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History

A History of Singing Bowls

The history of singing bowls has a difficult past to trace; in fact if one were to travel to Nepal or Tibet and ask someone if they had a singing bowl in their possession, many would disavow any knowledge of such a thing. But if you were to enter their residence you would more than likely see many singing bowls throughout the kitchen.

If you were to ask monks or patrons of a monastery whether or not they had ever heard a singing bowl being played inside the walls of the temple, the answer would once again almost always be no. But if you were to walk into a monastery or look at old photographs of one, you would surely see singing bowls used throughout the buildings, many of which are used as chalices or sacrificial dishes.

So why the mystery and obscurity behind singing bowls?

Could it be that people of the region do not want to share their knowledge and faith with foreigners, could it be that Westerners are the ones that created the myths and legends behind the powers of singing bowls, or could the invasion of Tibet by the communist Chinese have sent many of the religious practices by the peaceful Tibetan people underground in hopes of trying to save their beliefs from the invading armies?

Either way many people believe that it is the obscurity of the singing bowl origin that gives them their true healing qualities and powers. Many scholars have studied the intense use of sound in rituals and meditation in Tibetan Buddhism, most have traced back the origin of singing bowls to at least the seventh century A.D. But still to this day few if any people from the Himalayan region admit to their use or how big of a part they truly play in their religion.

There are many different opinions on who or how singing bowls were made in the ancient times, but many scholars point to the shamanistic traditions that reached the region through trade routes from Mongolia, India and China. During the early seventh century A.D. traders and travels caravanning through Tibet helped bridge Mongolian shamanism and Indian Buddhism in the region, creating Tibetan Buddhism. The new religion had two branches of influence; Lamaism, which is basically Buddhism, and the Bon religion, which is now considered a shamanistic branch of Buddhism.

Some believe that with the trade routes came metal smiths that created the singing bowls. But no one really knows whether the bowls were made for their own accord or if they were commissioned by monks. Either way, the metal alloys used to make early singing bowls tell of a special process that had to require very specific knowledge of metallurgy that still to this day can not be exactly recreated. Legend has it that traditionally the early singing bowls were made from the seven metals that represent the known planets of the time:

  • Gold the Sun Silver the Moon Mercury Mercury Copper Venus Iron Mars Tin Jupiter Lead Saturn

Commonly known as the roof of the world, the mountains of the Himalayan region have abundant amounts of rock and ore and very little clay, which is on one of the reasons given for why so many different metals were used in the making of the bowls. The actual proportion of the metal tends to vary in each bowl, giving each bowl its unique sound. In fact many of the earlier bowls do not even have all seven alloys in their makeup since many of the metal smiths were travelers and had no way to carry all of the different metals with them.

One of the most important factors in discovering what metals are in a bowl is learning what region it comes from. It is said that a singing bowl from Tibet is generally made with more silver and tin, giving it a more dull sheen, why bowls from the Nepalese region have a more golden radiance to them. But the only true way to discover the metal makeup of a singing bowl is to have it break and to do a cross section analysis of the metal. Scientists have discovered that most of the bowls seen today are made up of copper, tin and iron and that none of the bowls have ever tested positive for mercury or lead; leading some of the researchers to believe that the seven metals used in the production of earlier singing bowls was more of a myth, especially since the bowls were also supposedly used for cooking and cooking. To make the bowls it is believed that the ancient metal smiths would pour the liquid metal onto a flat stone and let it cool as a metal plate. They would then return and begin to beat the plate with a hammer; stretching the metal and creating a bowl. The metal smiths would then decorate the bowls with designs or engravings. Many of the bowls that were of the same size and shape were made, but all still had different sounds to them; meaning that a customer could pick and choose which bowl truly spoke to them. This would also help explain why there are still so many bowls in circulation, even though the bowls have not been made in the traditional way for about the past 50 years. While many natives of the region refuse to admit any knowledge of the metal bowls being used in any way other than as eating dishes, there is good reason for the silence and supposed secrecy. If the bowls were really made by traveling shamans and if they were used in monasteries behind closed doors for rituals, the silence of the people makes sense since Buddhism is the dominant religion in the Himalayan region and there is no record of singing bowls having an official capacity in the religion. No one wants to admit they own the bowls and use them in rituals that tend to be more based in shamanistic rituals instead of Buddhist ceremonies. However, everyone does need dishes to eat out of, allowing for the singing bowls to be sold and displayed openly, no matter what there use. In fact some scholars believe that eating out of the singing bowls might even provide healing powers from the minerals in the bowls, however eating out of them is not recommended.


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