When people get their first gong, they sometimes give it a special name because they can sense the higher entity that is present in the gong. One gong player named her new gong GUS – which was short for “Generator of Universal Sound.” In ancient cultures, gongs were given names like “Sir Venerable Tiger” or “Great Resounding Thunder.”

And even more often, I hear people referring to their gongs as “she” or “he.” Do gongs actually have sex? Of course — where do you think all those cymbals come from?

But actually there are gender specific gongs – there are indeed “male gongs” and “female gongs” but maybe not for the reason you think.

The world is composed of either flat gongs or bossed gongs which are distinguished by a raised center. Many yoga students in the Western world have never seen a bossed gong since most of the European gongs used are flat surfaced.

A flat gong is sometimes referred to as a “Tam-Tam” while the bossed or raised gong is called, well, a “Gong” (or originally, a “gong-gong” by the Dutch traders).

In reality, the word “gong” has now encompassed both the flat and bossed instruments and every one (unless you insist on writing “colour” for “color” and you’re not British) calls that thing that makes a big sound, a “gong”.

After all, does anyone really want a Tam-Tam Bath? Or listen to a song called “Get It On, Bang a Tam-Tam”? Or watch something called “The Tam-Tam Show”?  I rest my case.

The differences, however, between a flat gong and a raised (or bossed) gong really are as different as male and female in some ways.

First, flat gongs have an indefinite pitch. Second, they are generally struck off-center to get the fullest sound. The oldest known form of gong appears to have been flat.

Bossed gongs (with a raised center) have a definite pitch and are usually struck in the center from where the tone issues. The tone of the bossed gong does not differ from that of the flat gong but is more definite in pitch.

The gongs of China are both bossed and flat; those of the Southeast Asia islands and Africa are bossed, and those of India are flat. Gongs produced for Western music are both bossed and flat, but for the most part Western gong players (yoga teachers) play flat gongs.

The flat gongs tend to be broader in sound and the bossed gongs are definite and penetrating in their presence. Consequently the bossed gongs are used in Indonesian orchestras (gamelan) to create a deep bass sound that holds the other instruments in line.

Alternatively, the flat gongs with their fuller range of sound are favored for therapy and yoga (although the bossed gongs can produce an unequaled state of meditation for the experienced practitioner).

So how do you tell if a gong is male or female? In the Eastern world, the bossed gong is called a “female gong” because of its suggestion of a breast or nipple in the center. The flat gong is male.  

Fortunately in our increasingly non-gender specific world, there is a place for a male gong to have a female name, and in my experience, playing the gong is best accomplished when there is an honoring of the divine feminine within.

After all, while the sound of the gong can be transformational, it is also nurturing as it helps us grow. It can be alarming, but it is also protective with its all-embracing presence. And finally no one can contest that the gong is the most beautiful instrument in the world with the most angelic voice. So male or female?

Perhaps the gong, like the purest sound, is beyond all polarities and brings an end to all dualities. Like the crown chakra it opens, the gong transcends gender definition.

So play the gong. Hear her roar! Feel his strength. The gong is the mother of all sounds and the brother of all travelers.