The history of singing bowls

Singing bowls originate from the East Asian region – from China, Japan and Burma. They were often used as signaling devices and everyday objects. In addition, the metal bowls were also used in monasteries as sacrificial vessels or by mendicant monks. They became widespread in Western culture with the hippie movement in the late 1960s. In our article we will give you a brief overview of the history of singing bowls.
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Unterschiedliche Klangschalen

The most important facts in brief

  • The music journalist Joachim-Ernst Berendt and the ENT physician and scientist Alfred Tomatis are considered pioneers of sound work.
  • In monasteries, metal bowls were used as sacrificial vessels or by mendicant monks.
  • So far there is no evidence for the earlier use of singing bowls in rituals or healing ceremonies.

The initial spread of singing bowls in Western culture

The spread of singing bowls in Western culture goes hand in hand with the hippie movement of the late 1960s. Young people in this movement sought new experiences in India and Nepal, among other places, and encountered the “singing bowls” on their travels.

They were fascinated by the sounds, which led them into trance-like states in which mind-expanding experiences were possible. Many brought singing bowls home with them, and so there are also numerous recordings from this time – especially from the New Age music scene – on which singing bowls can be heard alongside other exotic instruments.

Where do singing bowls come from?

Singing bowls originate from the East Asian region – from China, Japan and Burma. Their predecessors were the so-called standing bells. These were approximately hemispherical bronze vessels that stood on the ground with the opening facing upwards and were struck with a wooden mallet.

The temple bells are a special form of these precursors and look back on more than 5,000 years of history – they are similar to our church bells. The latter, however, are much younger, at about 1,500 years old. Depending on the area of distribution, this gave rise to different types of singing bowls as we know them today. They differ in sound and vibration behavior and quality, sometimes enormously.

Note

Mostly the singing bowls, which are available in our latitudes today, come from India, Nepal, Tibet, Japan or China.

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Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Alfred Tomatis as pioneers of sound work

A pioneer for the incipient popularity of the topic of sound and listening in the 1980s was the music journalist Joachim-Ernst Berendt (1922-2000). With his audio soiree “Nada Brahma – The World is Sound” and his books he inspired a large audience. In his works he accompanies his listeners and readers on a journey through the unexplored regions of the unconscious – an often forgotten world made of sound, rhythm and vibration. A must for anyone who wants to better understand the universe.

Another pioneer for sound work was the French ENT physician and scientist Alfred Tomatis (1920-2001), who was dedicated to researching the close connection between voice, brain and ear and published books such as “The Sound of the Universe” or “Sound World Mother’s Womb”.

What were singing bowls used for in the past?

Like the origin, the original use of the bronze bowls is unclear. What is clear is that they were used as signaling devices and everyday objects. For example, food and liquids were stored in the metal bowls – also to enrich them with minerals such as iron or copper. Here we find parallels to the nutritional teachings of Ayurveda, which is more than 5,000 years old, or to alchemy.

Use of singing bowls in trance rituals or healing ceremonies

It is interesting that there is no evidence for a once ritual use of singing bowls or even in healing. Corresponding stories are usually based on legends, sagas or myths. More recently, they are also often created by resourceful advertisers to pique customers’ interest and boost sales.

But even if there was a secret use of singing bowls in trance rituals or healing ceremonies, it certainly has nothing to do with sound massage or sound therapy as we know it today in the West.

Note

The sound massage, in which singing bowls are positioned and tapped on and around the clothed body, has been developed by Peter Hess for people in the West since 1984, based on his experiences in Nepal – so it is a Western method.

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