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Historians believe that metal working artisans perfected the techniques for making Tibetan Singing Bowls nearly 2,500 years ago!  Although there is not a lot of written history to trace the origin of these wonderful objects of art, fortunately, there is a rich tradition of oral history that tells us that the bowls came to Tibet from India at the same time that Buddhism was introduced to Tibet by the great Buddhist master, Padmasambhava.  Therefore, the history of Tibetan Singing Bowls goes back to the 8th century A.D. 

One of the most fascinating things about Tibetan Singing Bowls is that the quality of sound of the ancient bowls cannot be reproduced today.  In fact, this is a lost art.  Analysis of old bowls reveals that they were made from a twelve metal alloy consisting of silver, nickel, copper, zinc, antimony, tin, lead, cobalt, bismuth, arsenic, cadmium, and iron.  Legend has it that some of the ancient bowls included metals taken from meteorites! 

Why are they called "singing bowls"?  Very simply because they can be made to sing.  The musical quality of Tibetan Singing Bowls can be explored by holding the bowl in the palm of your hand so that it is free to vibrate.  Next, run a wooden mallet along the rim of the bowl lightly.  Striking the side of the bowl will also produce sound, much like ringing a bell.  

The vibration of the bowl produces a distinct sound in the much the same way that a crystal goblet would if you ran a wet finger around the glass.  The pitch depends on the size of the bowl and the thickness of the metal.  Bowls typically range in size from five inches to thirteen inches in diameter.  You can increase or decrease the sounds by rotating the mallet around the outside of the bowl faster. 

The singing quality is an important part of the Tibetan Singing Bowl's history.  In Buddhism, and in Hinduism, sound is an important part of spiritual practice.  In the Buddhist doctrine, there are nine methods of realization of reaching enlightenment.  The seventh way was sound.  For this reason, the sound produced by the bowl was used by Buddhist practitioners as part of their religious rituals and music. 

The sound made by the bowls is both captivating and calming, and the bowls are frequently used as a meditation aid.  One reason for this is that the sound emitted by the bowls seems to instantly instill a sense of trance-like calm.  The Tibetan Singing Bowls were also used during meditation practice to reinforce one of the most important concepts of Buddhism, that of being "mindful", of staying in the present moment. 

The person in charge of the meditation would occasionally strike the bowl on the side during the meditation, producing a bell-like tone capable of filling a temple.  The sound would act as a reminder to those meditating to remain mindful and in fact, it probably helped practitioners stay awake and not drift off to sleep during longer meditation sessions!  Sound and vibrations are also associated with wellness.  Some methods of alternative medicine associate good health with a person being "in balance".  The sound made by Tibetan Singing Bowls may be used in certain alternative therapies to create vibrations thought to help bring harmony to a person who is not in balance.  There is some scientific basis to this theory.  It is thought that the tones produced by Tibetan Singing Bowls affects left brain/right brain synchronization, which would create a balancing effect. 

Today, craftsman in India work to revive the ancient techniques for making the bowls, even though the original craft has been lost to us.  For instance, Tibetan Singing Bowls are made in Nepal in the Katmandu Valley.  These bowls are made of a special alloy of bronze, iron and zinc.  Tibetan Singing Bowls are beautiful and enchanting, making them a popular collector's item among Buddhists and non-Buddhist alike.


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