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When I was in Kathmandu this past September, I was delighted when one of our oldest suppliers of singing bowls invited me to visit his factory in Patan, one of the three historic kingdoms of Kathmandu with an ancient tradition of metal work. He produces singing bowls of a seven metal alloy, and is the only supplier I’ve ever seen to produce a metallurgical analysis certification of the alloy content of his singing bowls. He is a major supplier to vendors in the Thamel section of Kathmandu, and also distributes to the US and Europe. As would be expected, his certification only lists trace amounts of lead, iron, zinc, silver and gold; the great majority of bell-metal bronze consists of copper and tin.
Our supplier built his factory at this location not far from the brown, snaking Bagamati river some 7 years ago after moving closer to the city from its previous location in Kakarbhitta, Eastern Nepal. It was a sunny, hot and sticky day. The racket of clanging hammers on bronze and the whining of machines greeted us as we pulled up to a massive iron gate and headed into the compound. Perched lovingly in a small garden at the center of the courtyard was a Shiva statue, freshly bathed with milk earlier in the morning. Four small satellite buildings topped with corrugated tin roofs surrounded the courtyard.
It all begins with a super concentrated disc of bell-metal. This disc was approximately 5″ across. When he handed it to me, I wasn’t prepared for how heavy it was, but of course! That metal disc would be pounded into a hand-hammered 10′-12″ singing bowl later that day. This part of the manufacturing process hasn’t changed much in 2,500 years.
We headed into an open structure lined with three coal-burning hearths. Directly in front of the hearth was a stone template used to model the disc into a bowl shape. To the left of the hearth was a sunken tub of black, soupy water used to cool the bowls, and then another smaller basin in front of the hearth to clean them. Each hearth was also equipped a large rock, the top of which was carved out with two bowl shaped depressions, a larger one and a smaller one, which supported bowls as they were rotated during the hammering process. Using metal tongs, the worker super-heated the bowls, turning them
over the fire until the bowl glowed a dark red. When the red- hot bowl becomes malleable, the worker takes it out of the fire and hammers it, repeating the process until the bowl’s basic form is complete. Once cooled, the worker continues to refine the bowl’s shape, rotating it with his bare hands as he hammers. The bowls are then further hammered and refined by other workers. Then, the bowls are moved for lathing.
This room was recently rebuilt after the 2015 earthquakes, and the mortar still looks fresh between the enormous, concrete blocks of its walls. Turning the bowl by a hand-wheel, a worker expertly strips off the crusty, black outer layer of the bowls, creating mounds of metal shavings that fall to the side. Another worker uses a file to trim the tops of the bowls, and a third sands their edges for smoother playing. Finally, the bowls that are destined to stay golden are taken to another shed with a huge buffing machine, where they take on a mirror like finish. Others are semi-covered in black pitch, a traditional Nepalese style.
Many, if not most, of Nepal’s contemporary bowls are polished in this way, although often they are then covered with a golden brown patina to give them an antique-looking finish. That was the look of our contemporary bowls for many years, until we decided to let them shine! We have now integrated these Seven Metal bowls into our Sets and New Singing Bowls pages, although the antique finish contemporary bowls are still available for the near future and they still look and sound as beautiful as ever. Take a listen to our seven metal bowls. We hope you enjoy them!