How to Choose a Singing Bowl
Where to Start:
Antique singing bowls come in a wide variety of styles, shapes and sizes (not to mention price) but the primary consideration when choosing a bowl should always be its quality of sound, the excellence of its singing voice. The Antique Singing Bowls on this website have been classified in various ways to make navigation easy for those with bowl experience and special interests. Multiple options can be viewed and selected in the ABOUT menu on the TOOL BAR at the top of every page, and also in the comprehensive CUSTOM SEARCH TOOL located on the HOME PAGE. But both menus can be pretty daunting if you are new to singing bowls….so I have, uniquely, created some FILTER PRE-SETS in the CUSTOM SEARCH TOOL for you to select according to your level of experience. Each pre-set includes a number of options I consider appropriate to the level of experience and knowledge. They should be considered no more than SNAPSHOTS or STARTING POINTS. Later you can experiment with the filters on your own, or just browse the bowl types at random.
The Filter Pre-Sets:
Newbie – Inexperienced Newcomer.
Seasoned and Knowledgeable.
Connoisseur, Expert, Collector.
Alternatively, I recommend that you first view by BOWL TYPE from the HOME PAGE pictures, followed by SIZE and PRICE selected from the dropdown menu under BOWLS in the main TOOLBAR.
In General Thadobati and Manipuri bowls are both popular and numerous, and come in a wide ranges of sizes and prices. But if you prefer something bigger, or a bowl with a lower tone, look at the larger and more expensive Jambati and Ultabati bowls. Jambati come in a wide note, size, and price band. These handsome bowls have a unique sound and also look great on display. If this is to be your ONLY singing bowl, and your budget permits it, you should definitely consider a Jambati. Thadobati, Manipuri and Jambati account for the majority of antique singing bowls available in the West, and together they form the backbone of most collections. However, you may be drawn to one or other of the rarer bowl types such as the Lingam and Mani, so take a look at them all before you decide which one is for you.
One thing to bear in mind when choosing a bowl, apart from its condition and sound, is its weight…bowls weighing more than 1.5 kilos (3.3 pounds) may be tiring for some to hold and play for an extended period. They are best placed on a mat or cushion when playing. Conversely, a really tiny bowl may have insufficient weight to sit firmly in the palm of the hand without rotating when played with a ringer, but the portability of a small bowl may be advantageous to some. Very small bowls are best played balanced on the fingertips.
Individual singing bowls often have a direct appeal to the heart, and whatever your objective criteria might be in your quest for a bowl, there may well be one that already has your name on it! Always leave the final decision to your intuition. Some bowls you just fall in love with!
A Word of Caution: Beware of cheap old bowls, and new bowls masquerading as old. The majority of singing bowls available in the West, both old and new, are actually wholesaled by weight in the East, with a price per kilo according to type. These are mainly low-grade Thadobati and Manipuri bowls that dealers rummage through and sort by size and weight before wholesaling to importers. Most of these old bowls will have served a utilitarian or household purpose for countless years, and their condition and quality varies considerably. There may be a few lovely bowls among them and you could get lucky, but the only sure way to discover them would be to examine each bowl individually at source before buying, and that, of course, necessitates a trip to the Himalayas. New bowls, both cast brass and hand-beaten bronze alloy, are also wholesaled by weight, and these should be completely avoided if possible…they just lack the character and resonance of old singing bowls. This may prove more difficult than one might imagine because of the large number of ‘antiqued’ hand-beaten NEW bowls now flooding the market and purporting to be old. Unfortunately, inexperienced importers are often misled about the age and provenance of their stock and unwittingly pass on this misinformation to their unsuspecting customers. It pays to be cautious and to do some research. Cheap bowls are likely to be poor quality or new.
Expectations: Do not expect your antique singing bowl to be in pristine condition…it’s been around for at least 100 years and may not always have been used in the way it was originally intended. It will almost certainly show some signs of aging and wear. The vast majority of antique singing bowls will have served multiple purposes over the years…ranging from the sacred to the mundane, usually both. Many of the smaller bowls have acted as household vessels and will have been used and cleaned countless times, often with abrasive materials, resulting in a smooth and clean appearance around the rim and inside the basin. Others will have been played so much that any rim and lip patterns will have all but vanished. Engraved decorations, sacred markings and inscriptions, if any, may be well worn down, and hammer marks from the forging process will be less in evidence. Some bowls will have acquired the dull patina of age and use, while others will be bright and clean.
All of this is part of a bowl’s life-story and adds to its character…it rarely impacts negatively on the sound of a good bowl. Large bowls such as the Jambati were sometimes used for grain storage and are therefore more often found in a good state of preservation. Very few genuinely old singing bowls have been used exclusively for sacred, ritual or ceremonial occasions…with the possible exception of some antique Lingam and Mani. Needless to say, these extremely rare bowls are expensive and highly prized by collectors. When you buy a singing bowl you should expect it to be supplied intact, without fractures, dents or cracks, and to be free of major blemishes and stains unless otherwise stated.
Buying at Source in the Himalayas: Virtually all the antique singing bowls entering the market today are sourced from remote Himalayan villages by sponsored collectors working on behalf of a few specialist Tibetan bowl dealers in Kathmandu, Nepal. The dealers, almost exclusively Tibetans, sort the bowls according to size, quality and type, and wholesale or retail them according to their sound quality, condition, age and rarity. Singing bowl dealers rarely deal directly with the public as their business focus is on the wholesale and export market. Inferior bowls are sold by weight, while specimen bowls are priced individually and set aside for established international bowl specialists and collectors…all of which makes it rather difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary members of the public to find top quality bowls at source for themselves!
Kathmandu remains the main gateway for singing bowl exports to the West, and the best place to buy singing bowls. If you should decide to visit Nepal and source your bowls in person I suggest you avoid buying from market stalls or gift shops, and instead try to seek out a specialist Tibetan antique dealer and be prepared to pay a premium price for a premium product. This will almost certainly be more than you expect, but if you buy wisely it will still represent excellent value. Your prospects for a successful trip will be greatly enhanced if you do a little homework and appear knowledgeable and bowl-savvy when negotiating a purchase.
Buying in Person in the West: If you can choose your singing bowl in person you will know exactly what you are getting. You will be able to examine it closely, hold it between your hands, play it, listen to it, allow it to speak to you, compare it with others and then if everything feels right, buy it. Unfortunately, such opportunities rarely present themselves, and when they do it is likely to be at a festival, fayre or spiritual health convention where the choice of bowls will be limited and their quality questionable. There ARE some genuine and spectacular antique bowls out there in the real world but they are few and far between.
Buying on the Internet: These days a great many singing bowls are purchased over the Internet. Buying an antique bowl can be fraught with difficulties, and at today’s high prices it pays to be cautious. It’s therefore important to find a reputable and knowledgeable specialist like myself who will provide an honest appraisal of a bowl’s physical condition, accompanied by an audio clip and some decent photographs.
Premium Sounding and Museum Quality Bowls: There are very few specialist importers, perhaps just a handful or two in the world, with sufficient expertise, experience and, importantly, the financial resources to buy premium-sounding and museum-quality antique singing bowls. These rare bowls must be personally evaluated and individually selected at source in the Himalayas, where antique dealers set them aside for serious international collectors. These special bowls are never wholesaled to importers or dealers. Like any quality antique, they are individually priced, expensive, and sold to the few serious collectors willing to pay a premium price for a premium product. The antique singing and healing bowls on this website have all been individually selected at source by and for myself…and the variety and quality will, with few exceptions, far exceed anything you are likely to find elsewhere. I have taken great care to collect bowls with aesthetic appeal as well as great tonality.
Selecting a Singing Bowl Gift: Antique singing bowls make unique and memorable presents. They are a perfect gift for a special person or special occasion…perhaps a birthday, a marriage or the birth of a child. Antique singing bowls will particularly appeal to creative individuals and those with a spiritual or holistic approach to life, to yoga enthusiasts and meditators, Buddhists, feng shui practitioners, healers, sound therapists and musicians. All the bowls on my website come with a double-ended teak and suede ringer, and often a bowl cushion at no extra cost.
If You Still Can’t Decide: If you still can’t decide which bowl to buy, please let me know your budget and how you plan to use your singing bowl, and I will get back to you with some suggestion