Singing Bowls

Singing bowls, from time immemorial, the sound has had a significant and symbolic value as few other elements: considered a primordial principle, it is closely related to the verb, which is considered the source and beginning of everything. This concept is present in many religious practices, where the sound is considered a means to communicate with the Divine: just think of the recitation of the rosary, where the uttering of words in the repetition of prayers leads to a state of contemplation of God; another example is the role of the shaman, who acts as an intermediary between men’s society and the world of nature, using acoustic vibrations produced by often rudimentary instruments. Not surprisingly, among the arts, music has always given a privileged role.
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Over the course of time, man invented endless instruments, used for the most different purposes, even if the most interesting ones are those associated with precise practices. Among these, the Tibetan Singing bowls, called so because of their origin, are particularly noteworthy.
The Singing Bowls, also called gong-rin, Himalayan bowls, or Tibetan Bells, are in fact musical instruments, standing bells producing sounds when their rim is hit by a clapper; they are strictly related to the pre-Buddhist shamanistic tradition, the ancient Bon-po religion, which we have already spoken in reference to another singular object, the kapala.
Born probably in India at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Siddhartha Gautama who lived about 560-480 BC, such bells were introduced into Tibet in the eighth century AD by the venerable tantric master Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism in that area as well as in the region of Sikkim; typical of the Himalayan region, these ancient Tibetan bowls then spread across Asia, from Nepal to India, China, Japan and Korea. Certainly there is correspondence with the original decorative bells that were created by the artisans along the route of the Silk Road, path that led from the Near East throughout the Asian continent.
According to specialized studies, it is clear that the use of sound associated with different activities was known and widely used since the fifth century BC, and such theory is confirmed by some important findings made in China: in tombs and burial mounds were discovered objects similar to metal bowls, which, if battered, were able to produce a perfect sound; all these dating back to the fourth century BC.
Disconcerting was also the discovery of bowls in the shape of skull -and here is yet another link with the kapala: these bowls were constructed in such a way to produce sounds with different shades if hit in different points, as if hitting in correspondence of the occipital bone the sound changed compared to the one produced by the temporal bone.
Originally, bells were completely smooth, or simply adorned with abstract designs; while modern ones, also in order to meet the demands of the market, are often decorated with images of Buddha, mandalas or other objects related to the local religious tradition.
In ancient times, Singing Bowls were made of a bronze alloy consisting of only two components, copper and tin; later, craftsmen added iron and other metals, up to seven, linked to seven of the heavenly planets; in Tibetan astrology, every celestial body is linked to a metal or an element, hence the use of more materials in the creation of such special objects.
The Sun is connected to gold, the Moon to silver, Mars to iron, Mercury to mercury, Jupiter to tin, Venus to copper, and finally Saturn to lead.
This type of bowls were by far the most common, although there have been found others made with nine to twelve metals bonded together. Nowadays, most of the bells is made by fusing five metals; this means that, unlike older bells, the sound is less long and thus less persistent.
Currently the production of bowls is mainly Nepalese, but some are also created in China and India. The authentic Tibetan singing bowls are, however, only those made in Tibet before the Chinese invasion and the subsequent persecution of the Tibetan people.
The purpose of these instruments is to reproduce perfectly the sublime sound of Aum, the original Om, syllable, summary and essence of all Hindu and Buddhist sacred mantras, considered to be the primordial sound that can lead to enlightenment, the only prayer that can reach to the presence of the Divine.
Seven is the number of the chakras, centers that exist in our immaterial and invisible body, according to the Tantric Hindu and Buddhist religious doctrines, place of the precious and invisible divine energy that is in us; and seven are also the musical notes.
In light of all these considerations, it is very clear how highly these objects were regarded, and considered not only simple musical instruments but real vehicles able to lead the human soul in a state of transcendence through meditation.
The bells are simple bowls to look at, but their symbolic value goes far beyond this appearance: in the traditional culture, the concave part represented wisdom, aware of the existence of vanity, while the clapper represented vanity itself.
Rubbing the rim with a special stick, the bell begins to vibrate, thereby creating an acoustic effect that encloses more resonances, where the basic sound, called the first harmonic, is not perceptible to the ear; while the other two, the second and third harmonic, can be heard and penetrate inside us.
These particular sonorous tonalities have always been used in religious rites in order to induce and favour meditation, bringing the individual on the path of enlightenment, in the discipline of yoga and in music therapy, thanks to the therapeutic effect they produce. From a practical point of view, they mark the beginning and the end of quiet contemplation.
The mind becomes serene and calm, and emotions are awakened: holding the bowl in the palm of one hand and beating it with the clapper, the note that comes out is infused within us, from the arm it expands throughout the body, pervades and fills us, guiding us and taking us on a strongly transformed mental state, able to flow even outside of our body.
Each bell has a different timbre, depending on its characteristics, such as the different metals used for the alloy and the thickness of the fusion; but it is also dependent on the emotional state of the person who plays it: this is mainly due to the fact that every person has its own sensitive balance, which of course has an impact on the instrument itself.
The use of bells could vary depending on the region: while in Nepal and Tibet, and in the Himalayan region, their use was closely related to religious practices, in Japan, for example, they were forged to be donated to temples, decorated with friezes and designs often associated with the family that commissioned them or with the craftsman who created them.
This practice is found in many religions today, for example in the Orthodox and in the Catholic ones, where families donated, and still donate, icons and sacred effigies to churches and monasteries. Such tradition shows that those objects were related to worship and prayer, and were definitely not created for trade even if in time, given their special meaning, they have acquired great economic value.
Both these artifacts and bells, perhaps for their charm associated with distant countries and cultures, are highly regarded in the West, and are often inappropriately used with a sole decorative purpose, distorting so their true and deep intrinsic symbolic value.
However, singing bowls have an important therapeutic use in relaxation treatments, yoga and in all those practices designed to balance and lead the person to a state of physical and mental wellbeing.
Over time, many courses and schools were born with the aim to teach the proper use of these powerful instruments, so that they can help us find peace and serenity in our lives, especially in these times of great difficulty.
Once again, old techniques born from archaic rules and regulations have their place in our daily lives, teaching us not forget how useful, effective, and good is to welcome within ourselves the simplicity of a sound, the richness of a thought and the possibility, through simple gestures, to reach the Divine, too often forgotten.

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