Tibetan Singing Bowls What are they?
The origins of Tibetan Singing Bowls are shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that the tradition of using singing bowls dates back to the time of the Buddha (560-480 BC). The bowls were brought from India to Tibet probably in the eighth century AD. Singing bowls can be found all over the Buddhist world and are used in temples, monasteries and for private meditation. Their use is increasing in the West as people become more and more interested in Buddhism and meditation to calm the “monkey mind”. The bowl can be struck with the beater to mark the beginning and end of meditation or can be played by rubbing round the rim to create calming sounds. Tibetan Singing Bowls are increasingly used in psychotherapy as the sound has such a therapeutic effect.
The first question must be: which singing bowl should I buy? Good question. There are so many different kinds. It is possible to buy antique bowls from Tibet and India but these are very rare and very expensive. Care must be taken that the one you buy is authentic as sadly some people will pass off new bowls as antiques. Most bowls available to buy are newly made. Very few bowls come from Tibet these days. Most are made in Nepal or India. Many would say that singing bowls from Nepal are the best. China also produces singing bowls. The size of the bowl can vary from as small as 6 cm to as huge as 50 cm or even more. The size you choose depends on your purpose for the bowl. You may want it as an ornament for your home or altar or you may want to play it and make it sing. If you are going to play it it is prudent to buy a bowl that can fit onto the palm of your hand. There is also variation in how singing bowls are made. The cheapest ones are made by machine and will usually be made of brass. There is nothing wrong with beginning with this kind of bowl to learn how to play. Many of the bowls from China are made like this.If your bowl seller does not say the singing bowl is hand hammered then it probably isn’t. They are often very reasonably priced. However, for me there is nothing to beat the quality of sound you will find from a hand hammered or hand beaten bowl. Most of the bowls I sell on this site are hand hammered in Nepal by artisans in small workshops in the foothills of the Himalayas. They are made in the same way they have been for centuries. These bowls are made from a combination of five or even seven metals. Each bowl is unique and has its own tone and resonance. It is a matter of trial and error to find the best bowl for you.
Beaten Singing Bowls: Beaten or hand hammered singing bowls are made by way of a complete hand hammering process. Every single singing bowl is carefully hand beaten, which requires several processes to finish up and shaping it into a perfect hand hammered singing bowl. In the making process, first the various composition of metals as raw materials (copper, tin, zinc, iron, lead, gold and silver) are melted in furnace, depending on manufacturing needs such as for the making of bronze singing bowls or for seven metal singing bowls. The hot melted metal is removed from the furnace and poured into dice to prepare a metal mould for the various sizes and weights. Then, the round metal moulds are cut into round metal discs in needed size and thickness. After that, these discs are hand beaten or hammered, after precise measurement and categorized for weight and sized bowls. Regarding the hand hammering process of singing bowls, 4 to 5 metal discs are piled up, one upon the other, and then heated to red hot. The red hot metal sheets are hammered by a group of expert artisans, as long as the heat remains in metal, and then again processed to red heating, for a continuous beating process. This heating and beating of the bundled and piled up metal discs continues until a desired shape and size is formed. (That is why the hammered or beaten singing bowls will be proportionately different in a size and diameter with each individual singing bowl.) During the hammering process of these singing bowls, the metal disc can only be hammered during the time of being red hot, while it remains soft and flexible. Because when the metal gets colder, it will loose its softness and flexibility, which in turn makes the metal brittle and thus the bowl could be ruined. The reason behind this intensive working process is that the metal content (bronze or seven metals mixture) is very sensitive to heat and gets harder when it loses its hot temperature and will get cracks and breaks. After completion of shaping the desired bowls, the individual work will start. At this stage, every bowl is brought into uniform shape and size, and once more, this can only be done during the red burning and heating and beating process. After finalizing the shape and size, more hammering is done for a final fine tuning and shaping of the singing bowls. The individual singing bowls are then chiselled and scoured for the finishing touch, at the inside and outside.
There are many kinds of hand hammered singing bowls depending on the finish you require. Some are smooth and polished, others are rough. Some are golden coloured while others are black. Some are hand carved with Buddhist patterns or writing.Some are tuned to particular notes. The bowl you choose is a matter of personal preference and taste. Hand hammered bowls are more expensive than the machine made versions. Personally, I much prefer the richness of the tone and the beauty of the metal of the hand hammered bowls. You will also need a stick or beater to play your bowl. These can be made of simple wood. Some are bound with leather or suede and they vary in size to match the bowls. A cushion should be purchased to rest your bowl on to protect it.
Bowls should be cleaned with lemon juice solution. Abrasive metal cleaners should not be used as they will scratch and leave marks. All bowls will tarnish over time due to the oxidation from the air so need cleaning from time to time. Hand hammered bowls will often have hammer marks and delves clearly visible. These are not flaws but show the authenticity of the bowl.
Learning to make a bowl sing is an art form which will take much practice. I will write more about this in another blog. I hope this has been of help to those who are just deciding which Tibetan Singing Bowl is right for them. They are the most beautiful and calming objects.