Singing bowls are sound generating instruments traditionally used by Tibetan Buddhists as aids to meditation. In Buddhist practice, singing bowls are used as a support for meditation, trance induction and prayer. For example, Chinese Buddhists use the singing bowl to accompany the wooden fish during chanting, striking it when a particular phrase in a sutra, mantra or hymn is sung. 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.
Little is known in western scholarship regarding Himalayan singing bowls. It is likely they were used in rituals, having a specific function like other instruments (such as the ghanta, tingsha, and shang). The oral and written traditions from the Himalayan region are vast and largely unknown in the west. To date, no specific texts have been found discussing the use of singing bowls in depth, but according to Joseph Feinstein of Himalayan Bowls, paintings and statues dating from several centuries ago depict singing bowls in detail. Singing bowls from at least the 10th-12th century are found in private collections. The tradition may date significantly earlier since bronze has been used to construct musical instruments since ancient times. Bronze bells from Asia have been discovered as early as the 8th-10th century BCE.
Traditionally, antique singing bowls were made of Panchaloha (literally meaning "five metals" in Sanskrit): a bronze alloy of copper, tin, zinc and iron and other metals. Antiques often include silver, gold, nickel and the most prized "sky-iron" (Wylie: thog chags) from meteorites and tektites (as did the Phurba, an accompanying tool).
To play a singing bowl, you hold the bowl in the palm of the hand, so that the body of the bowl is allowed to vibrate freely. With the wooden beater, or puja, you rub the outside rim in a circular motion, keeping an even pressure. Gently increase the speed as the bowl begins to vibrate and as the sound grows. You can also tap the bowl to begin the vibration. The bowl will resonate with two pure tones. The pitch of the bowl depends its thickness, size and weight. The pitch is fixed but may be controlled as to tone and volume by the force of the tap, the hardness of the striking stick, and the point of percussion. The sound is beautiful and haunting. They are commonly used for meditation, relaxation, healthcare, personal well-being and religious practice.
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