Whether you use them for meditation or decoration, old antique singing bowls are a beautiful addition to your home. Most collectors feel the antique bowls have a higher quality sound that can't be duplicated by newer bowls.
What Are Singing Bowls?
If you are not familiar with the term singing bowl, you might know it as a Tibetan bowl or a healing bowl. It is a large, bowl-shaped object made from a variety of metals. The bowls have been used in Buddhism as a support for meditation, prayer, and trance induction for at least 800 years. The bowls have been made for thousands of years however and pre-date Buddhism.
The bowls are actually a "standing bell" - a large, inverted bell that sits with the opening upwards. The sides and rim of the bowl vibrate when rubbed by a special mallet. Traditionally, the bowls are made from an alloy of bronze, copper, and tin which forms "bell metal." Other metals, such as silver, gold, and meteoric iron, could be added to the alloy as well. This mixture creates a multiphonic sound during play since each metal of the alloy produces an individual tone.
The alloy would be formed into the singing bowl by pouring the liquid bronze onto a flat rock and then hand shaping the metal as it cooled. While there is some evidence that a few bowls were cast these are extremely rare.
Old Antique Singing Bowls vs. New Bowls
Old antique singing bowls differ from new bowls for several reasons.
- The antique singing bowls are made of a bronze alloy whereas newer bowls contain brass.
- The old bowls were all hand made by expert craftsmen and are distinctively different from new bowls.
- The antique bowls have a better tone. Some people believe this is due to the aging process.
Identifying an Antique Singing Bowl
Unless you are very experienced with singing bowls, it can be difficult to tell a new bowl from an old one. Some new bowls are aged to look antique. Some things to look for are:
- Quality and richness of the sound
- Random scratches rather than symmetrical
- Smooth exterior with no (or very light) hammer marks
- A flat "even" bottom that sits level on a surface
As always, you can expect to get what you pay for. A bargain priced bowl is probably not an antique. There are millions of antique reproductions on the market. Antique bowls are rare and expensive and will generally only be available from antique dealers that specialize in them.
Antique singing bowls were often engraved and inscribed around the edges. The designs are usually quite simple, often just lines around the outside lip. Designs may also be on the interior of the bowl or lower down on the body. The older a bowl is, the more the design may be worn away. In fact, one way to identify an antique bowl is if the engravings are simple and worn.
Some bowls have complex patterns or written characters and may include:
- Lotus blossoms
- Owner's name
- Place name
The more complex designs are unusual and sought after by collectors. Very old bowls may have inscriptions in languages that are no longer in common use and can't be easily translated. Expect to pay premium prices for these decorated bowls.
Where to Find Singing Bowls
It is best to locate an experienced dealer in your area where you can see and hear the old antique singing bowls for yourself. If you must buy from the internet, seek sellers that have good feedback and are willing to answer questions. You will also want to check their return policy and any guarantees that they might have.
Himalayan Bowls has a plethora of information about both new and antique singing bowls, as well as bowls for sale. They have videos of bowls and instructions for playing them as well.
Best Singing Bowls
Featuring a wide variety of antique bowls, Best Singing Bowls has information on using the bowls and audio files of each bowl for sale.
Antique Singing Bowls
Headquartered in the U.K., this site lists antique singing bowls for sale from a private collection. The site has lots of resources on how to choose the best bowl for you, the history of the bowls, and proper care.
Enjoying Antique Himalayan Singing Bowls
Whether you use yours for spiritual purposes or just as an interesting artifact, a singing bowl is a beautiful addition to your décor both visually and for the sounds it makes when played. Keeping your bowl dusted with a soft cloth is the best way to care for it to ensure it lasts for a lifetime.