I have sold singing bowls for years. I encountered them on my first trip to Nepal in Patan Durbar Square. Pradeep, the singing bowl man, sat in front of a thousand bowls where the Patan Museum is now. Usually, we would not negotiate in public. Instead he would take me to his warehouse and I would sit on the floor with a cup of tea and play every bowl one at a time and choose the most harmonious bowls. It took hours. Most of the bowls that I found were Nepalese singing bowls. They were large and dark, the color of tarnished brass. Some of them were even painted dark around the bottom with a kind of tar like substance. I have also seen the same substance on metal water vases when they have cracks in them. Another style that I often saw were the thin golden colored bowls from Bhutan. They had a lighter vibration, a thin but soothing sound. Then I discovered the Manipur singing bowl and fell in love. These were usually short golden bowls with multiple harmonies. They were clearly well used bowls!
Over time one supply after the other of these old bowls has dried up. Now it is extremely expensive for me to get the older bowls. I do find some really fantastic bowls that have been formed in the original way out of the old broken bowls. Don't worry, I have saved one special old bowl for myself, the rest have gone to people who will cherish them.
Recently in the US bowls have been used for healing. It has been interesting to watch the mythology of these bowls explode in the last 20 years. I can't tell you about all of the present uses of the bowls because the stories vary from person to person. What I find very interesting is that in the last month I have had more demand for these bowls than at any other time during my past 20 years of doing business. What's going on?
Below is an explanation of singing bowls for those who are not familiar:
At the forefront of this picture is an old Tibetan singing bowl with two reconstituted bowls behind it. Old bowls like this one are not being produced anymore. There are new shinny bowls with interesting decorations but the metal composition is different, so is the tone.
‘Old’ means that no one really knows when it was made but perhaps between 1800 and 1950. When you find old bowls the edges are smooth from use. There are usually identifying marks on the bowl. These ,marks are like putting your name on your lunch box. Usually it is a couple of hash marks or a simple design. I sometimes see names carved on the outside of a bowl instead of patterns.
Other than clothing, a prayer wheel, and a prayer mala, the singing bowl might have been a monk’s only possession. Everything that the monk needed he could obtain with his bowl because it was his begging bowl and the bowl out of which every meal was consumed. It very vividly represents both the physical life of the owner in providing for his physical requirements as well as the spiritual life of the owner as a meditation tool. Bowls were also used to present offerings and anything that is given as an offering should be given in a harmonious vessel.
When a high ranking teacher passed away, his bowl may have been used to help find his reincarnation. They might take a few bowls to a potential candidate and ask which of the bowls belonged to him.
This antique bowl and similar bowls were created in the monasteries of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and northern India.
Each bowl was individually spun and hammered from a combination of 7 metals called "bell metal." These metals are gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, and lead.
Each bowl produces a unique set of harmonies when it is played. To play the bowl hold the bowl in an open palm. Do not clasp the bowl with your fingers because it will dampen the sound. With your dominant hand, hold the stick straight up and down and drag the stick around the outside of the bowl firmly, in a clockwise rotation. If your bowl doesn’t play rotate the stick faster and more firmly, if it rattles, slow down. You may strike your bowl gently to fix a focal point in meditation or to end a meditation but you should not hit your bowl every time you play it. Larger bowls are often played by simply striking the bowl with the heel of one's hand or using a felted dowel. It is believed that the many harmonic sounds from the bowl are the vibrations of the prayers which are chanted as the bowls are created and that it's resonance should magnify and carry your prayers and intentions while you are meditating with the bowl.