Tibetan Singing Bowls: An Introduction

The origins of singing Tibetan bowls are as mysterious as the otherworldly harmonies the bowls produce when we play them. There are more questions than answers: Where did they first come from? What are they made of? How have Tibetans and other cultures used them through the centuries? Why are they known as Tibetan singing bowls?

What we do know is this:

  • Tibetan singing bowls are not Buddhist in origin, but more likely date back to the pre-Buddhist Tibetan Bon culture. Although there is no hard evidence to indicate the origins or use of the bowls, it is commonly thought that they were traditionally used both in rituals and, more mundanely, as food bowls.
  • Singing bowls are actually a type of bell known as a “standing bell.” The bowls are played either by rubbing a mallet around the rim (as one might play a crystal glass with your finger), or striking the side of the bowl with the mallet. The two playing methods produce quite distinctive sounds.
  • Though they are often referred to as Tibetan Singing Bowls, they are more accurately called Himalayan Bowls, as they are present throughout the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, India and Nepal. They can also be found in various manifestations in Japan, Korea, China and Mongolia.
  • Today, singing bowls are used to aid meditation, religious practice, relaxation and healthcare.
  • When used in sound healing, singing bowls are sometimes referred to as healing bowls or chakra bowls. In sound healing, or “sound massage,” the bowls are played around and sometimes placed on the body of the receiver of the treatment. The practitioner uses the resonance of the bowls’ harmonic vibrations within the human body for balancing and relaxation. Some sound healers seek to activate or balance the body’s chakras, or energy centers.
  • The “singing” sound is remarkable, a powerful, long-lasting harmonic hum that can be both invigorating and calming at the same time.
  • The traditional methods of producing the bowls has been lost for at least 50 years, but the manufacturing methods used today can produce bowls with beautiful tones. Today, bowls are both hand-hammered and machine-made, or a combination of the two. The best modern bowls are considered to come from Nepal.
  • Modern bowls are most likely to be made of a type of bronze called “bell metal,” composed of a mix of copper and tin.
  • Antique bowls were also typically made of high-quality bronze, with combinations of various other metals, including gold, silver and even highly-prized meteoric iron, which the Tibetans call “sky-metal” or thogcha. The presence of multiple kinds of ore is thought to to be the source of the multiphonic overtones of some antique bowls, and along with the mellow tones created by age, accounts for the high value placed on antique singing bowls.
  • It can be very challenging to tell the difference between a true antique singing bowl and a new bowl, as it is relatively easy to “age” the appearance of a new bowl so that it closely resembles an antique. High-quality new bowls are capable of beautiful tones, but only age can produce the richest, mellowest tones. Only a handful of experts in the world can authenticate the age and value of singing bowls, so you should use caution with sellers who offer “antique” or even “old” bowls without evidence of authentication.

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Updated on February 6, 2020. First published on November 19, 2011.

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Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip. Learn more about us and YoWangdu here.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. surya says

    greetings sir, tell me how to meditate with singing bowls..i want to know
    the duration
    the method etc. kindly maiil me (surya556@gmail.com)

  2. Amie says

    Hello,
    I am interested in using tibetan bowls while teaching mindfulness to young children in an elementary school classroom setting. Which of the bowls (chakras) would be most beneficial to a large group of children with diverse needs?
    Thank you!

  3. June says

    I have been listening to the one hour You Tube recording of the Tibetan singing bowls to aid in healing and pain reduction and it works for me.
    Thank you for your postings.

  4. SUSAN ERLEWINE says

    I am interested in learning healing with these bowls. I’m a nurse and feel very drawn to this healing method. Can you recommend someone as an authentic teacher?

    Thank you.

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Susan,
      We are so sorry but we don’t know anyone who is an authentic teacher for singing bowls. Let us know if you do find anyone.
      Best to you.

      • Cathy Brown says

        Hello Susan,
        Here is some information that might help you looking for an authentic teacher in regards to sound therapy using singing bowls as well as other traditional modalities.
        His name is Dr. Mitch Nur and here is the link to the main page of his website: http://www.9ways.org/
        I’m sure, when you go through his site, you will find a lot of information that will lead you to learn more.
        His email is listed on the site. He is also on Facebook.

        Namaste _/|\_
        Cathy B.

  5. Bobby Wilson says

    Tashi Delek!
    Thank you Lobsang for introducing the singing bowls on your website. I have no bowl at the moment but have been using my bell and striker to produce a similar sound. Do you have a recommendation as to where I could purchase a quality bowl from Tibetan artist?

    Thank you,

    Bobby

    P.S. That’s a great reCAPTCHA plug-in!

  6. Amyah says

    Hello to you,

    Very interesting article… thank you… I would like to know…

    I have a Thibetan bowl, very special to my heart as it has a very unusual history. It is old, coming directly from Buthan around 25 years+ ago and weight around 2kg and I really love it… His sound is magical!

    It also have an engraving on it… an engraving that nobody, up to now, was able to read or translate (or they said so…). One day, I showed it to a Thibetan monk who came for a concert. No translator around… but when he saw the bowl and read the words, he pushed it on my chest, was looking quite excited and repeated 3 times (phonetically of course) something like: “Om tomshi” … there too, nobody was able to tell me what this mean.

    I am getting frustrated as I would like so much to know what the writing and those words mean, for my own curiosity and for completing ~ maybe ~ the unusual story of my bowl in my heart.

    Would you know how to read ancient writing? Or know somebody who could? If so, I can send you a photo of the script.

    Hoping you could help me

    Have a wonderful day

    Amyah

      • Tavs says

        I looked this up and it is indeed the mantra on my bowl. It’s probably the same for you as well Amyah.

        “The mantra Om Mani Pädme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Pä, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.
        “So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?”
        —Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche,

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om_mani_padme_hum

        This next link shows what my bowl looks like so you can compare the writing to yours.

        http://www.singbowlsaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Green-Singing-Bowl-10.5-cm-2.jpg

        Namaste,

        T.Rahki

    • Anup says

      I don’t know if I am late .. but I was just going through the article and saw your poat.. if you can send me a photo od your singing bowl than definitely I can help you with something… anupscore@gmail.com or message me at fb or instagram at the_divine_vibration

  7. Nirvana Prime says

    I’ve been wanting to get my hands on some good antique singing bowls. Does the website you mentioned above have a wholesale/resale program? We’re a new shop and looking for some decent vendors.

    • Andrew Hennessey says

      I have a large antique singing bowl made with 2 bronze skins – about 16×10 inches – hand held does not dampen the resonance – inner skin has speckled gold flakes in the bronze.
      has an incredible deep throbbing/pulse when it gets going.

      I can’t now use it and would sell to the right buyer,

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