Singing Bowl History
Learn more about the origin & progression of singing bowls over the last 5,000 years – along with the methods & techniques used to perfect this ancient meditation tool across the Himalayas.
How It All Started
Singing bowls are a remnant of one of the most ancient metalworking traditions in the world. The process used to make singing bowls dates back 5,000 years. Singing bowls are made by annealing. Annealing is a process of shaping bronze by repeatedly hammering, heating and cooling the metal – which manipulates the molecular structure and shapes the bowl. Bronze is hard and brittle object. The annealing process changes the crystalline structure of the metal and allows it to be hammered into a refined shape. The heating and quenching process is repeated many times until the desired shape is achieved. This process was developed in the near east around 3,000 BC and spread throughout Asia in ancient times. Antique singing bowls are among the finest existing examples of this ancient technique. The crystalline structure of the metal and variations in the structure and shape of the metal is one of the secrets to the special sound of singing bowls.
Expanding From East to West
Early examples of bronze bowls from Persia have features similar to Himalayan singing bowls. The ancient bowl making technique may have spread from the Near East, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the Himalayas. Annealing was also perfected in Southeast Asia and the technique may have arrived in the Himalayas from the East. However, most East Asian bronze was cast rather than hammered. Bells from China and Japan were made by casting, but singing bowls from China and Japan were made by annealing.
Singing bowls were formed into elegant shapes by hammering. Artisans developed a variety of shapes which produce different tonal qualities. Over the centuries they learned to change the pitch of the bowls by altering not only the size but also the thickness of the metal. Slight variations in the thickness caused by the hammering improves the tone and produces multiple harmonic overtones. Special lips were developed which increases tension. This raises the pitch, brightens the tone and lengthens the vibration. Similar technical innovations were developed in temple and church bells and are still used today. While singing bowls look like simple bowls, the technology was very well developed. Variations in the size, thickness and shape give the bowls remarkable sonic properties which no other instruments achieve. The shape is another secret to the special sound of singing bowls.
Modern-day Methods – Adopted From Ancient Techniques
Artisans since ancient times used the special annealing technique, special details in the shape and the best bell metal bronze to achieve the special sound of singing bowls. Today singing bowls are the last remnant of this ancient bowl hammering tradition. The New Hand Made Singing Bowls from Himalayan Bowls are made using the same alloy and the same ancient techniques. Bronze bowls date from 5,000 years ago in Persia. The tradition of using them for sound may be this ancient. Bronze has been the preferred metal for musical instruments for many centuries. Tuned bells were perfected in China 3,500 years ago. Bronze drums from Thailand date from 3,000 years ago. The oldest known singing bowl is 1,200 years old from Japan.
Buddhism flourished throughout Asia: India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malasia and Indonisia all developed unique Buddhist cultures. Afghanistan and Pakistan also had strong Buddhist cultures and large Buddhist populations until the 7th century, AD. These Buddhist cultures all used bronze to make musical instruments, including bells, gongs and singing bowls. Perhaps singing bowls were used by early Buddhists. There are very few objects from the earliest periods. The earliest image of the Buddha holding a bowl is from 1st century Pakistan. The bowl in this relief sculpture looks identical to a singing bowl. In a 14th century sculpture from India, Naropa holds a bowl that looks like a singing bowl. A rare 16th century painting from Tibet depicts a yogi in the forest with a singing bowl by his side. The tradition of using singing bowls in meditation is still alive in several Buddhist traditions.