At Silent Mind, many of our customers are brand new to singing bowls, in concept and practice. Every now and then, we receive a question along the lines of, “Who really invented singing bowls?”
While we love answering each and every question we get, this is the one that’s a little difficult to answer.
At times, it’s hard to believe that singing bowls are so new to the West. After all, they’ve been used for various purposes for thousands of years. Still, it wasn’t until the 1970s that travelers began bringing these ancient musical instruments to new parts of the world.
What took us so long? The arrival of singing bowls coincided with a sudden Western interest in Eastern practices like meditation and yoga. But since then, singing bowls have also been adopted by those who aren’t necessarily interested in these concepts. Today, people enjoy listening to singing bowls because it helps them relax and improve their concentration.
Unlike other tales, the story of how singing bowls were invented isn’t told in a straight line, because we simply don’t know who discovered them. It is said that much of the known history of singing bowls was lost in Tibet. Even if it weren’t, there’s no guarantee that information would reveal their exact, true place of origin.
Experts assume that the discovery of singing bowls was accidental. Instead of being conceived of by a monk on a remote mountaintop who was deep in meditation, it’s more likely that someone was messing around with a metal bowl, and found that that metal bowl made an incredible sound when you struck or played the rim.
Bell or Bowl?
You might have heard singing bowls referred to as bells, because instrumentally, they are actually considered a type of bell. However, they haven’t always been used strictly for musical or meditative purposes.
Long ago, Buddhist monks used to carry alms bowls. Alms bowls were used to receive donations monks received from the public, whether it be money, food, or drink. Tradition suggests that alms bowls be made from materials like clay, but metals were also used, including iron and bronze.
Because monks were not predisposed to owning many worldly possessions, the alms bowls would have been used for a number of purposes, including music. This may have been how many people back then learned of singing bowls.
A Proud Tradition
Monks are wise and resourceful, but they are not renowned for their metalwork. Whether intended as a bell or a bowl, skilled artisans have been responsible for the making of these instruments for thousands of years.
Who knows? Maybe it was one of those early artisans, hammering their metal bowl, who realized it could sing. And as they continued creating, they came to understand how different alloys, thicknesses, dimensions, and more could be manipulated to make a bowl ring and sing a certain way.
No matter who first found that their bowl could sing, it’s a tradition Silent Mind intends to continue. It’s all made possible through the knowledge metalworkers have been passing down for thousands of years - evident in the very Silent Mind singing bowl you have with you today.
Do you have any thoughts on the invention of singing bowls? Why do you reach for your singing bowl again and again? Be sure to share below.