Old Tibetan Metal

Bells, bowls and metal objects in old Tibet

As part of my interest in the history of singing bowls, I have looked at many photographs taken in Tibet from the late 1800’s to the 1940’s. I look for anything like a singing bowl also bells, cups and almost anything made out of metal. No photo is ever labeled one of a singing bowl as that is a modern term. Photos of any bowl are pretty hard to find; common and relatively plain objects are nowhere near as exciting as elaborate golden statues and consequently got much less photographic attention. bowls in shop

The 1904 British expedition and subsequent diplomatic mission was the source of many beautiful photographs, some of which are reproduced on this website courtesy the British Library Board. The soldiers and especially the officers also brought back many artifacts. I had the chance to examine a singing bowl auctioned by Sotheby’s and authenticated as an expedition artifact. The bowl, a Jambati over a hundred years in the West, looks remarkably similar to some you see on this website.

The above photograph is of a fruit and vegetable shop in Lhasa where you can see a number of bowls of different sizes mostly Manipuri style with a flanged Thadobati.

Brass and Gold in Temples

bell bowl dorje

Another Manipuri bowl, large, thick and lustrous but likely of bone is a small part of this photo of religious objects.
small altar bowlsBuddha and the lamasIn the basement of the Potala palace today there are statues that are made from literally tons of gold. Those survived due to special orders from Peking. The long gone metal statues of the Buddha and some local lamas resided in a monastery in Gyantse, far outside Lhasa. The ceremonial bowls in this photo are all on stands. I sometimes see bowls like this but they rarely sound good. Normally they were used to hold water but were also used to hold other offerings. large altar bowlsThe photographer, Charles Bell wrote the following about the intention behind the creation and dedication of these statues, “The blessings created by religious icons were felt to affect not only the commissioner, the maker and the person for whom they had been made but to create a force which spread outwards affecting all beings”

Medieval Tibetan Iron Bridges

Iron BridgeThe ultimate metal objects were iron bridges. Tibet was constructing iron suspension bridges centuries before they appeared in Europe. This early 20th century photo is of the remains of an iron suspension bridge constructed by Tangtong Gyalpo, a famous Buddhist master and bridge builder in the 15th century.

Copyright Information:
Photographs by Charles Bell
Photos © the British Library Board and used by permission.

More historical information and old photographs: 

Old Bowls



A Bit of History