Singing bowls come in all shapes and sizes. Photo credit: Kashgar
Singing bowls are actually a type of bell, and are thus classified as standing bells because they sit with their base resting on a surface rather than hanging inverted attached to a handle. They are played by rubbing a wooden, plastic, or leather wrapped mallet around the rim to produce a vibrating sound. They may be plain or decorated with patterns of simple lines, rings and circles or with more complex religious motifs and symbols such as mantras, images of the Buddha or the Eight Auspicious Symbols. They are often termed Tibetan singing bowls, although it is likely that bowls were never actually used in Tibet and most today are made in Nepal and India.
Surprisingly, the original uses of singing bowls are not well known - at the time of the Buddha (circa 550 BCE) they may simply have been used as metal food containers designed to inhibit bacterial growth. From the 10th century CE onwards metal bowls resembling singing bowls were used as receptacles in Buddhist religious ceremonies. Today, singing bowls are used throughout Asia as part of Bön and Tantric Buddhist religions, principally as supportive devices for meditation, trance induction and prayer. In recent years they have become popular in the Western world as an aid to meditation, trance-induction, relaxation, health-care, personal well-being, yoga, music therapy, sound healing, personal enjoyment and religious practice. The reason for the success of the singing bowl in so many health and well-being related fields is not solely spiritual in nature, but is grounded in scientific theory, called brainwave entrainment. The harmonics created by singing bowls may allow brainwave frequencies to fall into step with the frequency of a dominant external stimulus, ie that of the singing bowl, creating a synchronization of the left and right brains and providing a corresponding period of relaxation and sense of well being.
Traditionally singing bowls were made of a bronze alloy consisting of seven metals: copper, tin, nickel, zinc, iron and small amounts of silver and gold. The most highly prized antique bowls included "sky-iron" smelted from meteorites and tektites, and sometimes even other rare trace metals. The best bowls today are still made from seven-metal bronze, although they rarely include meteorite iron. Less expensive bowls are made from simpler alloys. Hand beaten bowls produce the best sounds while those spun or cast produce less complex sounds. It is also said that the tone of a bowl changes with time, improving to become richer and mellower as it ages.
When made of seven-metal bronze, singing bowls produce subtle yet complex sounds consisting of a principal tone and several harmonic overtones, the result of using an alloy consisting of multiple metals, each of which produces its own distinct overtone. Some of these may fall outside of the normal range of hearing. Bowls made from simpler alloys can only produce a principal tone and one harmonic overtone. Thus the sounds produced by each bowl is unique, a product of alloy type and complexity, size, weight, age, thickness and regularity of the rim.
Singing bowls are delicate musical instruments and should never be dropped or treated roughly. When dropped they may crack like glass and lose all inherent musical qualities.
Audio Sample High quality singing bowls produce a complex chord of one principal tone and several harmonic overtones. Singing bowls may also be played by striking softly with a mallet to produce a warm bell tone Audio Sample
References and Further Reading
Gillabel, D 2001. How to Use Singing Bowls.
Jansen, E R 1992. Singing bowls: a Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use. Binkey Kok Publications, Holland. ISBN 9074597017
Linda has a Honours degree in Marine Biology and a PhD in Ecology from the University of NSW, Australia. She has travelled extensively and is a passionate writer on subjects as diverse as the role played by women throughout history, tribal communities and their customs, symbology and ethnology, talismans and their history. Occasionally she also writes about her travel experiences, her new life on a 25 acres in the Northern Rivers region of northern Australia and her black miniature poodle Phoenix. She is currently writing her first book on talismans.
In 1989 my father Bernard packed in his house painting business and set off for two years on a backpacking trek to the remotest corners of the world. When he finally arrived in the oasis city of Kashgar, China, he was so impressed with its history that he decided to start a new life collecting and selling exotic goods from all over the world. For 2000 years the legendary city of Kashgar was a melting pot of ideas and a key trading post on the historic Silk Road. It was this unique combination of philosophy and trade that my father wanted to recreate at home.
Starting in markets in 1991, he opened his first store in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1994. I gave up my own career as a government scientist to join him in 2000 and soon convinced my partner Ian to join us in what was to become the Family Business.
Today our version of Kashgar stocks a hugely diverse range of furniture, rugs, textiles, antiques, handicrafts and jewellery sourced from over twenty different countries including India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Thailand, Burma, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Our collection includes contemporary and tribal silver and gold jewellery, a unique range of headhunting curios, antique Buddhist relics and a collection of one-off necklaces, earrings and bracelets that I design and create myself using the beads and jewellery making techniques of ethnic minorities from around the globe.
Kashgar is a philosophy as well as a store. We are committed to supporting traditional artisans and small village communities by selling authentic handcrafted goods which are personally collected by us. By supporting traditional methods of design and production we hope to encourage local cottage industries which have a low impact on the environment and help ethnic minorities maintain their self-sufficiency into the 21st Century. We are particularly committed to assisting women around the world and to this end have worked with several organisations including the Hua Bin Women's Union of Vietnam, the East Timorese Women's Association and Tikondane in Zambia. Time honoured means of craftsmanship and traditional ways of life are disappearing as people all over the world give up their identity in favour of jeans and T-shirts. We see our trade as a means of staving off the inevitable encroachment of the 21st century, assisting communities to decide for themselves which parts of the western world they wish to incorporate (medicine, education) and which they wish to reject (prostitution, drug production, begging and servitude to warlords). We encourage our customers to think of the handicrafts and artifacts they buy from us as an investment: a piece of history and a way of life that may soon be gone forever.
Kashgar has recently closed its retail outlet and gone completely online.
In the past our pieces appeared in many movies including The Hobbit, Mission Impossible 2, Queen of the Damned, Scooby Doo, Moulin Rouge and Wolverine, and in many televisions series, as well as in plays, commercials and exhibitions. We've found special pieces for individual customers as well as for film sets, event management companies, hotels, businesses, consulates and embassies. The uniqueness of our stock means that we are also very appealing to interior and fashion designers with a taste for the exotic.
There is something for everyone at Kashgar - collectors, the curious, those looking for a special present or for something unique to adorn the home. Most of our items are one-off specialties; other pieces we only stock in small quantities so as to continuously offer a wide and ever-changing range of interesting products. We are also packed with ideas for decorating home and work premises that will challenge your established concepts of design and storage.
Please enjoy - Linda Heaphy
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