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Conch


Scientific NameTurbinella pyrum
Common NameConch, Shankh (Hindi), Sangu (Tamil), Shankha (Sanskrit)
DistributionGulf of Mannar, Gulf of Khambat, and near the Narmada river mouth

In religion and mythology

The conch shell is a major Hindu article of prayer, used as a trumpet and in order to get rid of negative energy and evil spirits. It is also used as a container for holy water ( shankha teertham ). In Hindu customs, not every shell can be used in rituals. The horned shells are never found in temples. Only a shell that turns towards its left is used for worship. The holed ones are blown before, during or after a ritual but are never actually a part of the prayer rituals. The smaller shells are often used for predictions. The shankha (conch shell) mudra is also used during various tantric rituals and meditation.

Lord Vishnu is said to hold a special conch, Panchajanya , that represents life as it has come out of life-giving waters. It is believed that Paanchajanya emerged during the churning of the Ksheerasagara by the devas and the asuras. As it rose out of the ocean, its tremendous decibel frightened the asuras who appealed to Vishnu to save them. Lord Vishnu obliged, taking charge of the conch shell . The primordial sound of creation, that is the ‘ Omkar' or ‘ Pranavanadham' , was thereby controlled.

Krishna and Arjuna blowing the conch during the Mahabharat war (Picture Courtesy)


The warriors of ancient India would blow conch shells to announce battle. This is famously represented in the beginning of the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra. In Mahabharata, each warrior's conch shell had a specific name- Krishna's Paanchajanya, Arjuna's Devdutta , Bhima's Paundra , Yudhisthira's Anantavijaya , Nakula's Sughosa and Sahadeva's was known as Manipushpaka .

The conch ( shankha ) is also blown to invoke Shiva. The special relation between the conch ( shankha ) and Shiva is evident from the similarity between the word Shankha and the word Shankara, which is one of Shiva's many names. The word Shankara could have been derived from Shankha-kara which roughly means conch-blower (Shankha = conch, Kara = blower).

The conch shell is also sacred to the Buddhists. The right-coiling, white conch shell is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan and Nepali Buddhism. It is believed to represent the beautiful sound of the spread of Buddha dharma .

Buddhist monk blowing the conch


The conch has tremendous religious importance among the Bengalis. Conch bangles ( Shankha porana ) made of conch shell are worn by Bengali Hindu women as ornaments at their weddings as a religious rite. During recitation of wedding hymns, the father of the bride gives her a pair of conch bangles. The groom also brings a pair for her. Hindu women wear conch bangles with utmost devotion seeking the well being of their husbands.

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