Singing bowls, also known as Himalayan bowls, Tibetan bowls, rin or suzu gongs, are actually a type of metal bell. Because they are inverted with the opening at the top, they appear to look like a bowl. The singing bowl makes its sound through vibration when a mallet or wand is rubbed against it. Originally they were used as part of Buddhist religious ceremonies. However, today they are used in meditation practices, relaxation, alternate health care and religious rites.
Singing bowls were used as an enhancement or accompaniment in spiritual events. It is not clear as to the exact origin of the bowls and their uses. It is said, by some, that they were first used in meditation, while others say they were used as a spiritual transformational tool. No specific writings or books have been found that explain the original use of the singing bowls. However, antique bowls have been discovered that came from the 10th to the 12th century. Still, it is thought that the traditional use of the singing bowls may date back to 8th century, because bronze was used, at that time, to make bells in Asia. Perhaps the earliest singing bowls were made of bronze.
The ancient singing bowls that have been found are made of a five-metal combination called Panchaloha (copper, zinc, tin, bronze and iron). Some of the bowls contain silver, gold and nickel, as well. It is said that the original art of making singing bowls is lost, although, they are still made by craftsmen in a modern fashion. It is the high quality of bronze alloy that gives the unique vibrational sound of the bowls.
The singing bowls vibrate and create a humming sound when they are rubbed with a wand called a striker. It is usually made of wood and wrapped in rubber or leather. The bowls are made in different sizes and from different metals or metal combinations. They also can be slightly different shapes and configurations as they are handmade. This gives each bowl a different vibratory sound when it is rubbed with a striker. Small bowls can be held in the palm of one hand while rubbing them with the striker in the other hand.
It is believed by many who use singing bowls for spiritual purposes that the humming vibration is the same sacred "AUM" sound. It is a sound that alters time, space and the mind. The rich, long-lasting vibration wakens cellular memory and fills the aura with a healing energy. The waves of the vibration have been found to be close to those of the alpha and theta waves of the brain. Many feel that listening to the hum of the bowls is a meditation on its own.
There are more than 45 different types of singing bowls made. With different shapes and metals used to construct the bowls, different vibrational sounds occur when they are played. The first major division between bowls is in the category of "yin" or "yang." Beneath those categories are different sonic qualities with different psycho-acoustic vibrations. Besides the spiritual aspect to the sound, they are also used to play music that is full of rich and haunting overtones.