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What are Tingsha?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Tingsha are cymbals which are used by people of the Tibetan Buddhist faith. These cymbals may be rung as part of rituals and ceremonies, and they are also used during prayer and meditation. Many non-Buddhists appreciate the sound of tingsha, and these special chimes are sometimes used to clear the air in a room or to focus people's minds. The distinctive sound of tingsha also appears, incidentally, on many new age meditation and relaxation tapes.

These cymbals are always used in pairs. They are heavier than Western and Middle Eastern cymbals, and they are joined by a length of leather or chain. To play tingsha, someone strikes one cymbal against the other, generating a penetrating ringing noise. When not in use, the cymbals are usually stored in a protective pouch or case to prevent corrosion.

Tibetan Buddhists have been making tingsha for centuries, using metal alloys with a large amount of bronze to create a prolonged clear tone. The sustained note of a tingsha chime is one of the more distinctive features of these cymbals; tingsha can ring for several minutes when they are of high quality and they are manipulated well. Sometimes, tingsha are coated with metals like silver, gold, and copper to create a distinctive appearance and tone.

Many modern tingsha are made by indifferent craftspeople or mass production lines, and as a result, they have a rather inferior sound. A high quality pair of tingsha is perfectly matched, with each cymbal producing the exact same sound when the tingsha are struck. They should not sound dissonant: the goal is a clear, clean note with a prolonged, lingering finish. For this reason, many people like to try out tingsha before purchase, and some seek out antique tingsha, which tend to be better matched.

Along with many other ritual implements from Tibetan Buddhism, tingsha appeal to people who are not Buddhist, but merely interested in Tibetan art, music, and culture. As a result, they are often sold at shops which specialize in imported ethnic items for people who want to use them for meditation, prayer, or simply to create a desired atmosphere. Some people feel that since tingsha are ritual items, they should be treated with respect, even by people who are not of the Buddhist faith.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By hamje32 — On Jan 31, 2012

@David09 - The sounds are beautiful indeed. It's not what I first expected when I heard about them. When you think of the term “cymbals” you think of the clanging, dissonant sound that we associate with cymbals.

However, the tingshas are more like high piercing bells. I heard a lecture once where someone demonstrated the tingsha bell. The bell seems to ring loud and clear and lingers, almost like a tuning fork.

Some people claim that there is a scientific basis for using the tingsha bell in clearing out the mind or in relaxing your mood. I don’t know if this is solid science or anecdotal evidence but I think it makes sense.

By David09 — On Jan 31, 2012

I heard the tingsha bells ringing from time to time during my years living in Indonesia. It wasn’t the most dominant sound in evening prayer –the Muslim call to prayer was, most of the time.

However, we lived near a few Buddhist temples and I would hear its clarion ringing of the tingshas time and again. I didn’t know what it was at first; I had to ask one of the locals and they explained the ritualistic meaning behind the bells.

The sounds were meant to call people to worship or some special ceremony. I always marvel that musical instruments are so often used in connection with expressions of worship, regardless of what faith you’re talking about.

By Ivan83 — On Jan 30, 2012

I have a recording of various healing sounds and the Tibetan tingsha bells features heavily in it. It also has sounds from nature, some soothing chants, a few prayers in other languages and many woodwind instruments.

Now, I don't believe I can just listen to this album and be cured of anything that's ailing me. But I think it helps to calm me, to focus my various energies and put me in a place that is more conducive to healing. It's not a band aid but it helps.

By summing — On Jan 30, 2012

I had a professor in college who would chime off a tingsha a few times at the start of ever class. As far as I knew he wasn't Buddhist. He didn't revel his faith in any other way.

But even if it was just a secular gesture I appreciated it. It was kind of like he was calling us to order but he didn't have to use a gavel which is mostly just jarring. The pleasant sound of the tingsha got everyone to stop talking and focused their thoughts on the class to come.

By anon29326 — On Mar 31, 2009

I am about to purchase some Tingsha and have been told different advice. I would like to know if it is true that the larger and heavier the Tingsha, the sound will be more prolonged and lingering?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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