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Tag: Singing bowl

The order was for one #118 mallet, our cutest dinkiest [wool-head] traditional Nepalese mallet, together with two cover cloths, one royal blue with gold “Profound Sounds” embroidering, one velvet, Tibetan monk red, also with the gold “Profound Sounds” embroidering. It all fits neatly in a USPS Small Flat Rate box. Very pleasing.

Now I will tell you what this packing/visual evoked for me.


Post-earthquake Kathmandu 2015

We did not have these plush red velvet cover cloths until last year. We were in Kathmandu in late Fall 2015, our first sojourn there since the massive earthquake that Spring. In one way, the city looked to us much the same as before. But that’s only because Kathmandu always has part-built buildings, unfinished or not begun sidewalks, piles of rubble waiting for a family crew of adults (often with even their small children alongside as fellow laborers) to start building. This means the devastation is not exactly discernible, until you step in close. We, for instance, were brought to a different abode than is our usual receiving place. The 4-story home that we have arrived into multiple times, now so compromised with fissures that a full crew of extended community was attempting to salvage it. That was the first dramatic reality.

No fuel, no cars; clean air

The second was the fuel embargo that was being imposed on Nepal from India due to contentious new Nepalese Constitution. This was unofficial (no formal admission by Indian government) but very real and starting to bite at the local level. During the weeks we were in Kathmandu we were immersed in the milieu of fast-dwindling gas supplies, with private cars the first to be rationed and ultimately denied refueling.

The silver lining for us in this state of affairs was that the ever-present polluted air of the city cleared. It was breathtaking and we were breathing, crystalline Himalayan air! We could see the awesome mountain range that had never been visible in all the years we had been coming. We rented bicycles, an unprecedented joy, suddenly very appealing because we were not taking our lives into our hands. The roads were empty, the air was clean.

The Nepali embroiderer

And then there was the embroiderer from the village, for whom I had a warm place in my heart since he had in a previous trip, exquisitely embroidered Toothless (How To Train Your Dragon) on a t-shirt for my granddaughter.

The embroiderer walks from village to city every morning to sit at his sewing machine and embroider incredible intricacies of design. His mastery is awesome to witness and the earthquake severely impacted every Kathmandu artisan (international tourist trade way down for fear of more quakes).

So I had the thought that he could embroider a whole batch of new cover cloths for us.

bsb-embroidered-tassled-woolIt almost seemed that it couldn’t happen when he told me sadly that they were unable to receive any of their usual supplies of fabric due to earthquake-related losses in suppliers and manufacturers and access..;
But you know…”, he pondered, “we do have something right here, if you think it could work…” 

And thus Best Singing Bowls was blessed with one sweet batch of Tibetan-red velvet cover cloths to mark an historic moment in Nepalese history.

Oh, and he embroidered this one-off delight just for us.

*’¯`✦¸¸.*’¯`✦* *’¯`✦¸¸.*’¯`✦*
Corrina McFarlane, BSB

Displayed on end-cap in Santa Cruz, CA, in the original  Staff of Life Natural Food Store. Besides these select few, which happened one holiday season at the express request of the store buyer, every now and again through the years a singing bowl has gone to its new home/owner in one of these special hand-made drawstring pouches; the fabric and lining carefully selected for the person, fitted to the request or occasion.

velour bag with floral cotton lining

This one’s velour with floral cotton lining

another Manipuri and ringing stick goes home in a bag

Another Manipuri and ringing stick goes home in a bag

Every one will be adopted


Corrina takes a very special big Lingham bowl out and sits with it on the river levee at dawn –  just her, her bicycle and the singing bowl.  Two black crows are flying overhead and they come down and land on the bike path not more than ten feet away.  She keeps ringing the singing bowl and they stomp around a bit, cocking their heads but not making a sound.  Sort of unusual behavior for crows.  And then they are off. Corrina said these were the same two crows that visited James in the Rainbow Garden 10 miles away. He had been ringing this same bowl just days before.

I‘m in the internet shop in a side alley, one of the good ones with instant backup power for when the electricity goes down. All of a sudden lots of noise and yelling on the main street.  Then some loud bangs and people run past the door.  The shop guys jump up, go outside and pull down one of the two metal doors over the windows.  Moving fast they pull in their sign, potted plants and even their floor mats.  Then down comes the other door and we’re locked in, a half a dozen Westerners and 20 glowing LCD screens behind industrial strength steel roll up doors like you’d see on a loading dock.  You can hear the chanting, loud voices and honking horns muffled thru the steel.  Hey I’m glad I’m in here not out there. Some patrons didn’t look up from their Skype video calls; I guess they’ve seen it all before.  It’s actually quite cozy so I go back to my Google spreadsheet.

I stayed on my spreadsheet till they closed the shop.  Brand new law is 10:30 PM closing for all stores and bars in Kathmandu. There went the all night partying…

Fortunately I knew a back way through an alley and skipped the worst street.  When I emerged I saw a contingent of soldiers, all in their uniforms but no guns showing.  Still the street was unsettled, people seemed upset and there was a lot of trash.  I thought the rickshaws looked a bit exposed so I waited till I saw some Westerners walking my way and fell in.  They split at the next corner so I tried a cab but he didn’t understand me, or maybe he couldn’t hear me over the din. I wasn’t sure about that mode of transport anyway considering the gridlock plus the hotel was less than half a mile.  I stood there till I saw two guys with backpacks like mine going my way.  So we became three but they didn’t know it, I just trailed behind them figuring safety in numbers.  They got me to my corner which is on a street with a gate and a guard. Once through the gate I could feel the tension lift.

I’m sure when I go down the same streets in the morning you wouldn’t know anything had happened the night before.

We arrive at the yoga studio in the late afternoon darkness.  It is so quiet and orderly in there, the floor gleams – a tabula rasa for my layout.  I need 100 square feet for the singing bowls. First I lay down yoga mats two deep, soft but not too squishy.  On top of the mats go heavy woolen blankets and on top of that various devices to put the singing bowls at different heights.  Out come the singing bowls and cover cloths.  I sort them into groups and sequences.  I’m laying them out musically but also with an eye to instruction.  I want to talk about the different types, how they might have been used and demonstrate different qualities.

An hour goes by and a pleasing arrangement emerges with the singing bowls laid in lines, curves, and little groups.  There are places to walk among the singing bowls both for me during the concert and for people when they get their chances to wander among them later.  We’ve put the trimmed and edged antique carpet squares under all the smaller singing bowls.  The garnish is the dozen colorful mallets and ringing sticks matched for the type of sound I want to bring out from groups of singing bowls.

People start to come in.  They get to admire, even touch the singing bowls but not ring them.   Afterwards they get to fully play.  Finally I greet the crowd and ring a large resonant singing bowl once to bring people to attention and end the last strains of conversation. I begin my talk as usual with no notes, just a mind full of ideas and nowhere near enough time to express them all.  It is nice to have a hundred square foot stage to meander in.  The room’s acoustics are just great, I need to project, not shout.  I introduce myself, tell stories and do show and tell.  After about half an hour I ring the big singing bowl again very gently.  Then I start my concert.

I have a friend very near the end of his days – so near he’s past the doctors and into hospice care.  This friend has a lifetime of involvement with Tibetan Buddhism and is spending his remaining time focused on his practice, sort of shining up his mind to best be able to engage with the great transition.  He’s also, of course, dealing with the pain, weakness and loss of functioning that comes as the body goes through the final shut down.

I’ve visited with him in the meditation hut behind his house in the mountains a couple of times.  Sometimes I bring singing bowls.  Our time can be short, based on his stamina.  One time I brought a Lingham bowl and, though he heard it just once, he felt like it brought a clarification of a teaching to him.  Another  singing bowl, a very special large Jambati, really appealed to him so I left it, a loaner.

When I came back the next week there he was sitting up with the singing bowl right next to him.  He said he’d been ringing it all week and then he told this story.  One sunny afternoon he had the doors to his hut open (these are Dutch double doors) and he was sitting on his couch ringing the singing bowl and meditating.  These two sparrows flew in the hut and one landed on his foot and the other his hand.  He sat there in his meditation, not moving (Tibetan style meditation is generally eyes open) and the bird on his foot flew up and landed on the rim of the singing bowl.  Then the two birds lifted off and flew out of the hut.

without ever hearing about germ theory

In Nepal I was told that people liked to use copper and brass utensils for their healthful qualities.  What these exact qualities consisted of was not made explicit but faith in the concept was strong.  People believed that food stored in brass was rendered more potent somehow.  Well, it turns out that faith and folklore were solidly grounded in empirical evidence.

With the increase in resistant bacteria and the incidence of infection in hospitals there have been a number of recent studies in Japan, the United States and Europe of the bacteriological performance of different surfaces.  It turns out that both plastic and seemingly sterile stainless steel are surfaces on which bacteria, including MRSA and the deadly E-coli 157 can live for long periods of time.  Surprisingly, the best performing surface was copper (well nobody included arsenic surfaces which would probably really do the job).  One study showed E-coli living on stainless steel for 34 days while surviving only 4 hours on copper.  Brass, which is mostly copper with a bit of zinc also performed admirably.  You may well begin seeing brass table tops, food preparation tables and unvarnished brass doorknobs popping up as functional features in institutional settings.  The VA is currently doing a field test to the idea in one of its hospitals.

In Tibet Jambati bowls holding water over time would have the ability to vastly reduce the amount of pathogens in the water while Manipuri bowls in the kitchen would help with food safety in that setting.  The idea that copper and brass were especially healthy is also a part of European folklore.  So the existence of millions of brass bowls in the Himalayas is really not that hard to understand.  How some of these bowls come to sing so beautifully, well, that remains a mystery.

I went to see a presentation by a practitioner of Tibetan sound healing.  He was a Nepali man, very sincere, who was practicing what he called a dying art in his native country. In the course of his discussion he spoke of many instances where people had experienced healing through hearing the tones of his bowls – even in hospital settings.  It seemed to me that it wasn’t just the bowls but the presence of the practitioner that facilitated whatever healing might have taken place.

His bowl set consisted of about 30 new bowls, some machine made and some beaten, which were labeled by note and chakra.  These were the kind of better quality new bowls one would see in most of the shops in Kathmandu.  He arrayed the bowls by tone and played specific arrangements of frequencies, sometimes repetitively (as one might do in a meditation).  Listening, as I did, with the trained ear of a bowl professional I was aware of the missing and flat elements in the sounds. Even in the hands of an experienced and skilled player these new bowls lack the subtle qualities I find most appealing in singing bowls. This is not to say listening was a bad experience.  Quite to the contrary, a proper spell was cast and people seemed to really enjoy it, yours truly included.  Still I couldn’t help thinking just how much better the presentation would have been with a full set of sweet and well balanced ancient instruments.

During Q&A afterwards I asked him about his experience of brass bowls as a kid in Nepal. He said he only remembered eating out of them, and never knew anything about their sounds.  Only when he got older and began to deeply explore his country’s ancient traditions did he meet a teacher who could initiate him into the mysteries.

A very interesting study by Cornell University entomologists involved in developing non-chemical methods of mosquito control caught my ear this week.  In a paper published in the February issue of Science magazine it was reported that sonic resonance is the key to inducing female mosquitoes to mate. The way it works is this.  Male mosquitoes tend to flap their wings between 550 and 650 times per second while female’s wings move more slowly, generally between 350 and 450 beats a second. When you’re hearing the annoying buzz of a mosquito it is the movement of their wings that generates the sound, which comes in somewhere between 350 and 650 Hz.

What I found most fascinating is that the resonance sought by the mosquitoes is not a simple matching of frequencies, the male slowing down and the female speeding up until they both buzz somewhere in the middle, say at 500 Hz.  Instead they both shoot to hit the next mutual overtone above 400 and 600 Hz which is around 1200 Hz. The male slows down or speeds up so that his wings beat exactly two times for every three of hers. When he gets it just right the convergence of the two frequencies produces the high pitched overtone.  Only when the female hears the sweet spot in their mutual sonic field does she allow mating to happen.

What this says to me is that the pleasure one experiences from resonance and overtones is very deep in our DNA.  There is something absolutely primal operating when one listens to profound sounds.

Wow you see the darndest things.  This was on the door of a home in Kathmandu.  I just had to snap a photo.

serpent and singing bowls

Huge selection of antique singing bowls with detailed information and two sound clips.
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