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 heating and cooling the metal. The bronze is hammered, heated and quenched in water repeatedly. Bronze is hard and brittle. The annealing process manipulates 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. Annealing is a special way of not only shaping the metal but also manipulating the molecular structure of the metal. 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.
Real antiques are extremely rare today. Himalayan Bowls is home to some of the last genuine antiques available anywhere. While fakes are today very common, every antique from Himalayan Bowls is a genuine hand selected treasure, selected by singing bowl expert and Himalayan Bowls founder Joseph Feinstein. Joseph traveled to Nepal many times between 2001 and 2014. The antique listed on the website today are all from his old collection. Each is a museum quality treasure, representing the best 2% of all singing bowls made. Antiques bronze is brittle and fragile. While our new hammered bronze singing bowls are more durable than antiques, the fragility is part of what makes the antiques sound so special. The metal becomes more brittle over time which also improves the sound.
Antiques also show a variety of different signs of wear, including significant smoothing to the metal, patina and many types of surface damage. A variety of spots, stains, oxidation, scratches, chips, surface fractures and full cracks are normal and to be expected with real antiques. In fact, more than 25% of all antiques are damaged to the point that they do not sound good anymore. While genuine antiques from Himalayan Bowls may show various signs of their genuine age, Joseph rejects any bowl that has lost its structural integrity and has lost its ability to make a sound. Likewise bowls with severe damage, either cosmetic or functional, are normally rejected. However, antiques are full of flaws and all collectors learn to accept the minor insults that have happened to them over time. The minor marks and damage do not diminish the value or rarity. In fact, genuine signs of age are one of the best forms of authentication. In the rare case that we offer a severely damaged bowl, the damage is noted in the description with extra photos showing the area in question. Otherwise, minor condition issues are normal and to be expected.
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.
For thousands of years, musical instruments have been made from bell metal bronze. Bronze is the oldest alloy; the first combination of metals made by human beings. Bronze is a mix of copper and tin. Bell metal bronze is a special preparation with an unusually high percentage of tin. The high percentage of tin improves the tone and resonance of the bronze. The best bells, gongs and cymbals from around the world are made of the same high-tin bronze. While many people believe and claim that singing bowls are made from "7 metals," the truth is they are made from copper and tin - nothing else. Low quality bells and singing bowls are made from a brass mix, which is copper, zinc, nickel, lead and tin. This impure metal does not have the wonderful tone of bell metal. Pure bell metal bronze is the best sounding metal and is very difficult to make. Pure bell metal bronze is the height of the instrument maker's art. Bell metal is another secret to the special sound of singing bowls.
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.
For much more historical and cultural information, please read my book, The Singing Bowl Book available in PDF format here on the website and in hardcover, softcover and Kindle versions on Amazon.