All you need to know about Singing Bowls
Tibetan singing bowls are a mysterious combination of art, science, spirituality, and sound healing an ancient connection for humanity. This rich mesh of qualities makes for many different paths of enjoyment.
Table of Contents
- 1 - History of Singing Bowls
- 2 - How Singing Bowls were used back in time?
- 3 - History of Tibetan Singing Bowls
- 4 - Types of Singing Bowls
- 5 - The Essentials for Buying Tibetan Singing Bowls
- 6 - Singing Bowl Mallets
- 7 - Types of Singing Bowl Mallet
History of Singing Bowls
Singing bowls also known as Himalayan bowls, Tibetan bowls, DhoniPatra(sound, vessel), and suzu gongs are used for meditation, healing purpose, sound yoga, religious purpose, sound yoga, sound meditation with chantings, music which have great medicinal and healing powers used from ancient time.
Singing bowls are said to be in practice from before 2500 years. And was especially practiced in the “Bon” tradition and in the far western region of Nepal, this practice was famous by the baidhangya Bidhya.
The first metal bowls were likely made of pure copper well over 5,000 years ago. Brass, a mixture of copper with other metals, is a later technology still thousands of years old. There are stories that 2,000-year-old brass bowls were in Tibet at the turn of the last century.
While there is some folklore about the makers of the singing bowls, typically knowledge of a given singing bowl’s origin died with its first or second owner. Bowl making was literally a cottage industry with crude smelting and careful metalworking taking place in the home of the artisan. Skills were passed from generation to generation until the modern age where those ancient chains were broken.
How Singing Bowls were used back in time?
There were a number of references to brass bowls being a common dowry item or wedding gift which would attest to their practical utility.
There are relatively few references to bowls and sounds. In a way, this isn’t surprising as many inner practices were entirely hidden from outsiders, especially in virtually inaccessible Tibet.
History of Tibetan Singing Bowls
Common singing bowls, an important possession for very practical reasons, were likely the regular product of artisans. Very special singing bowls were sometimes made to order.
For some of the most special bowls, a highly skilled artisan might be provided with very unique materials. Many Tibetan singing bowls were made in Nepal as were a number of other manufactured items over the last millennium. It’s likely that specific sound qualities were designed with sound healing in mind.
Some singing bowls such as those with lingams were obviously made for ceremonial use. Sometimes they bear inscriptions indicating they were gifts to monasteries. The incredible musical qualities of some singing bowls would lead one to believe these were intentionally tuned for specific resonance.
The fact that it is possible to make functional brass bowls with less expensive metals is evidence many premium quality singing bowls were made with sound in mind. However, the real history of the bowls and intentions of the makers is lost in time.
The Tibetans had the gold and the Nepalis the skills. Many Tibetan singing bowls and other ritual objects were made in Nepal, often of material that originated in Tibet, and then sent over the Himalayas. There is disagreement about whether large numbers of singing bowls were ever made in Tibetan monasteries.
Types of Singing Bowls
Really old singing bowls tend to be very thick and heavy, in many cases impractically so. Singing bowls are differentiated on various basis. The structure, number of metals used, sound, vibration, and thickness
Jambati Singing bowls
Jambati bowls often have visible hammer marks. There are classical etching lines on Jambati bowls – below the rim on the outside and circular markings inside at the bottom. Some very old Jambati have no lines left, they have been worn off from use.
Many older Jambati were made with a flattened rim, very old examples can have a broad flat rim with its own set of etched lines.
These have become quite rare in recent years. Jambati bowls were often used for relatively clean purposes such as grain storage so bowls hundreds of years old can have a high level of preservation.
The Jambati style, especially darker ones possibly indicating the presence of thunderbolt metal (iron), was preferred by Tibetans.
The vast majority of Jambati are in the 2nd and 3rd octave with an occasional small extra thick bowl ringing at the very low end of the middle octave.
Thadobati singing bowls
In Nepali, Thado means “straight”.
Thadobati singing bowls are defined by relatively vertical sides and a flat bottom. Some Thadobati singing bowls are rounder than others however the most common ones have a bottom diameter only slightly smaller than the diameter of the opening.
Thadobati singing bowls are relatively deep, up to 5″, while a 9″ diameter is about the largest size you will see in this style.
Thadobati style may be the most ancient common singing bowl, with simple thick examples dating back well over 500 years. These thick old singing bowls will weigh more than a similar diameter Jambati singing bowl. The Thadobati style, especially those with a high copper content and a golden color were preferred by Nepalese.
Thadobati singing bowls usually have no discernible lip overhang and be quite thin from extensive abrasive cleaning over the centuries.
Old Thadobati bowls are fairly numerous and relatively inexpensive, so they are often the first bowl a person buys, but their quality varies considerably and good ones are increasingly hard to find.
Decoration elsewhere is fairly minimal…perhaps just a row or two of punched dots or gashes below the rim on the external wall and some concentric circles radiating from the center of the basin.
A few bowls are more extensively decorated with a ribbon of mala beads or suns set within a pair of incised parallel lines below the outer rim, or sometimes between a pair of concentric circles at the bowl’s center.
Remuna singing bowl
Remuna singing bowls are similar to Thadobati in shape and timbre. Since they have a similar soundscape they mix seamlessly with Thadobati in sets. The difference between a Remuna and a Thadobati is the Remuna has inward sloping walls to go with their flat bottom. Remuna bowls are very strong on artwork.
Remuna bowls tend to sport complex artwork. They often have deep etching with circles inside and out, even occasionally on the bottom of the bowl. It is not uncommon for Remuna bowls to have two textures outside, with a darker and rougher bottom half of the bowl.
Inscriptions are more common on Remunas than any other type of bowl. As with all antique singing bowls, artwork may be worn away through long years of use.
Remunas tend to be thinner than Thadobati and you never see an extra thick one. The origin of the name Remuna is not clear, however, there is a Remuna town and district on the northwest side of the Bay of Bengal, south of Bhutan.
Manipuri Singing Bowls
Manipuri is the original singing bowls. When singing bowls first were introduced Western travelers in the 1970s this was by far the most common type. At the time most singing bowls were coming from Tibet on the back of refugees. Due to their metallic content, they were easily sold to buyers in India and Nepal. The name Manipuri, however, comes from a state in Northeastern India. This is possibly due to the state being a center of production for brass objects.
There are many sub-styles of Manipuri bowls. No doubt over the last ten centuries millions of these were made and it is easy to imagine different makers using slightly different techniques. Manipuri bowls can be quite old and worn. They were used so extensively that thick elaborately etched bowls eventually became thin smooth bowls with no markings. it is not unusual to see a worn bowl with less than half the thickness of a well-preserved version of the same sub-style. Much more so than Thadobati bowls, Manipuri was made with many hammer marks and fine craftsmanship so that they were quite smooth and even when brand new. This is not always true but a roughly made Manipuri is unusual.
Manipuri singing bowls were made in quite a range of sizes from tiny 3-inch bowls to ones a foot across. Due to their range of sizes, and also thickness, Manipuri has a very wide range of primary tones, from the lower second octave to the top of the 5th. The very worn Manipuri bowls can have exquisite sound. The shape of Manipuri bowls gives them a timbre that blends well with Jambati.
Mani Singing Bowls
Sometimes also known as Mudra, these rare singing bowls have thick walls, flat bottoms and are wider in the middle than at the bottom of lip.
Their inward slope is that of the classic begging bowl though they are much larger. Decorative markings are standard though sometimes faint due to wear. Mani singing bowls generally are dated from the late 16th to the 19th century. These bowls were often given as wedding gifts, their great weight being a storehouse of value.
Despite their size Mani bowls tend to be very high in tone, they run counter to the general rule that larger heavier singing bowls are lower in tone.
It is quite rare to find a Mani that is as low as the upper range of the middle octave, which is a pretty high sound. The vast majority ring in the 5th octave with some examples starting in the 6th. Manis tend to have smooth broad rims and are very easy to play with a ringing stick.
Lingam Singing Bowls
Lingam or Lingham refers to the male principle sometimes embodied as the Hindu god Shiva. A lingam is a protrusion of metal in the center of a singing bowl. Lingam bowls along with medicine bowls are the type of singing bowl most likely made for ritual purposes.
The most common lingam bowls are Manipuri style. Lingams always start out as adorned with extensive etching inside and out. The central lingam itself often has designed. Extra thick very old Thadobati bowls also come with lingams. Rare large ancient lingam bowls can come in a distinct rounded style, reminiscent of a Jambati, or the Lingham feature can be incorporated into other bowl styles, especially Manipuri and Jambati.
In modern times some Manipuri lingam bowls have fallen from ceremonial to household use. I’ve seen small very worn Manipur lingams referred to as “licker” bowls.
Due to the fact that they are so rare and expensive, there has been a recent plague of fake Thadobati and special lingam bowls on the market. Fake lingams are often new bowls dressed up as old and sometimes old bowls with the lingam added later.
A genuine old lingam will have consistent metal at the bottom of the bowl because the makers made sure there was extra material therewith which to build a strong lingam. A modern bowl and especially a reworked old bowl will have thinner metal and often discoloration. Some reworked old lingam bowls have a dollop of metal added before hammering.
Pedestal Singing Bowls
Pedestal or “stand” bowls are sometimes known by the more prosaic name “Naga”. These bowls have a rounded bottom and an attached base so the bowl can be placed on a flat surface. Inscriptions are common on pedestal bowls, some of which indicate ceremonial use, others identify the bowls as gifts.
Pedestal bowls are generally on the thinner side though some older ones can be quite thick. Sizes range from 4 to 10 inches. Correspondingly, the range of notes is large, third to the sixth octave.
Sound quality can be a problem for pedestal bowls, and pass on many attractive looking bowls due to inferior sound. In Pedestal bowls, the base can be loose and cause distortion while the round shape and thin walls are often not conducive to sonic depth.
Trapezoid Singing Bowls
Every once in a while a “new” antique singing bowl type emerges. In the past an occasional Trapezoid shape would pop up here and there, then in 2013 the quantities suddenly jumped.
In the past, the Trapezoid bowls that would surface were large, thin and often not very sonic. What’s come to the market recently are smaller thicker bowls some of which sound incredibly sweet. My theory is that some village in some Himalayan regional backwater was “found” by the antique bowl collectors.
In this village there was a tradition, may be maintained by a single family, of making this style. A little time capsule treasure trove was waiting for just the right moment.
These bowls have straight, symmetrically sloped insides and a flat bottom and straight top, viewed from the side a perfect Trapezoid.
They all seem to have been made with similar markings, many parallel exterior lines, and groups of inner circles.
The rims are broad and outward-facing with etching lines. Some of the very oldest examples have broad rims worn down to nubs. Who knows how many years of use that took.
Trapezoid bowls come in two distinct groups of sizes, small ones are around 5 inches, large ones 7-8 inches. The small ones tend to be high, 4th and 5th octave while the larger ones, very difficult to find with good sound, are lower than you would expect for being only 2 inches larger.
Ultabati Singing Bowls
Ultabati singing bowls similar to Jambati style and comes in similarly large sizes over 7″. Their distinguishing feature is that the side of the bowl is curved in under the rim. These bowls are not very common which makes them difficult to find with better sound quality.
Ultabati bowls often have prominent hammer marks. They can come darkened, even black, on the outside and bright in the interior. Etching lines are similar to Jambati bowls but much fewer commons.
While Jambati bowls were a favorite in Tibet Ultabati seem to be more of a Northern Indian bowl. Ultabati bowls have the same low tones of Jambati.
Unique Singing Bowls
Occasionally you will come across bowls that simply don’t fit into any category or style. These bowls seem to have the same cultural context, similar metal, markings, and sizes. If they sound good, if they sing, regardless of what they were made for then they’ll find their way into the singing bowl market. Some are very much one of a kind, others are rare but some examples come in every year.
The Essentials for Buying Tibetan Singing Bowls
- Sound Healing
- Structural Integrity
Singing Bowl Sound
There are a lot of reasons for owning Himalayan singing bowls but the place to really start is sound. There are very few sounds that we hear in our daily lives with their unique attention-grabbing characteristics. Taste in sound is as individual as taste in food, and there is nothing like a wealth of samples to hone your preferences.
When you browse through our singing bowl store, you’ll see that every bowl has individual sound clips that you can listen to. We make great efforts to record the bowls clearly and accurately. As our Guarantee states, we unconditionally guarantee every aspect of each singing bowl and that the sound and appearance match our descriptions. If you are not pleased for any reason you may return what you order for a full refund of the cost of the items.
While the phrase “Tibetan singing bowl” might be a modern construction the blending of sound and practice in Tibet goes back further even than the introduction of Buddhism 1300 years ago. What is the basis of this practice with sound? Humans’ first experience is vibration, which is a window into the potency of sound healing using Tibetan singing bowls. The history of singing bowls in Tibet includes the Bon tradition as well as all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism where bells, horns, and gongs are used in the ceremony. One early visitor to Tibet reported witnessing a ceremony in which a thousand monks each made a sound with their own bowl.
Over our many decades of playing, buying and selling we have only handled old singing bowls. New bowls can make nice sounds but they lack the character and lineage of genuine antiques. Old brass bowls also have something that new ones simply cannot replicate. When copper and other metals sit together for a while a process of mellowing happens. This is just as true for a brass saxophone as it is for a brass bowl. The wonderful metal objects you see here combine artistry, utility, and antiquity. When you review our fine selection, you can be assured each one comes from some time in the past and is not brand new or from recent decades.
Resonance is has a subtle but universal appeal. On an objective level resonance is a mathematical relationship between the frequencies of different sounds.
On an experiential level, it is the good feeling you experience when you hear it. Resonance is part of the magnetism that draws you into the experience of singing bowls.
The varied composition of the metals and the unique hand made shapes of singing bowls provides the basis for a broad range of tones and relationships. Sometimes the quality of resonance only becomes apparent after you listen to a bowl for a while.
Structural integrity essentially has to do with the singing bowl being free of cracks or structural compromises. Mostly this is the case but antique brass can be brittle, handling can be rough and “issues” can arise.
The most obvious cracks are visual. The location of a crack is important if it is at the top of the bowl near the rim you are going to have problems.
Singing Bowl Mallets
In order to create the sounds and vibrations singing bowls are famously known for, a mallet or striker must be used.
The friction of the mallet against the bowl is what produces the sound-making vibrations. The mallets and strikers are among the most important part of producing relaxing sounds for meditation, healing, and spiritual practices.
While singing bowls can be considered “tools of discovery”, they are rather ineffective without tools such as mallets, strikers, gingers, and puja sticks. In fact, singing bowls can sound completely different depending on the material they are struck with.
It is very important to find the right striker to play with since singing bowls might play extremely well with one mallet and then not sing at all with another.
Often times when purchasing a singing bowl an appropriate mallet will be included. However, if your singing bowl does not come with a mallet or you feel unsatisfied with your current mallet, it is important to understand the different types and uses of the different singing bowl mallets in order to make your selection.
Throughout the years, the tools used to play singing bowls have evolved and expanded. Historically, plain wooden dowels were used.
However, wooden sticks can create harsh, high-pitched sounds that drown out the fundamental tone. The varied success of wooden sticks led to the use of padded mallets, which create lower-pitched tones and a better sound when struck on the metal.
Today, a wide array of singing bowls can be found at an equally wide array of price points. Strikers range from as low as $10 USD to over $100 USD, however, the average price rests at about $35 USD.
Types of Singing Bowl Mallet
Singing bowl mallets come in different sizes and are made from different materials. Different sizes handle, and materials can all lead to different sounds being produced by the singing bowl.
Luckily, many of the following mallets are dual-ended, allowing both ends to be used to produce two different results. We will discuss the main types of mallets and then which mallets work best with which singing bowls.
Wool Padded Mallet
Wool padded mallets are designed to bring all of the bowls’ frequencies up to at an equal volume so that certain tones are not louder than others, drowning out more subtle, still pleasant tones.
Gong mallets are used for tall, larger-sized singing bowls. These mallets can be felt, wool or rubber padded. Gong mallets emphasize deeper tones but can help create softer gong-like sounds.
Nepali Felt Mallets
Nepali Felt mallets vary in shape, size, and handle length. They are most commonly used with medium or larger bowls like the Jambati singing bowls and Thadobati singing bowls.
They also go well with taller, deeper bowls. Nepali Felt mallets are known for producing good rhythms and loud sounds but are not suitable for rimming.
They are also known for being made out of a harder wood, which can be bad for beginners as harder sticks more easily bounce off the singing bowl causing a squealing sound.
Puja sticks are the least popular tool to use when playing singing bowls. Made of wood, they are covered almost completely in suede, which helps them achieve a purer sound when rimming.
When used as a striker, a deeper, more resonant tone will often be achieved.
Crystal Singing Bowl Mallets
As crystal singing bowls have become more popular, the creation of new tools to play them increased. Crystal singing bowls are often played with dual-ended mallets.
One end, most often, is made of pure crystal, like the singing bowl itself. The other end could be suede but is more likely to be silicone or rubber.
Silicone and rubber mallets reduce the sound of friction when playing crystal singing bowls. Silicone mallets have a smoother sound and do not wear down and shred as quickly as other materials.
Crystal singing bowls can also be played with solid, clear quartz, which will make for a heavy striker.
Healing Power of Singing Bowl