The history of Singing bowls in the Middle East and Himalayan region that encompasses India, Nepal, and the region held by China that was once known as Tibet, goes back more than two thousand years. It is believed that they were first crafted around the time of Buddha but there is little documentation of their history. While they are associated with Buddhist religion in the West, the bowls were not a prominent part of the ceremonies of this religion. They were sometimes used to hold offerings, or burning incense. The use of the bowls was more often in the form of everyday tools, bowls for storage, bowls for cooking, and more.
The people of the Himalayas learned about metalworking from the East, and the lineage of the bell, the ancestor of the singing bowl, seems to emerge from the East as well. One need only look at the Rin gongs from Japan, or the traditional bells of China to see the Eastern influences on the Himalayan bowls, or the Persian bronze vessels that had been made several hundred years before. The region, rich in natural ore deposits, provided plenty of domestic resources to produce high quality metal works. At the time, the true science behind metal work was developing, and the first artisans had to rely on trial, and error to try to get the best bowl. Over the generations the people of the region became most adept at fashioning high quality examples. In modern times the process has been refined to a more exact science. High quality contemporary bowls are designed to precise specifications. They can sing more clearly, and transmit more energy through greater vibrations than ever before.
While the most popular name for these instruments is “Tibetan Bowls” this is not exactly accurate. At the time the bowls first started to appear in the Himalayan region, the people of Tibet did not have the knowledge, or the resources to produce fine metal objects. The bowls were initially native to Nepal, and India, and were only later brought to Tibet. The bowls were welcomed by the predominantly Buddhist inhabitants of the area. In modern times, many Westerners had their first experience with singing metal bowls in Tibet. They have since become very popular, and are produced in great numbers. This may be why they are often called “Tibetan Bowls.” “Himalayan Bowls, ” however, is a more appropriate term.
There are numerous stories commonly circulating about Himalayan bowls. Legend has it that during the hammering process of the bowls, monks chant prayers that are incorporated into the bowls. While this may have been true of some bowls, most modern bowls are produced in villages in cottage industry or in more industrial settings. Also, many have claimed that the bowls are produced entirely from hammering, when in fact, most modern bowls are turned on a lathe before hammering, or they are produced from a casting.
One myth that is being circulated is that the bowls contain seven sacred metals. The idea of the seven metals comes from the Sacred Seven Metals of the region, gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, lead and mercury. Bowls made with large quantities of all these metals would not sing. What is actually found in almost all metal bowls that sing, whether ancient, or modern, is a common base of 80% copper, and 20% tin. This combination is commonly known as bell metal. In traditional metal bowls, the other metals occur only as trace elements. Adding very small amounts of iron, gold, and silver, can add unique characteristics to the metal mixture, and actually benefit the alloy. Mercury, and lead are not necessary to the sound, but they are present in small amounts in the base material. Modern therapeutic bowls use only clean virgin metals meaning impurities make up less than .001 percent of the total amount of the alloy.
Modern Therapeutic singing bowls have been designed using modern engineering and a purity of metals never before seen in bowl manufacturing. Manufacturers are able to get more uniform and consistent results, which translates into a reliable quality of sound, and powerful, reproduceable vibrations.
Whether dealing with a weathered antique bowl covered in primitive etchings, or a modern bowl made for intentional healing, no one can deny the natural power of the sound produced by these wonderful instruments. Everyone has their own special story of their “first time” experience with the bowls. People who encounter them are often mesmerized, and gain a moment of mindfulness with their initial experience. Not everyone will embark on a journey of therapy and meditation, but all who encounter the bowls are touched.
“I was given a Tibetan metal singing bowl by a Tibetan monk who was a patient in the early 1990s. These bowls are made of between seven and nine different metals, each vibrating at a different frequency. The effect is like church bells ringing simultaneously. I was struck by how the sound was felt throughout my body. I had been using guided imagery, yoga breathing, and meditation with my patients for years. I began combining these singing bowls with those techniques and the results were accelerated and more profound for patients. “ Dr. Mitch Gaynor