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Shankha translated from Tibetan is literally “white conch”, Tibetan-English Dharma Dictionary, 2003), and true to its name, it is a trumpet formed from a white conch shell of the species Turbinella pyrum, from the Indian Ocean. It is heavily decorated with ornate patterns in metals such as silver, bronze or tin and is topped with a bright bead, which is said to represent good energy.
In Hinduism, the shankha is a sacred emblem of the Hindu preserver god Vishnu. It is still used as a trumpet in Hindu ritual, and in the past was used as a war trumpet. The shankha is praised in Hindu scriptures as a giver of fame, longevity and prosperity, the cleanser of sin and the abode of Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and consort of Vishnu.
This shell is from a sea snail species Turbinella pyrum in the family Turbinellidae. This species is found living in the Indian Ocean and surrounding seas. The shell is porcelaneous (i.e. the surface of the shell is strong, hard, shiny, and somewhat translucent, like porcelain).
The overall shape of the main body of the shell is oblong or conical. In the oblong form, it has a protuberance in the middle, but tapers at each end. The upper portion (the siphonal canal) is corkscrew-shaped, while the lower end (the spire) is twisted and tapering. Its colour is dull, and the surface is hard, brittle and translucent. Like all snail shells, the interior is hollow. The inner surfaces of the shell are very shiny, but the outer surface exhibits high tuberculation. In Hinduism, the shiny, white, soft shankha with pointed ends and heavy is the most sought after
Based on its direction of coiling, the shankha has two varieties:
In its earliest references, shankha is mentioned as a trumpet and in this form it became an emblem of Vishnu. Simultaneously, it was used as a votive offering and as a charm to keep away the dangers of the sea. It was the earliest known sound-producing agency as manifestation of sound, and the other elements came later, hence it is regarded as the original of the elements. It is identified with the elements themselves.
Nowadays, the shankha is blown at the time of worship in Hindu temples and homes, especially in the ritual of the Hindu aarti, when light is offered to the deities. The shankha is also used to bathe images of deities, especially Vishnu, and for ritual purification. No hole is drilled for these purposes, though the aperture is cut clean or rarely the whorls are cut to represent five consecutive shells with five mouths.