowls from different cultures, such as Thai and Persian singing bowls. They also have some traits from Japan and Greece. This bowl is sometimes called a Manipuri, which means that it was brought from India's Manipur region. Manipur, which is bordered by Burma, has been a trading hub between the Himalayan region and Southeast Asia for over 2,000 years. Manipuri singing bowls are not well-known for their bronze making tradition, but they may have been adapted from Indian or Thai singing bowls.

Manipuri singing bowls can be found in Nepal, just like the other singing bowls. Some older examples have Persian bowl-inspired decoration, making them appear to be an amalgamation of different styles. Manipuri singing bowls with decoration found today are most commonly dated between 16-19th centuries. Later examples have less decoration and a simpler design. This is consistent with the history of all Himalayan singing bowls, so even though their form is different, they still fit into the larger singing bowl tradition.

Modern times saw the fourth and final wave in singing bowl manufacturing. In the 20th century, there was a low production rate and very few singing bowls were made. Due to their export value, there was a resurgence in singing bowls production over the past decade. Today, there are more singing bowls than ever before. There are many options for modern singing bowls: antique reproductions, machine-finished brass bowls, and hand-hammered bronze bowls. Singing bowls are still made using centuries-old hand-hammering methods.

These hand-hammered singing bowls can be plain or embellished. The newer bowls have rounded bottoms that are much easier to make than the old flat-bottomed ones. The folded lip was implemented in the 16th-century. It was simplified further in 20th-century and now, most of the modern singing bowls appear with no folded lip (rim). To finish the bowls, the manufacturers use modern tools such as lathes or buffing wheels. These developments can detract from some of the older singing bowls' more artistic merits but they preserve their excellent sound quality. The best new bowls actually perform better than low-quality antiques. All they are missing is the mellow, soft character of sound and metaphysical "energy" that can be absorbed with the passing of centuries.

There are many new singing bowls that can be sold today as antiques. This has caused confusion in the market and many people pay too much for what they believe to be antique singing bowls. Today's singing bowls are not technically singing bowls. These bowls are made of brass, which is sand-cast, machine-finished, and often decorated. Modern techniques are used to make brass bowls in India and China. They are constantly being improved and refined.

To make these bowls appear handmade, the maker will fake hammer marks and patina. They are not true singing bowls, but they make sounds and can be used to satisfy the growing demand for singing bowls. They are manufactured cheaply and can be distributed in large quantities, just like many other modern products. These singing bowls don't produce the multi-phonic tones of hammered bronze singing bows and they are not a part of the long singing bowl tradition.

Bronze singing bowls and Buddhism

Singing bowls are closely related to Buddhism. The most likely scenario is that they evolved from Buddhist alms bowls. Monks would have used singing bowls to call people to donate. It is possible to still observe this practice today, and it may be the original use of singing bowls. Alms bowls were also created out of utilitarian necessity, be they a personal monks’ or temple collection bowl.

They were initially a bowl to hold food and drink. Later, they gained symbolic significance. Bowls are vital life-sustaining objects. They are vital for survival and become vessels of religion and veneration. They were a symbol of Buddhism because they were used as a monastic practice to collect alms and tend to one's bowl. Today, bowls still play a central role in the lives of monks. Even Buddha's stone bowl served a purpose. It was a source of life and provided food for him to eat. Later, it was made into a mythic artifact and a religious symbol.

Designs of singing bowls

Singing bowls can look rustic or finely crafted. Some singing bowls are simple, while others are intricately engraved. Some have imperfect geometry while others are almost perfect in form.

Singing bowls made and used today

The history of singing bowls is long. They have been used throughout Asia for hundreds of years. They have been widely used in the last few decades all over the globe. They are treasured by collectors of all walks of life. In recent years, they have been praised for their ability to promote harmony and calm the mind. Singing bowls have many health benefits. They can help us relax, or provide deeper and more lasting benefits.

What are the common sizes of singing bowls

There are many sizes of singing bowls, from 2 inches in diameter to 3 feet acrossThe size of antique singing bowls is approximately three to thirteen inches in diameter. There are many shapes available and each culture has its own style. Some Himalayan singing bowls are called Jambati and Thadobati in Nepali. Names that aren't traditional, but modernized by sellers, may be invented by some sellers.

Sound of singing bowls

Singing bowls make one of the most magical, warm and pleasant sounds of any musical instrument. Singing bowls produce a unique sound that is powerful due to a combination of many factors. Combining the metal alloy, geometry and construction creates a warm, melodic vibration with the unique ability to relax the body as well as focus the mind.

Himalayan singing bowls produce a basic tone and two to three distinct overtones. There are higher and lower frequencies that are present in the timbre of singing bowls that are difficult to hear. They blend with the others and are difficult to discern. Interaction of sound partials from singing bowls will determine whether the bowl sounds harmonious or "not in tune."

A dissonant singing bowl can sound complicated but it makes it even more interesting.

A singing bowl's essence is its complex chord, which consists of many frequencies pulsating at different rates. Each bowl is unique because the chord is different from one bowl to the next. Although there are subtle differences in their tonal relationships, some bowls sound almost identical.

The sound of a singing bowl is determined by five factors: its metal alloy composition, bowl geometry and variations in thickness. Each singing bowl is unique because of its physical characteristics. Hand-hammered construction creates unique overtones due to variations in the surface. A singing bowl's round shape creates a resonance chamber similar to a drum's body. The pitch and duration of the tone can be affected by the shape and thickness of the rim of the singing bowl.

The bronze alloy, along with handcrafted craftsmanship, is an important part of making a singing bowl sound great. Because of the changes that bronze undergoes over time, antique singing bowls sound softer than newly made singing bowls. A high-quality, new singing bowl may sound better than an antique.

Some singing bowls can sound dissonant. You might also find a crack in your singing bowl. This will produce a buzzing sound.

Some bowls have too little volume or fade too quickly. It is important to listen to the bowl before you buy it.

The beautiful, complex simplicity of the singing bowl's voice helps to achieve relaxation, reduce stress, anxiety and physical pain. It has also been known to help normalize blood pressure and simply clear your mind if you give it a chance!

Focusing on the complexity of overtones is a great way to enhance one’s ability to concentrate and sharpen memory. Singing bowls are a perfect tool for meditation and brain function enhancement.  

Although little is known about how singing bowls were used in the past, modern practitioners of sound therapy and sound healing are developing new skills and reinventing techniques for utilizing Himalayan singing bowls for relaxation, balance and harmonization. There are many skeptical opinions about Himalayan singing bowls, but if you know how to choose a singing bowl, how to play a singing bowl and most importantly, how to listen to a singing bowl  – you'll see that it works! 

Conclusion

It is believed that singing bowls were first invented in Tibet, and then brought to other Buddhist countries. Although this may partially be true, it is not as mythological and fanciful as people believe.

Singing bowls are the result of an older bronze bowl-making tradition, which dates back to ancient Persia/Khorasan. It was later brought to Nepal. From their Himalayan roots, singing bowls were brought to East Asia. The mythical tales about singing bowls being created in Tibet's mountains are not true.

Padmasambhava did not transport singing bowls from India to Tibet. A Bon shaman did not dream of singing bowls. Shakyamuni Buddha didn't have a singing bowl. Merchants spread false information and myths in an attempt to attach singing bowls to important religious figures.

These myths obscure the true story of cultural sharing over many centuries. Singing bowls were developed by many cultures. Bronze bowls were made and used in everyday life throughout the ancient world. They arrived late in the Himalayan region. In Nepal, the singing bowl making tradition arrived in the last 1000 years. It has remained largely unchanged.

In other areas, the tradition of hammering bronze has been lost as newer technologies have replaced it. Singing bowls are still being handmade in Nepal using the traditional hand-hammering method.

Someone started using bronze bowls for sound at some point in their long evolution and migration. This innovation was likely to have occurred around 1000 years ago. Maybe a metal worker from Nepal noticed that the bronze bowls produce a pleasant sound and wanted to improve upon it. A Chinese court musician turned a suspended bell upside-down and discovered it looked like a bowl. Maybe a Buddhist monk from ancient Afghanistan made sound using his alms bowl. Whatever the reason, someone found a musical instrument that has one of the most beautiful sounds ever created.

Singing bowls were popular for a long time and were spread far. Over the years, singing bowls evolved into more sophisticated forms.

Although the technology that made the singing bowls was developed in West Asia, no singing bowls have been found from Persia and Khorasan. These ancient civilizations included modern Iran, Afghanistan Tajikistan, and Pakistan. Singing bowls can only be found in Nepal and East Asia.

The West's bronze bowl-making technology met the East's bell-making traditions. Singing bowls were created in this unique cultural context.

Bronze is made by combining copper with tin. Today, Iran and Thailand are the only countries in the world that copper and tin occur naturally together. This coincidence of nature led to bronze being developed first in these regions. The use of bronze proved to be a valuable and useful material that was stronger than copper and therefore more durable. Bronze was used to improve all types of metal tools, containers and building materials. This innovation was spread from Persia to Thailand.

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Thank you.

More information and comprehensive tutorials about this topic are offered in my online courses "Singing Bowls Art Lab", "Singing Bowls For Beginners", and "Sound Healing Teacher Training".

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