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The last great Manipuri hoard

First of all what is a hoard. Think of a secret stash of valuable objects. As a kid I was fascinated by old coin hoards. In 2013 the largest hoard of gold coins ever found in the US was discovered in the Sierra foothills.  Fascinating story, and you can imagine my delight when I came across a similar hoard of old singing bowls in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Once the most common singing bowl, The antique Manipuri style has almost left the scene. The original Manipuri style came from Tibet.  Those exquisite bowls, first available in the 70s, helped ignite interest in singing bowls. There was no way the trickle of Tibetan bowls was going to be able to satisfy the kind of demand that eventually emerged. Fortunately vast quantities, millions of bowls, were sitting on the shelves in homes all over Nepal and a sliver of north east India.

At first Nepal carried the load.  Kathmandu in the mid 90s was awash in antique Manipuri bowls. People sold them on the streets, in shops and at the open air markets. There were no fakes or new bowls – why try to revive a lost art when you could buy a bowl from a villager for a dollar.

As singing bowls became a hot commodity Indian exporters entered the scene in a big way. The exporters were metal dealers, used to buying and selling by the kilo. They had handled bowls as a small part of their mix for years. A few saw the opportunity and invested big time in collecting.  By the early 2000’s one exporter was sending over 100,000 bowls a year out of the country. A 2007 article in the UK Guardian newspaper featured a reporter visiting this exporter in Delhi.  At the time the exporter had an inventory of 12,000 singing bowls, all antiques gathered from the countryside of India. Based on the size ratios of the time the weight of these bowls was likely 8 Metric tons, 8,000 kilos or almost 20,000 Lbs. The reporter bought a single bowl that weighed 11.2 kilos – 25 Lbs!

It is unlikely anyone will see 12,000 antique Manipuri bowls gathered in one place ever again, let alone huge ones. The countrysides in Nepal and India have been scoured. Despite the dealers offering ever higher prices they are coming back with a bag full instead of the truckloads of days past.

That brings us to the hoard. One dealer, with whom we have had a decades long relationship, decided to collect as many Manipuri as he could.  His plan was to hold on to the best and sell off the others so he would have a large group of high quality bowls –  to sell at the right time.  Over the course of a couple of years, buying primarily in India, he said he purchased about 20,000 bowls selling the lower quality ones to have the cash to buy more.

Then in 2018 the time had come – and Best Singing Bowls was offered the first look at the hoard. Relationships  (and ready cash) count in this world. The buyer had winnowed it down to about  5,000 bowls.  They were just a wonder to see, tall stacks some bowls gleaming, others dark with patina.  It took days to ring each bowl and ring them again then physically examine each one. In the end a deal was struck and we left with over 1000, the finest of the hoard.

We will be listing these bowls on the website over the next couple of years.However if you are in the market for a Manipuri set there is no better time than now when we have this incredibly deep stock. No better place to start.

#singingbowls #Manipuri #antique #Himalayas