Singing bowls (also known as Tibetan Singing Bowls, rin gongs, Himalayan bowls or suzu gongs) are a type of bell, specifically classified as a standing bell. Rather than hanging inverted or attached to a handle, singing bowls sit with the bottom surface resting. The sides and rim of singing bowls vibrate to produce sound characterized by a fundamental frequency (first harmonic) and usually two audible harmonic overtones (second and third harmonic). According to singing bowl researcher Joseph Feinstein, singing bowls were traditionally used in Asia and the tradition of making sound with bronze bowls could go back 3,000 or more years to the Bronze Age.
Singing bowls are used worldwide for meditation, music, relaxation, and personal well-being. They are used by a wide range of professionals, including health professionals, school teachers, musicians and spiritual teachers. Singing bowls are used in health care by sound healers, psychotherapists, massage therapists, cancer specialists, stress and meditation specialists. They are used to help treat cancer patients and also for post traumatic stress disorder. They are popular in classrooms to help facilitate group activities and focus students' attention.
Singing bowls were historically made throughout Asia, especially Nepal, China and Japan. They are closely related to decorative bells made along the silk road from the Near East to Western Asia. Today they are made in Nepal, India, Japan, China and Korea.
Origins, history and usage
In Tibetan Buddhist practice, singing bowls are used as a signal to begin and end periods of silent meditation. Some practitioners, for example, Chinese Buddhists use the singing bowl to accompany the wooden fish during chanting, striking it when a particular phrase is chanted. In Japan and Vietnam, singing bowls are similarly used during chanting and may also mark the passage of time or signal a change in activity, for example changing from sitting to walking meditation. In Japan, singing bowls are used in traditional funeral rites and ancestor worship. Every Japanese temple holds a singing bowl. Singing bowls are found on altars and in meditation rooms worldwide.
The oral and written traditions from the Himalayan region are vast and largely unknown in the West. It is unknown whether there are any traditional texts about singing bowls. All known references to them are strictly modern. However, a few pieces of art dating from several centuries ago depict singing bowls in detail, including Tibetan paintings and statues. Some Tibetan rinpoches and monks use singing bowls in monasteries and meditation centers today. Singing bowls from at least the 15th century are found in private collections. The tradition may date significantly earlier since bronze has been used to make musical instruments for thousands of years. Bronze bells from Asia have been discovered as early as the 8th–10th century BC and singing bowls are thought to go back in the Himalayas to the 10th-12th century AD (Feinstein, 2011).
Singing bowls are played by striking the rim of the bowl with a padded mallet. They can also be played by the friction of rubbing a wood, plastic, or leather wrapped mallet around the rim of the bowl to emphasize the harmonic overtones and a continuous 'singing' sound.
Singing bowls produce a unique sound and also physical vibration that can be felt.
Antique singing bowls
Antique singing bowls produce harmonic overtones creating an effect that is unique to the instrument. The subtle yet complex multiple harmonic frequencies are a special quality caused by variations in the shape of the hand made singing bowls. The art of making singing bowls in the traditional way is often called a lost art, but traditional craftsmen still make singing bowls in the traditional manner. They are one of the longest made traditional objects still being made today.
Antique singing bowls are highly prized and collected worldwide, due to their fine craftsmanship and remarkable sound. They may display abstract decorations like lines, rings and circles engraved into the surface. Decoration may appear outside the rim, inside the bottom, around the top of the rim and sometimes on the outside bottom.
Very few antique singing bowls are available today. Many websites[who?] sell new singing bowls and call them "old" or "antique" without any real information about the age. Some sellers say the age is unknown or use vague terms such as "old" or "antique." The issue is complicated because most singing bowls for sale are new but may look similar to real antiques. They are often sold at the source in Asia as "old" and Western sellers[who?] pass on this misinformation to consumers. Most sellers[who?] are simply merchants with no real knowledge of the objects, so there is a lot of misinformation about these objects on the web. Like other antique objects, singing bowls can easily be dated by experienced experts. However, there are very few real experts[who?].
Singing bowl researcher Joseph Feinstein and Oxford University recently conducted a joint study and concluded that singing bowls have been made in the Himalayan region for at least 600–800 years, and are likely related to bronze bowls produced in Central and Western Asia. Extensive metallurgical analysis by Feinstein's company Himalayan Bowls and Oxford University has discovered that the bowls are made from "high tin bronze," also known as "bell metal bronze," which is a pure mixture of copper and tin. Contrary to popular folklore, there is no evidence to support the claims that singing bowls contain "7 metals" (Joseph Feinstein, 2011).
Singing bowls are still manufactured today in the traditional way as well as with modern manufacturing techniques. New bowls may be plain or decorated. They sometimes feature religious iconography and spiritual motifs and symbols, such as the Tibetan mantra Om mani padme hum, images of Buddhas, and Ashtamangala (the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols).
New singing bowls are exported from Nepal, India and China. The best hand made examples are made in Nepal and have many properties similar to the real antiques. New singing bowls do not sound as mellow and peaceful as the antiques but are often louder and ring longer. High quality new singing bowls are made in Japan and Korea but are not widely exported.
New singing bowls are made in two processes. The best sounding new singing bowls are made by hand hammering, which is the traditional method. The modern method is by sand casting and then machine lathing. Machine lathing can only be done with brass, so machine lathed singing bowls are made with modern techniques and modern brass alloy. Machined bowls do not produce a sound comparable to hand made singing bowls.
- de Leon, Emile (2012) The Mastery Book of Himalayan Singing Bowls: A Musical, Spiritual, and Healing Perspective (Book & Audio CD's) Temple Sounds Publishing / ISBN 9780988266100 / Library of Congress Control Number: 2012948143
- Müller-Ebeling, Claudia, Christian Rätsch, Surendra Bahadur Shahi (2002). Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas. Trans. by Annabel Lee. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions.
- Shrestha, Suren (2009). How to Heal with Singing Bowls: Traditional Tibetan Healing Methods (Book and Audio CD). Sentient Publications. ISBN 978-1-59181-087-2.
- Jansen, Eva Rudy. Singing Bowls. A Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use. New Age Books, New Delhi (2004). ISBN 81-7822-103-9.
- Terwagne, Denis & John W. M. Bush (2011). Tibetan singing bowls. Nonlinearity 24: R51. doi:10.1088/0951-7715/24/8/R01
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