Singing Bowls




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Peter Blum playing Singing Bowls

I first heard a recording of Tibetan bells and bowls in the early 1970's. Playing this tape over and over again, I was mesmerized by the sounds. At that time, such instruments were scarce and difficult to locate for purchase in the west. The metal "singing bowls" from Tibet, Nepal, and northern India have become increasingly available in Europe and the United States over the past fifteen to twenty years.

Bowls are relatively easy to play; most people can make a bowl "sing" in the first 5-10 minutes. They come in different sizes, with numerous subtle variations in design and shape—i.e. how steeply the walls of the bowl slant up, thickness of wall, floor and rim, etc. Those shopping for their first bowl (and subsequent, additional bowls), would be best served by making the purchase in person. There are websites and mail-order catalogs, but if one is going to be using said bowl as a healing or meditation tool, it is important that the user have a personal relationship with it. Different bowls produce radically different notes and textures, and playing it live is really the only way to determine if you have a bowl that has a sympathic resonance for you.

There is very little information available in written form on the singing bowls. Their origin is mysterious, and obscured by secrecy and rumor. They have been used for thousands of years; anecdotal evidence claims that they pre-date Buddhism, and were created and used by the Bon. Originally the term "bon" designated the various existing religious and magico-ritual traditions, very probably based on elements common to the heritage of pan Asiatic Shamanism.

With the diaspora of the Tibetan people, many bowls have been showing up in refugee communities in Nepal and northern India. If asked their use, Tibetan lay people and peasants will tell you they are used to store food in, to eat from, or to be presented as a valued gift for some special occasion, such as a wedding. Bowl player Dirk Gillabel has referred to their manufacture and playing as "a lost alchemical art and science."

Regardless of how the people of the Himalayas used the bowls, one thing is certain: contemporary Western people are deeply moved in a special way when they first encounter them. Many feel that their spirit has been touched when they listen to the living sound of the bowls. I have played the bowls for thousands of people... I have yet to encounter anything other than a positive response. A frequently heard comment is that although the sounds are completely new and different from anything they have ever heard, there is something extraordinarily familiar about them.

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