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The Auspiscious Conch Shell-Shankha

Updated on August 24, 2010
Lord Krishna and Arjuna blow their conches.
Lord Krishna and Arjuna blow their conches.
A typical and rare white conch shell
A typical and rare white conch shell
The conch shells resembling the face of Lord Ganesha
The conch shells resembling the face of Lord Ganesha

The shankh or the conch is the most ancient wind instrument known to man. Mythology traces the reference of the conch as far back as the gift from the great ocean-churning. It is considered to be a very sacred symbol and is referenced in all the ancient literature of India. Most pictures of Gods and Goddesses are seen holding the conch in their hands. The spiral form of the conch-shell is symbolic of infinite space that gradually expands in a clock-wise direction. The conch is symbolic of the Human Journey Through Life, Birth, Life, Resurrection, Love, Good Luck. The shell's hard casing protects life. The pearly lustre and its aquatic nature is attributed to qualities of virgin purity. Symbolic with music, the conch shell's spiral form and the sound of the occean represents the beginning of existence.
The shankh is regarded as one of the attributes of Vishnu. It is one of the 5 weapons of Vishnu to destroy evil forces. On the battle field of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata, the blowing of the conch in the morning heralded the start of warfare and the close of the day was signaled once more by the blowing of the Shankh. The blowing of the conch purifies the environment from all evil. The sounds from the conch increase positive attributes in the atmosphere such as courage, hope, determination, will-power and optimism. The blowing of the conch is a call to awaken one from ignorance and announce victory of good over evil. The sonorous sound of conch shell honors and salutes the Lord of Creation. It was the primordial sound of creation and the divine sound "Om". Devotees blow the Shankh before the supreme God with sentiments of welcoming Him in their hearts and as a symbol of His divine grace, especially at the beginning of worship of the deity. The blowing of the shell during any auspicious occasion, is said also to bring good luck and prosperity.
In Buddhism, blowing of the conch signifies victory over suffering. In Chinese Buddhism, the conch shell signifies a prosperous journey, and in Islam it represents the hearing of the divine word. In medieval Christianity the scallop shell was the emblem of St. James, the patron of pilgrims, so the shell came to symbolize a pilgrimage. The scallop shell is also associated with the guardian angel Raphael, and the Virgin Mary. In later Christianity, it symbolized resurrection and baptism. Quetzalcoatl created life with the aid of a conch shell and he is always pictured wearing a conch pectoral. Triton the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, in ancient Greece is depicted with a trumpet made from a conch which he used to raise or calm storms. In India in Bengal, every Bengali household, has a conch placed near the deities at the altar. The conch is blown once or several times before ritualistic worship. It is sometimes blown whilst performing 'aartis'. The conch, placed at the altar in temples and homes next to the Lord symbolizes the primordial sound or the 'naada brahma' (truth), the vedas, Om, dharma, victory and auspiciousness. The conch is often used to serve the 'tirth' (sanctified water) to raise their minds to the highest truth. During, weddings the conch is blown loudly to drive away evil spirits. In the Bhagvat Gita, there is a vivid description of the blowing of the conch by
Bhishma who blew his conch-shell---"simhanaadam vinadyochaihi" while Lord Krshna blew his, Paancajanya (name of a special type of conch). Later, Arjuna, Yudhishthira, Bhim, Nakula and Sahadev all blew their own conch shells. There are two types of conches used, right and left handed. Left handed or with an opening on the left if head is towards bearer is the brother of Laxshmi and friend of Vishnu. Right handed has opening on right and is still held in right hand. Vishnu held the right handed conch in right hand at the churning of the ocean of existence. Laxshmi was born from the churning ocean and then Vishnu married her. The right handed conch bestows prosperity when worshipped. The right handed is kept on red cloth and worshipped with white sandalwood mixed with camphor and saffron, flowers, rice, incense,and light. The conch can be worshipped as Vishnu and Laxshmi and helps to solve financial problems.
Shankham" comes from the two Sanskrit words "Shum" which means something good and the "Kham" meaning water. Therefore, Shankam is - the conch holding the sacred water. According to mythology, the demon Shankhaasura defeated the Gods and so the Vedas got drowned to the bottom of the ocean. The devas appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. He incarnated as Matsya Avataara - the "fish incarnation" and killed Shankhaasura. The Lord blew the conch-shaped bone made from the demon's ear and head. The 'Om' or the naada brahma sound emanated from it. From this sound emerged the Vedas. All knowledge enshrined in the Vedas is therefore an elaboration of Om. The conch is thus known as shankha after Shankaasura. The conch blown by the Lord is called Paanchajanya. He carries it at all times in one of His four hands. It represents dharma or righteousness that is one of the four goals (purushaarthas) of life. The sound of the conch is thus triumph of good over evil.
According to Tantric belief, the shankha keeps away evil spirits and saves one from calamities. The water from the Shankha purifies the sinner and can cure all the ailments which cannot be cured by the other medicines. It is a cure for the physical ailments in humans, from the the fear of death and gives liberation from the eternal cycle of birth and death. Shankha powder is used in several Ayurvedic medicines. In Indian mythology the conch shell or the shankha has both spiritual as well as auspiscious symbolism.


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