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Pearl Analysis Overview
Sri Chandra Mani - Oyster Pearls
Sri Shankh Mani - Pearl of the Conch
Sri Venu Mani - Pearl of Bamboo
Sri Matsya Mani - The Fish Pearl
Sri Tima Mani - The Whale Pearl
Sri Gaja Mani - The Elephant Pearl
Sri Varaha Mani- Pearl from the Head of Wild Boar
Sri Naga Mani- Pearl of the Cobra
Sri Megha Mani- The Cloud Pearl
Dakshinavarti Shankh-The Right-Handed Conch Shell
Rudraksha - The Sacred Seeds
Buddhist Variants
Legal Topics and Stolen Artifact Reports
New Exhibitors and Curators
Varahamihira and The Brhat Samhita
Natural and Cultural History
Divine Net Galleries FAQ
Sri Garuda Puranam



Heavenly Seashells

Conch shells fall into a different class of sacred artifact, but are integrally tied to the management of The Sacred Pearls.  The shells have deep significance within Sanatana Dharma and are used in a variety of ways from culture to culture- worship, instruments of war, containers, and in many types of jewelry.  Both Vedic and Buddhist tradition revere conch shells, which are often found in temples; sometimes adorned  with silver, gold and gems.   Ritual shells are for such things as bathing religious figures, waking up God, or  purifying an area with the sound of “OM” if used as a trumpet.  The overwhelming majority of  shells have spirals opening on the left side (or Vamavarti, when observed with the face in front and crown pointed down), as this is the direction spirals usually occur in nature.

Krishna
And
Arjuna
Blow
The
Transcendental
Conch
Shells


Artwork ©
The
Bhaktivedanta
Book
Trust

Hindu religious art often shows deities carrying a conch shell, although both the Vamavarti and Dakshinavarti Shankha are important within Sanatana Dharama.   The right-handed conch, also known as the "Sri Lakshmi Conch", is held to bring abundant blessings on the possessor. The Dakshinavarti Shankh is a kind of calling card for Sri Lakshmi (or Padma), the consort of Lord Vishnu; she removes sorrows and gives intelligence, success, and worldly freedom.  According to tradition, a living right-handed conch is conceptually indistinguishable from an earthly incarnation of Vishnu or Lakshmi themselves; the blessings of Lakshmi literally flow out of the remaining shell on their own.

Very rarely, a member of a left-handed species is found opening on the right (or Dakshinavarti) side, an extremely low-probability genetic variation.  While 1 in 15,000 conchs will produce a conch pearl (and 1/10th of those a good conch pearl, or 1 in 150,000), even less will have the genetic predisposition to open in the opposite direction; this number has been reported within oral tradition as a rarity of almost 3 additional orders of magnitude, or 1 in 100,000,000.  A tiny handful of similar-looking species are known to open right predominantly, but remain rare when considering the myriad shell species.

Ritual treatment includes bathing deities, offerings of incense, white rice and milk, and applying water from the conch, which can remove sin, evil entities, and the power of other's curses.  Other important conchs include the Ganesha Shankh and the Krishna Shankha, which are of completely different character and tradition.

There have been heated opinions observed in international debate about what may constitue a "true" Dakshinawarti Shankh, similar to domestic notions that only a Queen (or Caribbbean) Conch can form a Conch Pearl.  A few consider that only a rare right-hand anomaly of the East Indian Shankh (or Sinistral turbinella pyrum) could possibly be a Sri Lakshmi Conch.  The question is less scientific than a matter of religious understanding between sects of Sanatana Dharma.  As a strictly statistical matter of probability, any given instance of conch artifacts (using a rough estimate of 20:1 regarding prevalence of East Indian Shankha to similar large conchs) would probably look something like this:

1:100,000,000  - Sinistral turbinella pyrum - Dahshinavarti Shankh - Right-hand East Indian Conch
1:5,000,000 -                                 Any left-handed species producing a right-handed shell
1:3,000,000 -                  A gem-quality conch pearl from an East Indian Conch
1:150,000    - Any conch species producing a gem-quality conch pearl
1:15,000 -              Any conch producing a conch pearl
1:3,000 -        Any right-handed conch-like shell
1: 500 -    Any right handed univalve shell

While conch nomenclature within the Aristotlean classification system is a matter of objective science,  the understanding of such objects as holy relics is  confined to private devotional practice, one with symbolism from divine tradition.  Different practioners vary in understanding of Sri Lakshmi as a single being, to an understanding of "MahaLakshmi", who is more a collective being; mirroring single right-handed Shankh veneration, and reverence for a whole species of shells such as the Lightning Whelk (or Busycon contrarium).  Like many of the treasures of Sanatana Dharma, the largest storehouses are often located in repositories quite far from the subcontinent.  This has held true of the Whelk shells (Gulf of Mexico), Rudraksha (only 30% come from India, most of the rest from Tibet and Indonesia), and The Sacred Pearls (predominately Indonesia).  In the case of the Whelk shells, such are even the sacred shell of Texas (or, rather, The State Shell of Texas, USA) who also notes its ancient spiritual heritage in their public parks and wildlife information .

By further tightening species characteristics and frequency (regarding probabilities involved in availability), we hope this may add a broader perspective to qualifying these artifacts within upper and lower classes of significance.  Nonetheless, it is important to remember that these objects are not trophies to defend from value dilution by other shells, but object of puja, or private devotion and private ritual; one's which should be accessible to any devotee, and which increase in power over time.  The ownership of such shells is a matter of extreme privacy, more so than with any other artifact in these pages; one does not permit their conch to be touched, criticized, or utilized by others; even water from the shell should not spill to the ground.  However, not every adherent may even be eligble to own a Dakshinavart Shankh- for some, the use of such a shell is outright forbidden in The Padma Purana- rare or not, such a conch is of no value to the Shivite (whose pandits typically wear three vertical lines on their foreheads, similar to the three lines within an East Indian Shankh), which body of adherents represent a sizeable portion of the Hindu faith.

One of the last century's most widely known Vedic scholars, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupad, offered that for today's practitioners of Vaidika Dharma, other types of shells such as the whelk are acceptable.  Sri Prabhupad, founder of ISKON in 1966, is held by many as a significant spiritual leader of Vedic practice and primary proponent of Krishna Consciousness.  As many of the Vedic artifacts are heavily concentrated in areas well outside the subcontinent, we will hold with the broader view regarding a Dakshinavarti family of right-handed Conch shells, and you will see in the gallery a number of types of Dakshinawarti Shankh (that vary in reverence over many generations), as well as examples of the Ganesha Shankha as pieces are located.



Glossary

Bezoar - Stone produced from the stomach or digestive tract
Brhat Samhita - Treatise by Varahamihira
Dakshinavarti - Right Opening
Garuda - A winged deity that dialogues with Vishnu in a Purana
Jyotish - Science of Light (Indian Astrology)
Lakshmi - Consort of Vishnu, Goddess of Wealth
Mani - Jewel or Gem
Mukhi - Facet
Naga - Cobra or Serpent
Puja - Devotional ceremony
Purana - One of the Holy Texts
Rudraksha - Sacred Seeds  
Sanatana Dharma - The Eternal Religion (Hinduism) or Eternal Righteousness
Shankh - Conch
Vaidika Dharma - Religion of the Vedas
Veda / Vedic - Holy Text(s) of India
Varahamihira - Indian Philosopher from early last millenium
Vishnu - The "Preserver" in the Hindu trinity